Land Reforms

[op-ed snap] A reinstated right to property will protect the poor


Mains Paper 2: Polity | Indian Constitution- historical underpinnings, evolution, features, amendments, significant provisions & basic structure

From the UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Right to property, DPSP, Article 300-A

Mains level: Need for reinstating the right to property in India


Demands for Right to Property

  1. The Forest Rights Act of 2006 seeks to correct a historical wrong cemented during the colonial era
  2. The lack of land rights has ensured that generations of tribal cultivators have got a raw deal from governments as well as banks
  3. Now there is a demand for property rights from the farmers from Maharashtra as well as other states

History of the right to property

  1. It is well known that the Indian Constitution originally recognized the right to property as a fundamental right
  2. That right came under attack beginning with the first amendment in 1951
  3. Many of the subsequent laws that undermined property rights were hidden away from judicial scrutiny in the Ninth Schedule
  4. Another big blow came during the epic legal battles after the nationalization of banks in 1969
  5. The Morarji Desai government eventually scrapped the fundamental right to property with the forty-fourth amendment in 1978
  6. In its place came Article 300-A that makes it possible for a citizen to be dispossessed without compensation through an act of legislation

Reasoning for scrapping right to property

  1. Successive governments chipped away at the right to property by arguing that it was an obstacle in the way of pursuing the social justice agenda embedded in the directive principles of state policy
  2. Consider the issue of farmland
  3. It was very unequally divided when India became an independent country because of the colonial institution of zamindari
  4. The estates kept growing in size as indebted peasants were dispossessed after loan defaults
  5. The implicit assumption all the way till the right to property was removed from the list of fundamental rights was that it was essentially a concern of the rich
  6. The poor had little stake in property rights

Need for reinstatement

  1. First, the poor have neither the legal resources nor the political heft to fight laws or administrative orders that allow governments to take over their land
  2. Second, the poor do not have enough opportunities to make a living in formal jobs in case they are forcibly separated from their property

Advantages of giving property rights

  1. There is now a lot of research that shows how property rights help the poor
  2. The security of property provides incentives for a small farmer to invest in his land or a slum dweller to spend on basic infrastructure
  3. Secure property rights allow the poor to raise capital by offering the property as collateral to formal lenders
  4. The poor also have a stake in better property rights—from land titling to legal safeguards

Way forward

  1. Property rights today are a tool of inclusion rather than exclusion
  2. Its reinstatement discussion needs to enter the mainstream of Indian policy discourse
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