While Indian courts continue to be burdened with a number of pending land dispute cases, a database for land laws is being created for awareness of common people. 

Collating land laws of seven states, the database has listed over 500 laws that deal with land. Overlapping of the huge number of laws that deal with land has also contributed to slow progress in dispute resolution by the courts. 

The Centre for Policy Research (CPR), a public policy think tank, has started to build a database of land laws. So far, 556 state laws from Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Meghalaya and Telangana, have been collated.

Explaining the purpose of the database, Dr Namita Wahi, founding director, Land Rights Initiative, said, “We do not have any public repository of laws for people to understand what laws exist and how they are supposed to be of help. Keeping in mind the number of land disputes that are pending in our courts, creating a database is one way to educate people about land laws. Another crucial purpose is to bring to the fore the challenges that overlapping laws create.”

The seven states have been chosen as per geographical distribution and to include a variety of states that have large fifth and sixth scheduled areas, agricultural land etc. 

In India, as per 2016 estimates, over 22 million cases were pending in courts, out of which two-thirds of all civil cases were land and property disputes—hence, the need for efficient land reforms and awareness among the people about land laws. The CPR database is soon expected to be published online. 

In its discussion for creating awareness around land laws, CPR also highlighted the issue of land disputes in Scheduled Areas since Scheduled Tribes are the only minority group which has specially recognised rights to land in particular geographic areas and yet they continue to stay marginalised.  

CPR in its latest report on “The Legal Regime and Political Economy of Land Rights of Scheduled Tribes in The Scheduled Areas of India”, released earlier this week, observed, “Poverty and landlessness is rampant among the STs. 47.1% of all STs are below the poverty line in rural areas, compared to 33.8% for the national average, whereas 28.8% of all STs are below the poverty line in urban areas. Despite being the only group with constitutional protections for their land rights, 9.4% of the STs are landless compared to 7.4% for the national average.”

The CPR report highlights how the laws governing the Scheduled Areas come at crossroads with the forests, mining laws etc. 

Wahi, co-author of the report, said, “In an effort to develop the Scheduled Tribes, the infrastructure building has affected the land owned by the STs. Meanwhile in court, forest laws, mining laws etc. overlap land ownership laws of STs, thus dragging the case without any clarity.” CPR’s report is the first of its kind to mark all the Scheduled Areas on the Indian map under the fifth and sixth schedule. 

On an average, almost 30% of the Fifth Scheduled Area districts and 76% of the Sixth Scheduled area districts are under forest cover. 

The Scheduled Areas have significantly more forest cover compared to the rest of the country. 

The CPR report has observed, “Mining and land acquisition laws have diluted the constitutional protections for STs. The land alienation prohibition laws only prohibit the transfer of tribal land to non-tribals. Nothing prevents the state from acquiring land in the scheduled areas for its own purposes in the exercise of its power of eminent domain or assertion of its rights over forestland.”

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