Bihar is unique among the Indian states in its commitment to provide landless families from historically disadvantaged groups a small amount of residential land for constructing their own homes. This is a key component of a much larger initiative that seeks to tackle persistent inequalities within the Scheduled Castes, a group of communities constitutionally identified for affirmative action.
In 2007, the Government of Bihar set up the Bihar State Mahadalit Commission to recommend specific measures for the uplift of the Mahadalits, the most oppressed of the Scheduled Castes in the state. On the basis of its recommendations, the Government of Bihar launched the Mahadalit Awas Bhoomi Yojana, which envisages the transfer of approx. 1,300 sq. ft. of homestead land to landless Mahadalit families. In 2008-2009, the Department of Revenue and Land Reforms undertook a survey of Mahadalit families to identify potential beneficiaries of the programme, as well as to identify land available for redistribution. To the best of our knowledge, this data has never been collated and digitized. This is the first part of our project, and should be central interest to the Department of Revenue and Land Reforms in particular, and also to the Bihar Mahadalit Vikas Mission that has been tasked with implementing many of the other Mahadalit initiatives of the state government.
In Spring 2013, we conducted a household survey of Mahadalits in four districts of Bihar. As part of this survey, we elicited information on the household’s access to the Mahadalit Awas Bhoomi Yojana. Our survey included both areas where the programme has been successful as well as districts where the programme appears to have been unable to surmount hurdles in implementation. This gives us an opportunity to examine what worked and what did not.
Across both types of regions, we intend to hold focus group discussions with beneficiary households as well as other Mahadalit households who have remained excluded. These will be complemented with detailed interviews with officials at different levels, to try and understand the administrative and other challenges that were faced by government authorities in identifying beneficiary households and in acquiring land for redistribution.
By combining information from administrative records, from our primary survey, as well as from discussions with beneficiaries, excluded households, and government officials, we hope to understand which Mahadalit families were able to acquire titles to land under this programme, why others remained excluded, and what lessons we can derive from the Government of Bihar’s implementation of this programme for land reform policies elsewhere.