Hundreds of Indian land laws cause confusion, conflict: researchers

by Rina Chandran | @rinachandran | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 18 March 2019 08:58 GMT

A woman removes stalks from red chilli peppers at a farm in Shertha village on the outskirts of Ahmedabad February 6, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave

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Matters related to land and property make up about two-thirds of all civil cases in India but the sheer number of land laws make them inaccessible to many

By Rina Chandran

NEW DELHI, March 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The sheer number and complexity of India's land laws make them inaccessible to most people, researchers warned on Monday, with many sparking the types of conflicts that they are supposed to help resolve.

A study of just eight of India's 29 states published by the New Delhi-based think tank the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), showed that there are more than 1,200 laws related to land, alongside about 150 federal laws.

The laws largely deal with reform, acquisition, taxation, land use and records, said Namita Wahi, head of the Land Rights Initiative at the CPR, adding that some dated back to the colonial era, and many contradict each other.

"We have so many laws but there is no publicly available database where someone can easily access them," she told a land conference in New Delhi.

"With so many laws, and with the added complication of the colonial legacy and post-colonial structure, there are invariably disputes and conflicts," said Wahi, who is now analysing the land laws of the remaining 21 Indian states.

Matters related to land and property make up about two-thirds of all civil cases in India, according to a 2016 study by Bengaluru-based legal advocacy Daksh, which found that most involved people with low incomes and only basic education.

More than 22 million cases are pending in India's district courts, according to federal government data.

Of these, 7.5 million are civil cases, and more than 6 million have dragged on for more than five years.

Many of the cases are related to inheritance, as states have differing laws, with matters also decided by religion and custom, said Shipra Deo at land rights advocacy group Landesa.

While a 2005 federal law gave Hindu women across India equal inheritance rights, several states had since amended the law to discriminate against them, she said.

Few women made claims, because they were unaware of the law, or were forced to give up their claims to male relatives, said Deo, who recently researched inheritance laws in Indian states.

In nearly a third of the states - mostly in the north - the inheritance provision for women was not equal, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the conference.

"In several states, the law does not necessarily follow the spirit of the 2005 law," she said.

In Uttar Pradesh state, for example, married daughters do not have claim over ancestral property.

"It is the only state where the discrimination is based on the marital status of the daughter. So women may even be forced into marrying, just so they no longer have a claim," Deo said.

Only 13 percent of farmland is owned by women in India, according to 2011 census data. There is no official data on inheritance claims made by women.

In some parts of the country, rising property prices have resulted in more women claiming their inheritance in recent years, another researcher said.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Michael Taylor. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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