Poverty is not merely absence of money or assets, but most fundamentally, poverty is a consequence of the inability of capitalise whatever asset people may have, because of lack of formal title, and the high transaction cost.
Recognition and protection of property rights lie at the foundation of a free society. Property rights allows the development of market economy. With the spread of ownership of assets, people develop a stake in their community, and become active citizens. At the early stages of socio-economic development, land is the principal form of property.
For over a century, millions of Indians, largely indigenous tribes and others living in forest areas, have not had their land rights recognised by the state. A new law in 2006, acknowledges this historical injustice, and seeks to recognise the land rights of these remote and poor communities.
ARCH Vahini, a grassroots NGO based in Gujarat, and Liberty Institute, a think tank based in New Delhi, are working together to help these remote communities document and map their land claims.
What is the problem?
Even after being granted the right to own the land they had farmed when the Forest Rights Act was passed into law, the majority of the villagers’ claims have been rejected. Out of 180,000 claims filed in rural Gujarat, only 50,000 were approved.
What we're doing
In addition to spreading awareness of their rights, we help tribal communities prepare and substantiate claims for their traditional land, using simple hand-held GPS instruments to survey their holdings, and map these onto satellite imagery. Done properly about 90% of the claims are approved.
How you can help!
Funding is needed to buy more GPS instruments, upgrade to a GIS web platform, and to enable us to reach out and train more communities. Each activity has a long-term effect: the GPS instruments are used village after village, the web platform accumulates a growing volume of villagers’ data, and training community leaders in one area enables them to go on to train others in surrounding village.
Right to property is framed as a human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is recognized as a fundamental right in most democracies. It is one of the most controversial of rights, always in need of an appropriate definition suited to a nation’s political, social and economic conditions. While all liberal constitutions allow for certain reasonable restrictions on an absolute right to property for some public good, the challenge facing every country is where to draw the line against state interference into a person’s right to own and enjoy property.