Titles alone do not make Indians feel secure about property, analysts say

NEW DELHI: Only about half of people in India feel their property rights are well-protected, according to experts, with a similar number saying they were confident in authorities' support should those rights be challenged.

As India moves to modernise its land records and provide housing for all citizens within five years, analysts said it showed land titles alone did not make people feel more secure.

The figures came from surveys for the Global Property Rights Index , a global dataset on citizens' perceptions of property rights.

"If you are in a society where you cannot rely on enforcement, how do you protect your rights?" said Soumya Chattopadhyay from the Overseas Development Institute, a British think tank that is involved in the index.

"Even if you have formal rights on a piece of paper, does it deliver what it promises?"

The survey, which was carried out last year, asked how secure people felt about their homes and land. Residents of some states with higher rates of land titling said they did not feel more secure, while people in states with lower rates did.

"You can look at it positively and say: 'They are doing OK even though they don't have formal documentation'," said Malcolm Childress, executive director of Land Alliance, a Washington DC-based think tank that compiles the PRIndex.

"But the flip side is maybe they are feeling a false sense of security, and don't know how vulnerable they are," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation at a land conference in Delhi, where some of the findings were published in a report.

Property rights experts say clear titles are critical - not just for the security they give residents, but also to help obtain credit or get essential services such as food subsidies.

Land Alliance, with support from the Omidyar Network, launched the multi-state survey with market research firm Gallup in India in early 2016. Last year's test was its second, and involved 16,475 respondents across the country.

Respondents were asked how likely it was that they would lose the right to live in their home, why they felt secure or insecure, what documents they possessed, and who would get ownership in the event of divorce or death.

The survey found more women than men felt they might lose their property in the event of divorce - 62 percent versus 57 percent.

About a quarter of homeowners and nearly one in five rural landowners told researchers in the 2016 survey that they feared losing their property.

PRIndex is an initiative of the Omidyar Network - with which the Thomson Reuters Foundation has a partnership on land rights coverage - and the UK's Department for International Development. It will cover 34 countries this year.