India witnessed an impressive surge in the number of women owning or managing agricultural land in 2001-11 with landholdings under them registering a faster growth in this period than the ones controlled by men, shows a World Bank-backed study that points to improved gender equity in land rights.
Though the amount of farmland controlled by women in the country is still marginal at 10% of the total, the number of female landholdings swelled by 36% and the area under their control went up by 24% in that decade.
In contrast, the number of male landholding grew only by 13% while the land controlled by them dwindled by 2% in the ten years.
Women have traditionally had little legal rights over land in India. Studies suggest secure land rights for women lead to better socio-economic conditions in the family and society. Establishing female land rights is part of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, to which India is a signatory.
Women currently control 16.5 million hectares of farmland, which is 10.3% of the country’s total agricultural land.
The number of female landholdings doubled in Bihar, Rajasthan and Sikkim in 2001-11 and went up by more than 40% in Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh.
The results are part of the ongoing “Women’s Land Rights Mapping in India” being conducted by the Natural Resource Management Consultants (NRMC), a Delhi-based development advisory firm, with support from the World Bank.
The study examined the Agriculture Census data of the Indian government, which comes out every five years and provides data on landholding segregated across gender and social-economic categories.
“The progressive policy initiatives and proactive measures, over the last few decades, by both central and state governments, such as provision of issuing land titles jointly in the name of wife and husband while allotting land under government schemes and the amendment to the Hindu Succession Act (HSA) in 2005 to establish a daughter’s rights in father’s property, seem to have started producing desired results,” said Pranab R Choudhury, vice-president of NRMC.
He, however, cautioned that there was a long way to go for India to achieve gender parity in land rights.
“The ideal scenario would be when the joint titles and the titles in the name of women account for at least half of the landholdings in the country,” he said.
Last month, Union minister of state for rural development Sudarshan Bhagat said the Centre was contemplating a nationwide advocacy programme to eliminate prejudice and discriminatory socio-cultural and legal barriers that deny women access to and rights on land.
According to the NRMC report, female landholdings surged in most states except Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala and Delhi where they registered a dip. The growth of female landholdings also outpaced the increase in women’s population in many states.
“Apart from the contribution of the HSA (Amendment), 2005, other policy measures like reduction of stamp duty for women, increased feminisationof agricultural production due to migration of male members of the families and the nuclearisation of families could be reasons behind increasing female landholdings,” said Govind Kelkar, an expert on women’s land rights and senior advisor to the Landesa Rural Development Institute.
The first-of-its-kind study also indicates that women in southern India have better land rights, while women from the Dalit and tribal communities own more land than their male counterparts.
“Southern states were governed under the Ryotwari system in the British era and also brought amendments to the HSA, 1956 during 1975-1994, which is why they have better women’s land rights,” said T Haque, chairman of a Niti Aayog expert group looking at land leasing in India who advised the NRMC on the study.