Geographies in Depth

This Indian state is giving slum-dwellers the right to their own land

People play cards on a railway track at a slum area in Kolkata, India February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

India's eastern Odisha state has commenced a scheme to distribute land titles to families living in slum areas. Image: REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

Rina Chandran
Correspondent, Reuters
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One of India's poorest states is handing out land rights to slum-dwellers in an innovative scheme to redevelop urban settlements that officials say will benefit a million people.

Eastern Odisha state began distributing titles to about 2,000 families earlier this week, launching a project officials say is the largest of its kind in a country where many slum-dwellers are forced from their homes.

"Now the slum dwellers can live without having fear of being evicted," G. Mathivathanan, commissioner at the state department of housing and urban development, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Odisha will give land rights to those living in slums in small towns and property rights to those in city settlements and expects to cover 200,000 households by the end of the year.

Charity Tata Trusts will help map the slums and redevelop them into "liveable habitats" with facilities including sanitation, healthcare and education, Mathivathanan said.

About 65 million people live in India's slums, according to 2011 census data, which activists say is a low estimate.

The number is rising quickly as tens of thousands leave their villages to seek better employment prospects in urban areas. Many end up in overcrowded slums, lacking even basic facilities and with no claim on the land or the property.

At the same time, activists say at least six homes are destroyed and 30 people forcibly evicted each hour in India as authorities modernise cities and build highways.

Slum-dwellers have long opposed efforts to relocate them to distant suburbs, which limits their access to jobs and amenities. Instead, they say they favour redevelopment with upgrading of facilities and secure tenancy.

The Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act 2017 ensures slum dwellers living in small towns rights over up to 600 sq (56 sq mt) of land, while in the cities they will get rights over up to 450 sq ft.

"It is a good step and we welcome it," said Pratap Kumar Sahoo, president of slum dwellers' lobby Odisha Basti Sangharsh Samiti.

"However, the government must ensure that the identification of all slum dwellers is done properly," he said.

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Geographies in DepthEconomic Growth
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