The impact of community mobilisation on land rights governance: Evidence from a homestead land entitlement initiative in Gaya District of Bihar, India

Project Active from to State

How and under what circumstances can civic mobilization improve local governance and service delivery? This project seeks to contribute to debates on this question through a multimethod analysis of a homestead land entitlement support program in rural Gaya District, Bihar.

Homestead land entitlement in much of the developing world represents a cornerstone on which inclusive growth heavily depends. Research suggests that entitlement incentivizes poor households to invest more in livelihood activities and safer houses, and enables households to access finances and certain government services. Titles can protect households that would otherwise be vulnerable to threats of dispossession, threats that can drive down wages and depress the accountability of local government.

Since 1947, Bihar state laws have ostensibly guaranteed homestead land entitlement to all rural landless SC households in the state. Yet Bihar ranks second lowest in India in entitlement rates. The problem is particularly acute for Scheduled Caste (SC) households, 65 percent of whom remain untitled in Gaya District, the district with the highest SC population share and lowest rate of homestead entitlement in Bihar. Why do so many households remain untitled? What interventions best promote entitlement, and how do potential interventions ultimately affect livelihood and land security?

For nearly a decade, the nongovernmental organization Deshkal Society has conducted a homestead entitlement support program in Gaya District. In each target village, Deshkal Society trains SC households on entitlement procedures and assists them through the entitlement application process. The organization forms community-based organizations (CBOs) composed of SC village residents to provide sustained assistance and advocacy in support of entitlement.

The present study evaluates Deshkal Society’s intervention with a research design composed of five components:

  • Village-level randomized field experiment.

    1750 SC households from 150 Gaya villages will be surveyed. 75 of these villages will be randomly assigned to Deshkal Society’s treatment. A follow-up survey will be conducted following the intervention.

  • Life-history interviews with untitled SC households.

    Representatives from a random sample of 30 households will be interviewed.

  • Focus group interviews with CBO members.

    Three representatives from 20 randomly selected treatment village CBOs will be interviewed in focus groups.

  • Interviews with governments and key informants.

    Ten local government officials of varying levels and locations will be interviewed, along with five key informant experts and activists.

  • Conflict pathway case studies.

    Following a methodology pioneered by sociologists Christopher Gibson and Michael Woolcock, 15 cases of “conflicts” will be examined using techniques of small-N comparative-historical analysis.

While the study’s field experiment component will estimate the average causal effects of the intervention, the interviews and conflict case studies will seek to explain how and why the intervention gives rise to observed effects. This combination will allow us to develop empirically-grounded inferences about how government and NGOs can best protect the land rights of poor rural households. In exploring how CBOs mobilize on behalf of SC households, the study will generate insights on the challenges and opportunities associated with the use of community mobilization as a tool to improve governance more generally.