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Learning form old and new approaches to Land Reform in India1

Tim Hanstad

Rural Development Institute

Paper presented at - "Land Redistribution: Towards a Common Vision, Regional Course, Southern Africa, 9-13 July 2007"

SARPN acknowledges the World Bank as a source of this paper:
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India contains both the largest number of rural poor and the largest number of landless households on the planet. The two statistics are closely related: landlessness -- more than either caste or illiteracy -- is the best indicator of rural poverty in India.1

At both national and state levels, India has made significant efforts to reduce rural poverty through attention to the inequalities of land access and the insecurity of land tenure. In the course of these efforts, India has encountered challenges, confronted problems, and experienced some successes. In recent years, a few Indian states have designed and implemented new approaches to increasing land access for the poor and marginalized -- with promising early results. This paper provides a brief review of the country’s land reform history and its promising future in the hope that India’s experience may help policymakers and civil society members trying to alleviate rural poverty in developing countries.

Following this introduction, Part II provides a brief historical overview of the context in which India began reforming its land policies and laws. The section describes India’s key post-Independence legislative land reforms and the results of those first efforts. Part III discusses the unique issues and challenges arising from efforts to strengthen women’s rights to land. In Part IV, the paper discusses how three Indian states have taken lessons learned from those early efforts and created new routes to increase the rural poor’s access to land and enhance the security of land rights. Part V offers some lessons learned from India’s extensive experience.

  1. This paper has been prepared for the workshop “Land Redistribution in Africa: Towards a common vision.” The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank and its affiliated organizations, or those of the Executive Directors of The World Bank or the governments they represent.

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