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«Working Paper No. 2010/56 Women and Landed Property in Urban India Negotiating Closed Doors and Windows of Opportunity Bipasha Baruah* May 2010 ...»

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Working Paper No. 2010/56

Women and Landed Property

in Urban India

Negotiating Closed Doors and Windows

of Opportunity

Bipasha Baruah*

May 2010


This paper examines land tenure in informal urban settlements in India from a gender

perspective through field research conducted in Ahmedabad in collaboration with the

Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). The author describes the formal and

informal tenure arrangements that were in place in these settlements and analyses their implications for women. She proceeds to raise key issues that need consideration in developing a gender-equitable vision of urban land rights, tenure and reform. These include more widely established issues such as tenuous inheritance rights of daughters and the challenges of securing joint property titles for married women as well as emerging issues such as the obstacles faced by slum-dwelling rentees, the largely unsubstantiated fears of gentrification and market eviction associated with tenure security, and the legal and practical challenges of translating the ‘right of residence’ into the ‘right of ownership’. In each case, the author also draws out policy recommendations for redressing the discrepancies in women’s ownership of urban land and housing in India.

Keywords: women, landed property, cities, India, South Asia JEL classification: H53, J61, R23 Copyright © UNU-WIDER 2010 * California State University, Long Beach, email: bbaruah@csulb.edu This study has been prepared within the UNU-WIDER project Asian Development in an Urban World, directed by Jo Beall, Basudeb Guha-Khasnobis and Ravi Kanbur.

UNU-WIDER acknowledges the financial contribution to its research programme by the governments of Denmark (Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Finland (Ministry for Foreign Affairs), Sweden (Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency—Sida) and the United Kingdom (Department for International Development).

ISSN 1798-7237 ISBN 978-92-9230-293-1 Acronyms AMC Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation ASAG Ahmedabad Study Action Group CBOs community-based organizations GSUSP Gujarat State Urban Slum Policy MHT Mahila Housing Trust NGOs non-government organizations SEWA Self-Employed Women’s Association The World Institute for Development Economics Research (WIDER) was established by the United Nations University (UNU) as its first research and training centre and started work in Helsinki, Finland in 1985. The Institute undertakes applied research and policy analysis on structural changes affecting the developing and transitional economies, provides a forum for the advocacy of policies leading to robust, equitable and environmentally sustainable growth, and promotes capacity strengthening and training in the field of economic and social policy making. Work is carried out by staff researchers and visiting scholars in Helsinki and through networks of collaborating scholars and institutions around the world.

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UNU World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER) Katajanokanlaituri 6 B, 00160 Helsinki, Finland Typescript prepared by Liisa Roponen at UNU-WIDER The views expressed in this publication are those of the author(s). Publication does not imply endorsement by the Institute or the United Nations University, nor by the programme/project sponsors, of any of the views expressed.

1 Introduction Women make up half the world’s population, perform two-thirds of the world’s working hours, receive one-tenth of the world’s income and own only one-hundredth of the world’s property (Abbott, Wallace and Tyler 2005). While the gap between women’s and men’s education and income levels is narrowing gradually almost everywhere in the world, the disparity in property ownership remains stark and persistent. Women remain extremely marginalized in property ownership even in countries where they consistently outperform men in educational attainment, as, for example, in countries of the English-speaking Caribbean (Antrobus 2005).

Consequently, there is growing recognition within research and policy circles that women are particularly discriminated against in access to land and property (UNDP 1995; UNIFEM 2000; World Bank 2001).

This paper examines land rights and tenure in informal urban settlements1 in India from a gender perspective. Women’s entitlements to agricultural land have been documented in the rural context quite extensively (very notably by Bina Agarwal 1994), but the corresponding land and housing requirements of urban women have received very little attention, not just in development practice and policy formulation but also in academic scholarship.

This research was conducted in Ahmedabad in collaboration with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), an organization founded in India in 1972 to mobilize informal sector women for better working conditions and social security provisions.

Data were collected through focus groups, semi-structured interviews, and library and archival research conducted over a period of seven months from January 2003 to July 2003 in thirteen slums in Ahmedabad. Follow-up fieldwork was conducted in the same slums during the summer of 2007. Of these informal settlements, eight had no public amenities while five had received basic water and sanitation services through a slum upgradation project coordinated by the SEWA Mahila Housing Trust (MHT). Thirteen focus groups were established, with approximately ten women participating in each group. A series of 23 semi-structured interviews was also conducted with staff and leadership from the municipal corporation, development research organizations and NGOs in Ahmedabad.

2 Tenure security in Gujarat: Strategies and interventions

A variety of tools, strategies and techniques for securing land tenure and protection from eviction have evolved in different cities of India in conjunction to domestic and international policy responses. They are devised and applied in different situations, depending largely on the nature and scale of informality or irregularity of the settlement and the existing regulatory framework. The following strategies and interventions feature prominently in the slums of Ahmedabad.

1 The terms ‘informal settlements’ and ‘slums’ are used interchangeably in this paper although the former category may also include squatter settlements, resettlement colonies and urban villages.

2.1 Legal tenure The extension of land tenure rights over government land, locally known as patta, to squatters is undertaken on rare occasions as a welfare measure by state governments.

Only one slum in this study had individual formal land titles from the government of Gujarat. Residents of Keshav Nagar were squatting illegally on the pavements of Ahmedabad in the early 1990s when they were offered land at a highly subsidized rate through a government land redistribution programme. While current development approaches endorsed by state and central governments give preference to in situ regularization over relocation, none of the other slums in the study have been granted tenure rights either in situ or in alternative locations.

A number of states (Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Rajasthan, and Maharashtra) have opted for tenure regularization as a state-wide policy across urban areas, while other states (West Bengal and Tamil Nadu) developed city-specific or programme-specific approaches (Banerjee 2002). At the time of this research, Gujarat was in the process of adopting the Gujarat State Urban Slum Policy (GSUSP). SEWA and MHT had been invited to serve on the steering committee for its formulation along with other stakeholders such as slum dwellers, community-based organizations (CBOs), other NGOs, civil servants, and elected representatives. The steering committee strongly recommended supporting the granting of in situ tenure rights to established slums, forcefully arguing about the legal superiority of full tenure over other options. Other

significant land- and gender-related policy recommendations in the draft include:

– extension of eligibility for upgrading all slums other than those situated on public streets, riverbanks, hazardous and environmentally sensitive areas, and on plots urgently needed by municipalities for providing essential services;

– regularization of sales transactions made without a valid deed of sale, such as those written on plain paper or on stamp paper of small monetary denomination;

– transfer of formal sale titles and deeds to slum dwellers at 33 per cent of the market value of the land;

– implementation of joint land titles in the names of women and men;

– provisions for more affordable group tenure, collective tenure and cooperative tenure for slum residents; and – 33 per cent representation for women in cooperative societies and residents’ associations.

These recommendations are timely and relevant for women. Prior to the formulation of the GSUSP, rural and urban land reform policies in Gujarat had been based on the principle of redistributive justice and efficiency. The reform complemented practices such as land to the tiller2, fixation of ceilings3 and prevention of fragmentation, but gender inequalities were not taken into account.

2 Under this practice, land is titled solely in the name of the person, almost always a man, who assumes responsibility for tilling it.

3 Under ceiling schemes, the state typically reallocates surplus land from those owning more than a specified ceiling for the landless.

The recommendations suggested by the GSUSP are definitely a step in the right direction because they provide a strong legal basis to rectify women’s inability to own and control landed property. However, these legal and policy reforms do little to challenge the underlying social norms that inhibit women’s access to land. Public education to improve awareness of the non-negotiable nature of women’s needs and entitlements for landed resources is just as crucial as policy reform. Other authors argue that legislation cannot be the sole focus for social change because the benefit from favourable laws and policies can be appreciated only in the context of other means of socioeconomic empowerment (Parasher 1992; Rosen 1978). Reviewing property rights of low- and middle-income women in New Delhi, Basu (1999) emphasizes that the mere encoding of laws cannot effect substantial change in cultural practices unless there is a concerted state effort to achieve widespread legal literacy that explains the benefits of greater equity and addresses the fears of dismantling customary privileges.

2.2 Guarantee of non-eviction

Among the slums of the study, a verbal ten-year guarantee of non-eviction from the municipal corporation was the most common form of tenure security. Once land ownership had been established and it was ascertained that the land was not earmarked for other projects or in an environmentally sensitive location, the area was deemed suitable for upgradation and continued occupation for ten years. All the case-study slums had either received non-eviction guarantees or were in the process of receiving them at the time the research was conducted. Designating an area as a ‘slum’ under the Slum Act also provides a certain degree of protection against eviction in Gujarat. It entitles slums to access to basic subsidized services under the Environmental Improvement of Urban Slums Scheme of 1972, and to resettlement if displacement is unavoidable. Since any party can file public interest litigation under Indian law, court rulings and stay orders prohibiting displacement without alternative accommodation often have a similar effect as guarantees of non-eviction or of continued occupation since replacement sites are difficult to set up in land-scarce urban areas. Two of the slums in the study that were located on municipal land and had secured ten-year noneviction guarantees had previously been threatened with displacement. Residents were surprisingly nonchalant about the notices and their perceptions of security of tenure seemed unaffected. They mentioned the ability of political leaders to secure multiple stay orders on eviction notices, and the eventual willingness of the municipal corporation to include the slums in the upgradation project, as evidence of their security of tenure.

Several officers in the town development department of the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) were asked why non-eviction guarantees were issued for ten years only. They explained that it was largely a result of ‘trying to keep all parties happy’.

The AMC frequently relied on loans from organizations like the World Bank to undertake upgradation activities. Most funders were unwilling to extend loans for the provision of services like water and sanitation without some form of de facto or de jure tenure security. The majority of Ahmedabad slums were on privately owned land, and most private owners were reluctant to relinquish their claims to land without adequate financial compensation. Thus it was considered strategic and cost-effective to negotiate a limited term non-eviction guarantee as a proxy for tenure security while pro-poor urban land policy instruments, like the GSUSP, were being formulated. The same logic applied to land owned by the state and central governments although slum upgradation in these cases was frequently justified in terms of public health.

At the persuasion of the NGOs involved in slum upgradation, various documents and bills (such as water and land tax) resulting from the verbal non-eviction guarantee, were issued to female household heads even when a man was present. It is unprecedented for slum-dwelling women to have any official recognition or documentation in their names, and most women perceived these to be empowering and symbolic representation of their right to reside in their homes and their communities. Since women perform a disproportionate share of family and household maintenance activities, they also benefit from the services and infrastructure being introduced by the upgrading of their environment, even if the home lacks legal tenure. However, a non-eviction guarantee stops short of the formal titling of land, and is best perceived as one step on the continuum to full legal tenure instead of being a long-term solution.

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