Justice for All: Securing Land Rights for Tribal Communities

justice to all
Photo: Lingaraj Panda/UNDP India

UNDP partners with the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India to empower the poor and marginalized to demand and access entitlements and support justice delivery institutions to ensure the law works for the poor.

Highlights

  • UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India, is helping the poor and marginalized access justice and demand and access entitlements
  • Innovative legal literacy models have generated awareness among 1.5 million marginalized men and women across seven of India’s poorest states
  • National and state legal service authorities have been supported in improving access to services for poor
  • National and state legal service authorities have been supported in improving access to services for poor
  • As a result of this partnership, 175 acres of agricultural land has been restored to over 1,600 dwellers in Odisha
  • Six Right to Information clinics and land rights resource centres have made it easier for forest dwellers to interact with revenue and forest officials

For thirty-four year old Naran Majhi, 2011 marked the end of a long wait – to be legally recognized as the owner of the land his family has farmed on for close to 200 years. Located in Karpalat in the Kalahandi district of Odisha, Naran’s land is in a dense forest and for years he was deemed an “encroacher” with no rights of ownership on his land. This until local volunteers with a land rights awareness group told him about the Scheduled Tribe and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act in 2006 which recognizes the ownership rights of thousands like Naran who farm on land that is now designated as forest area. Along with forty other families in the pre-dominantly poor and tribal dominated district, Naran applied for the regularization of his land holdings and today proudly displays the forest land patta or recognition document that he holds jointly with his wife. Over 80 percent of families in Thuamul Rampur block live below the poverty line and agriculture is the mainstay of the local economy.

“My family has been living in this village for 200 years and while we have depended on forest land and resources to eek out a living, for years there has been uncertainty as we never had any documentation to prove we were the owners of the land. Since I received the ownership document, I have registered for employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act and put money into developing the land so my family can finally be secure. I am now sending two of my daughters to school” he added. In a short span of two years, 175 acres of agricultural land has been restored to over 1,600 forest dwellers.

For his wife, thirty-year old Padmini the document has come with another first – she is a joint owner of the land. “Jointly owning the land makes me feel secure. I am confident now that we can keep the property intact and as I have a say in how the land is to be used. My husband cannot mortgage or sell it without my consent.” Women like Padmini are in a minority in India where according to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, women account for a mere 9.2 percent of the total farm land holders in the country.

Recognizing the crucial link between poverty reduction and access to justice, rights and entitlements, since 2006, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has partnered with the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India to empower the poor and marginalized to demand and access entitlements and support justice delivery institutions to ensure the law works for the poor.

According to Caitlin Wiesen, Country Director, UNDP in India, “Legal empowerment is critical to promoting inclusion, fostering economic growth and expanding progress in human development.” Innovative legal literacy models, including those using ICTs have generated awareness among 1.5 million marginalized men and women across 7 of India’s poorest states enabling greater access to their legal rights and entitlements as well as access to mechanisms for grievance and redressal.

Legal literacy has been mainstreamed into the National Adult Literacy Programme and over 4,000 intermediaries including legal aid lawyers, paralegals, elected women representatives from minority communities have been trained to help marginalized people seek entitlements and redressal through justice delivery systems. UNDP is also supporting efforts to strengthen law school based legal aid clinics to involve law students in providing legal support services to the most marginalized and vulnerable.

To address challenges faced by institutions and individuals providing critical legal aid services to the marginalized women and men, UNDP is also supporting national and state legal service authorities in improving access to services for poor. Partnerships with judicial training institutions aims to sensitize the judiciary on the challenges faced by marginalized groups in accessing justice.

Empowering communities to have the confidence to demand and protect their rights and assets is crucial to fostering prosperity and drive development processes forward. Six Right to Information clinics and land rights resource centres has made it easier for forest communities to interact with revenue and forest officials, which has made accessing justice, easier and more affordable. For many like Naran, Padmini and their families, it has built a sense of security, the possibility of investing in the future and enabled the realization of rights that they only once dreamt about securing.

Related Project
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Increasing Access to Justice for Marginalized People (2008-2017)

In partnership with the Department of Justice, Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India, the project focuses on strengthening access to justice for the poor by developing strategies that address barriers to accessing justice in legal, social, economic and political domains.

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