Urbanization triggers land disputes in Indian cities

An Indian farmer arranges watermelons for auction in Hyderabad. Rapid urbanization and opaque land ownership laws are fueling land disputes across the country. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018
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Urbanization triggers land disputes in Indian cities

NEW DELHI: The rapid growth of Indian cities, combined with unclear land ownership, is increasingly triggering legal disputes, analysts said, while rights groups have reported violent evictions of poorer communities.
India’s urban population is set to grow by more than 400 million — more than the population of the US — to 814 million by 2050.
As land is sought for offices and homes, developers and officials face multiple ownership claims and unclear titles.
“We have very few records for urban lands, as they were not a priority before,” said Deepak Sanan, a senior adviser at the New Delhi-based National Council of Applied Economic Research.
“Land was only measured and recorded in the rural areas in the pre-colonial and colonial times, as this land was considered valuable and taxed.”
Many marginalized communities have been built on disputed land, and the advocacy group Housing and Land Rights Network said some evictions have been violent and took place without proper consultation, consent, compensation or advance notice.
About 31 percent of India’s 1.3 billion population lives in cities and towns, according to census data. But analysts say the figure is based on a decades-old definition of urban areas, so the real number is close to 60 percent.
So-called peri-urban spaces have grown in the intersection of urban and rural areas, with lands once earmarked for agriculture being used for homes.
Meanwhile, India’s rank for registering urban properties fell to 154 from 138 on the World Bank’s Doing Business Index for 2018.
“We only have a presumptive titling system — it neither verifies that the seller or buyer is the indisputable owner, nor does it guarantee that the property is free from disputes,” Sanan said.
“So everything ends in litigation.”
Matters related to land and property make up about two-thirds of all civil cases in India, according to a study by legal advocacy group Daksh.
Land records are gradually being updated and digitized as India moves toward a conclusive land titling system. Several states are using blockchain technology to record land deals.
Rajasthan set up an independent authority to verify and guarantee land titles in its cities, the first state in the country to do so.
But other authorities remain focused on rural areas, said Frank Pichel, interim chief executive of the Washington DC-based Cadasta Foundation, which develops digital tools to document and analyze land and resource rights information.
“There is certainly a growing demand for mapping urban lands with the rising value of these lands and the potential for conflict. But, for now, the focus remains rural,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at a land conference in Delhi.


Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

Updated 22 March 2019
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Palestinians in financial crisis after Israel, US moves

  • A Ramallah-based economics professor said the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel
  • Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014

RAMALLAH, Palestinian Territories: The Palestinian Authority faces a suffocating financial crisis after deep US aid cuts and an Israeli move to withhold tax transfers, sparking fears for the stability of the West Bank.
The authority, headed by President Mahmud Abbas, announced a package of emergency measures on March 10, including halving the salaries of many civil servants.
The United States has cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in the last year, though only a fraction of that went directly to the PA.
The PA has decided to refuse what little US aid remains on offer for fear of civil suits under new legislation passed by Congress.
Israel has also announced it intends to deduct around $10 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in a dispute over payments to the families of prisoners in Israeli jails.
In response, Abbas has refused to receive any funds at all, labelling the Israeli reductions theft.
That will leave his government with a monthly shortfall of around $190 million for the length of the crisis.
The money makes up more than 50 percent of the PA’s monthly revenues, with other funds coming from local taxes and foreign aid.

While the impact of the cuts is still being assessed, analysts fear it could affect the stability of the occupied West Bank.
“If the economic situation remains so difficult and the PA is unable to pay salaries and provide services, in addition to continuing (Israeli) settlement expansion it will lead to an explosion,” political analyst Jihad Harb said.
Abbas cut off relations with the US administration after President Donald Trump declared the disputed city of Jerusalem Israel’s capital in December 2017.
The right-wing Israeli government, strongly backed by the US, has since sought to squeeze Abbas.
After a deadly anti-Israeli attack last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would withhold $138 million (123 million euros) in Palestinian revenues over the course of a year.
Israel collects around $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports, and then transfers the money to the PA.
Israel said the amount it intended to withhold was equal to what is paid by the PA to the families of prisoners, or prisoners themselves, jailed for attacks on Israelis last year.
Many Palestinians view prisoners and those killed while carrying out attacks as heroes of the fight against Israeli occupation.
Israel says the payments encourage further violence.
Abbas recently accused Netanyahu’s government of causing a “crippling economic crisis in the Palestinian Authority.”
The PA also said in January it would refuse all further US government aid for fear of lawsuits under new US legislation targeting alleged support for “terrorism.”

Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced earlier this month he had been forced to “adopt an emergency budget that includes restricted austerity measures.”
Government employees paid over 2,000 shekels ($555) will receive only half their salaries until further notice.
Prisoner payments would continue in full, Bishara added.
Nasser Abdel Karim, a Ramallah-based economics professor, told AFP the PA, and the Palestinian economy more generally, remain totally controlled by and reliant on Israel.
The PA undertook similar financial measures in 2012 when Israel withheld taxes over Palestinian efforts to gain international recognition at the United Nations.
Abdel Karim said such crises are “repeated and disappear according to the development of the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel or the countries that support (the PA).”
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including now annexed east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and Abbas’s government has only limited autonomy in West Bank towns and cities.
“The problem is the lack of cash,” economic journalist Jafar Sadaqa told AFP.
He said that while the PA had faced financial crises before, “this time is different because it comes as a cumulative result of political decisions taken by the United States.”
Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on March 10 to head a new government to oversee the crisis.
Abdel Karim believes the crisis could worsen after an Israeli general election next month “if a more right-wing Israeli government wins.”
Netanyahu’s outgoing government is already regarded as the most right-wing in Israel’s history but on April 9 parties even further to the right have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament for the first time.
Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts have been at a standstill since 2014, when a drive for a deal by the administration of President Barack Obama collapsed in the face of persistent Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank.