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Access to land in rural India - policy issues and options


  • Mearns, Robin


Access to land is deeply important in rural India, where the incidence of poverty is highly correlated with lack of access to land. The author provides a framework for assessing alternative approaches to improving access to land by India's rural poor. He considers India's record implementing land reform and identifies an approach that includes incremental reforms in public land administration to reduce transaction costs in land markets (thereby facilitating land transfers) and to increase transparency, making information accessible to the public to ensure that socially excluded groups benefit. Reducing constraints on access to land for the rural poor and socially excluded requires five key issues: restrictions on land-lease markets, the fragmentation of holdings, the widespread failure to translate women's legal rights into practice, poor access to (and encroachment on) the commons, and high transaction costs for land transfers. Among guidelines for policy reform the author suggests: a) Selectively deregulate land-lease (rental) markets, because rental markets may be important in giving the poor access to land. b) Reduce transaction costs in land markets, including both official costs and informal costs (such as bribes to expedite transactions), partly by improving systems for land registration and management of land records. c) Critically reassess land administration agencies and find ways to improve incentive structures, to reduce rent-seeking and base promotions on performance. d) Promote women's independent land rights through policy measures to increase women's bargaining power within the household and in society generally. e) Improve transparency of land administration and public access to information, to reduce rent-seeking by land administration officers and to strengthen poor people's land rights (and knowledge thereof). f) Strengthen institutions in civil society to provide the awareness, monitoring, and pressure needed for successful reform and to provide checks and balances on inappropriate uses of state power. In a companion paper (WPS 2124) the author addresses these issues at the level of a particular state - Orissa, one of India's poorest states - in an empirical study, from a transaction costs perspective, of social exclusion and land administration.

Suggested Citation

  • Mearns, Robin, 1999. "Access to land in rural India - policy issues and options," Policy Research Working Paper Series 2123, The World Bank.
  • Handle: RePEc:wbk:wbrwps:2123

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fulginiti, Lilyan E. & Perrin, Richard K., 1998. "Agricultural productivity in developing countries," Agricultural Economics, Blackwell, vol. 19(1-2), pages 45-51, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Tarun Jain, 2014. "Where There Is a Will: Fertility Behavior and Sex Bias in Large Families," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 49(2), pages 393-423.
    2. Besley, Timothy & Leight, Jessica & Pande, Rohini & Rao, Vijayendra, 2016. "Long-run impacts of land regulation: Evidence from tenancy reform in India," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 72-87.
    3. Baruah, Bipasha, 2007. "Gendered Realities: Exploring Property Ownership and Tenancy Relationships in Urban India," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 35(12), pages 2096-2109, December.
    4. Naidu, Sirisha C., 2011. "Gendered effects of work and participation in collective forest management," MPRA Paper 31091, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Besley, Timothy & Leight, Jessica & Pande, Rohini & Rao, Vijayendra, 2016. "Long-run impacts of land regulation: evidence from tenancy reform in India," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 65333, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    6. World Bank, 2007. "India - Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction," World Bank Other Operational Studies 7818, The World Bank.
    7. Mr. S.Hirashima, 2009. "Growth-Poverty Linkage and Income-Asset Relation in Regional Disparity: Evidence from Pakistan and India (The Allama Iqbal Memorial Lecture)," The Pakistan Development Review, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, vol. 48(4), pages 357-386.
    8. Naidu, Sirisha C., 2009. "Heterogeneity and Collective Management: Evidence from Common Forests in Himachal Pradesh, India," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 37(3), pages 676-686, March.
    9. World Bank, 2007. "India : Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 15791, March.
    10. Vranken, Liesbet & Macours, Karen & Noev, Nivelin & Swinnen, Johan, 2011. "Property rights imperfections and asset allocation: Co-ownership in Bulgaria," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(2), pages 159-175, June.
    11. Naidu, Sirisha C., 2011. "Access to benefits from forest commons in the Western Himalayas," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 71(C), pages 202-210.
    12. Paudel, Bikash & Pandit, Januka & Reed, Brinton, 2013. "Fragmentation and conversion of agriculture land in Nepal and Land Use Policy 2012," MPRA Paper 58880, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Naidu, Sirisha C., 2013. "Legal exclusions, private wealth and livelihoods: An analysis of work time allocation in protected areas," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(C), pages 82-91.
    14. Kuyvenhoven, Arie, 2004. "Creating an enabling environment: policy conditions for less-favored areas," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 29(4), pages 407-429, August.
    15. Naidu, Sirisha C., 2011. "Rural Livelihoods, Forest Access and Time Use: A Study of Forest Communities in Northwest India," MPRA Paper 31060, University Library of Munich, Germany.


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