INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF URBAN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 2022, VOL. 14, NO. 1, 398–402 https://doi.org/10.1080/19463138.2022.2111434 Legal land tenure programmes: security and precarity of the poor in Urban India Banashree Banerjee Senior Urban Planning and Housing Expert, Department of Urban Socio-Spatial Development, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands ABSTRACT ARTICLE HISTORY Received 1 August 2022 This essay discusses the veracity of legal tenure granted to informal settlers on public Accepted 3 August 2022 land in the context of top-down neo-liberal policies superimposed on an already existing regime of urban regulations and welfare measures. It raises questions regard- KEYWORDS ing the fairness of practices where the poor pay the price for changing development Legal land tenure; land as models. Insights from Madhya Pradesh (MP) state in India show that legal tenure a resource; temporality; documents stimulate incremental investment in building and are considered robust redevelopment; housing enough for channelling government funding for housing improvement. Such invest- investment; India ment is secure until the land becomes valuable enough to support profitable rede- velopment or is required for high-profile infrastructure projects to refashion cities. This leads to a mixed bag of security and precarity of the poor in a temporal frame- work of land markets, law, dramatic reordering of city spaces and dualistic policies catering to the market and to welfare. (143 words) The fluid landscape of land in cities In the last two decades, urban policy and prac- Cities and city life are influenced by numerous poli- tice in India have changed radically from a basic needs approach to a transformation approach cies, regulations, rules, directives, norms and ideas, which are simultaneously active in a particular setting. which seeks to create globally competitive cities They often do not work together and on occasion while at the same time making them inclusive. A spate of urban programmes with large financial they may contradict each other, but relationships might change with time. What was acceptable in the outlays have been launched on a mission mode to past may not be acceptable today or in the future. realise these ambitions, for example, Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) Dynamics around urban land development, when seen in this perspective, are perhaps the most impor- followed by Smart Cities Mission, Atal Mission for tant in determining the security and acceptability of Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Housing for All Mission. Using ‘land as occupying space in cities, leading to the larger ques- tion of inclusion and exclusion in a temporal frame- a resource’ is the central theme of the new policies, work. This argument might explain the seemingly whether in the form of monetising public land to raise funds for infrastructure development, or capi- anomalous attitude and actions of the state in dealing with the question of land tenure and housing invest- talising on high value slum lands to create incen- ment in informal settlements. However, state inter- tives for the private sector to deliver permanent housing for slum dwellers (Government of India ventions that disregard or undermine past policies and practices of formalising land occupation are 2007; Banerjee 2012). At the same time, the Indian a cause for concern if they lead to social and eco- state adheres to its direct role in addressing the needs of the poor as an instrument of social policy. nomic disruption in the lives of poor urban dwellers. CONTACT Banashree Banerjee email@example.com Senior Urban Planning and Housing Expert, Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF URBAN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 399 Demarcation and notification of slums and provi- That is all according to the theory and concept play- sion of subsidised basic services in them has long book: people invest in building when they have been a part of social policy. In addition, several secure tenure. states have implemented and continue to imple- ment programmes for granting legal tenure to informal settlers on public land. There is no doubt Legal land rights but informal building that these policies and programmes have brought There is sufficient empirical evidence to show that about significant improvement in living conditions tenure security has stimulated low-income families of the poor. However, they do not necessarily fall in to invest hard-earned money in additional space, per- line with the current approach adopted by the gov- manent construction and retrofitting for living, rent- ernment of India for market-based construction and ing, shops and workshops. But all this happens delivery of affordable housing. informally because pattas are granted for residential What then is the veracity of legal tenure granted to use only and plot sizes and settlement conditions do informal settlers on public land under these circum- not meet the prescribed standards for obtaining stances of top-down neo-liberal policies superim- building permission (Banerjee 2010). Patta land can posed on an already existing regime of urban be used as collateral for house-building loans from regulations and welfare programmes? Although financing institutions but not without building per- there are common threads and trends across cities mission, which means that even with legal land and states, this question can perhaps best be pieced tenure, investments continue to come from house- together from context-specific narratives, given the hold savings and informal sources (Banerjee 2006). differences between regions and cities in India. This But this way of operating at the cusp of formality essay uses insights from Madhya Pradesh (MP) state to and informality does not necessarily mean that invest- examine the question and its implications in a wider ment is insecure. It is also not a deterrent for house- context. MP has granted leasehold rights to settlers on building grants and loans dispensed through govern- public land from time to time for almost four decades ment programmes to the poor on the strength of and has also been in the forefront of implementing legal land tenure (Mitra 2021). In fact MP government schemes for housing the poor. Government has issued pattas in several episodes over the years specifically to make the urban poor Security of tenure and legal land rights eligible for government housing and infrastructure programmes. When Madhya Pradesh (MP) enacted a law in 1984 to grant legal land tenure in the form of 30-year ‘patta’ and basic services to all eligible urban dwellers living Development against development on government land, it was hailed as a landmark leg- islation for its objectives of state protection and pro- Until 2005, the threat to investments came from nat- motion of peoples’ rights (Government of Madhya ural disasters like floods and landslides or resettle- Pradesh 1984). However, field research in settlements ment to make way for public services like road with regularised plot tenures two years after imple- widening. But then came the Government of India’s mentation showed that the significance of the mea- flagship Jawaharlal Nehru Urban Renewal Mission sure was lost on the ‘beneficiaries’. They had not been (JNNURM) intended to transform cities into engines threatened with evictions and had access to basic of growth through reforms and injection of funds into services anyway as part of a government programme infrastructure development (Government of India or through their elected representatives in local gov- 2005). This led to relocation to peripheral areas on ernment, so the piece of paper granting legal tenure a much larger scale, even of those with patta, in the did not measure up to much (Mitra 1988). But then, four cities of MP included in JNNURM, and now in the over the years, pattas have gained strength and Smart Cities Mission. The provision for relocation is meaning for establishing claims for the poor in the built into the patta document, which guarantees the prospering cities of the state and have led to varying allottee tenure on the occupied plot or on another site levels of building consolidation in informal settle- in the urban area if the plot is required for any public ments, largely done incrementally (Banerjee 2006). purpose. There is no mention of compensating for 400 B. BANERJEE loss of investment on the original plot even when the with private developers. Each project has two compo- relocation takes place many years after the grant of nents: ‘slum rehabilitation component’ for free of cost tenure. housing and basic infrastructure for eligible slum dwell- The Basic Services for the Urban Poor (BSUP) com- ers and a ‘free sale component’ which is available to ponent of JNNURM was intended to improve living developers for selling in the market for profit and cross- conditions of the poor. Implementing organisations subsidising the project. Along with a portion of the preferred the option of building formal housing, land the developer gets a government subsidy to rather than slum upgrading. The slum redevelopment cover part of the costs of building rehabilitation hous- model of BSUP consisted of constructing four-storyed ing. In addition, incentives and concessions can be blocks after demolishing the existing structures. In MP provided to the developer, including additional devel- this was on plots with patta, which means that resi- opment rights, transferrable development rights, dents already enjoyed very high tenure security and exemptions from certain development control regula- had invested substantially in their houses over time. tions and tax benefits (Government of India 2015). Most of these families on project sites owned good In the case of MP, only three cities had some quality houses, with areas larger than BSUP norms. slums with land values high enough for viable ISSR Ironically, patta was used as one of the eligibility projects. Patta documents had been distributed in criteria for redevelopment housing but there was no them in several tranches under the Patta Act of 1984 compensation for loss of investment in buildings and people had invested in housing but this was (Mahadevia et al. 2013). The ‘beneficiaries’ had to disregarded, and as in the BSUP and RAY projects, bear a part of the cost of new houses which they houses were demolished to make way for high rise could ill afford, but which they could mortgage to redevelopment housing on part of the land, while avail bank loans, in effect converting land and house part of the public land went to the private developer owners to households burdened with debt for profitable uses (Yuvaonline 2018; Mitra 2021). The (Mahadevia et al. 2013). The projects were purely for new redevelopment dwellings, although more residential use, completely disregarding the street- secure and of higher quality construction, are too level economy of the demolished settlements. This small for renting and not conducive to street-based practice continued into Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), the informal economic activities, which the poor thrive next scheme of the national government. Resistance on especially in central city locations (Banerjee 2010; from residents was met with persuasion and force, Benjamin and Raman 2011). Clearly the new space is and except for a handful of projects, all were carried a poor substitute for the plot of land with its multiple through, albeit with considerable delays and cost possibilities. escalation. The only redeeming features of this slum redevelopment were that the original patta holder Land tenure regularisation: security and continued to live in the same or nearby location, and precarity the limitation of funds did not allow too many pro- jects to be taken up. Even so, about 28,000 house- Approaches like ISSR have got country-wide legiti- holds were rehoused in BSUP redevelopment projects macy through the large centralised high profile in the four cities of MP. PMAY, and cities in MP and other states which have chosen to implement them, had seen huge successes with city-wide tenure programmes leading to shelter Land as a resource consolidation and thriving businesses. The concern The launching of the Housing for All mission or of implementing institutions is that despite the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) in 2015 was weight of the neo-liberalising state in the form of a major game changer for its country-wide coverage central government policy and funding support, the and its large financial outlay mainly to leverage private lack of robust land markets in secondary cities (Mitra sector participation in affordable housing. In-Situ Slum 2021) and the uncertainty of profit margins from Redevelopment (ISSR) is one of the four programme slum redevelopment have limited the scale of pro- verticals of PMAY and adopts the strategy of identify- jects. This situation might easily change in the future ing slums on high value land with a market potential with rising urban land values and land market with the intention of redeveloping them in partnership reforms. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF URBAN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT 401 On the other hand, the same state celebrates Disclosure statement the success of PMAY for the 12.23 million afford - No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s). able houses it has enabled in the country. It is worth noting that more than 60% of these are Notes on contributor through its Beneficiary Led Construction (BLC) com- ponent, which makes small grants available to Banashree Banerjee is an architect, urban planner, researcher land-owning poor families for construction or and teacher based in New delhi. She works as an independent consultant and as Senior Urban Planning and Housing Expert at improvement of their own houses. Legal tenure the Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies (IHS), granted to informal settlers on public land is con- Rotterdam. In a career spanning more than four decades, the sidered as land ownership. As can be expected, MP focus of her work has been on inclusive approaches to urban with its four-decade history of tenure regularisa- planning and management, particularly related to the poor. Her tion, is among the high performers in BLC. The other interest is urban land management, in which she has considerable experience related to practice, research and teach- state government topped up the previous numbers ing. Banashree has worked with government, NGOs and inter- with 280 thousand tenure documents in 2016–17 national agencies, primarily in India but also in Egypt, Korea, with the intention of making poor families eligible Myanmar, Philippines and Bangladesh. She has several publica- for BLC funding (Government of India 2018). tions to her credit, lectured extensively at universities in Asia, So, the patta document is considered robust Europe and the Americas, and undertaken prestigious interna- tional assignments. enough to channel government funding into hous- ing, and the land is secure as long as it is not earmarked for redevelopment through real estate ORCID investment or required for high profile infrastruc- ture projects. This could happen in the near or Banashree Banerjee http://orcid.org/0000-0001-7678-1171 distant future or never, creating a mixed bag of security and precarity in a temporal framework of References land markets, law, city reordering and dualistic Banerjee B. 2012. From informal settlements to prime real estate policies catering to the market and to welfare. in Indian cities. Trialog. 111(4):12–21. 2011-12. The question here is of the uncertainty and unfair- Banerjee B. 2010. 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International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development
– Taylor & Francis
Published: Dec 31, 2022
Keywords: Legal land tenure; land as a resource; temporality; redevelopment; housing investment; India