Land Records as 'Weapons of the Commoners,' 'Customs in Common' and Public Policy

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"Suddenly this October (2012), village common lands have been swept into the eye of a storm of protest against land scams and corruption in India. However there is more to it than an upright district officer exposing mis-use of land records by the very custodians who were entrusted with public policy and laying bare the bureaucrat-politician nexus in the partition and privatisation of common lands of villages near Delhi. Tampering with land records has far reaching consequences on the environment as they are a link between institutional change, public policy and the fate of common property. Common property resources are in the centre of land-use and tenure which determines the ecological relationships of those who share natural resources with serious consequences on human and natural environment In the first part of the paper we will map out the the evidence from historical records of ecological patterns of land-use in which common property rights were central. This will reveal how land records minimised uncertainty in the Indian country-side and supported rules which took care of not only cheating and shirking, but also to avoid a 'tragedy of the commons'. However it depended on the Government of the day honouring customs both in administration and in courts. Today things have gone awry as can be illustrated in the second part from a sample region (northern India); in an eco-system (Sutlej-Yamuna inter-riverine area) within it; and in a cluster of villages within the eco-system. Since common lands are more vulnerable to change by fiat and executive order and provide space for corruption, there is reason to believe that land records will have to be guarded against tampering albeit their being tools of public policy. The environment requires enhanced ecological certainty and a greater reliance on contractual commitments of the Government."
public policy, land tenure and use, IASC