Land governance and urban development in India

The structure of urban governance in cities is arguably a central determinant of the modality of urban growth in developing countries. Urban governance determines whether cities will be dense or sprawling, what kinds of firms they will attract, the cost of living, and whether they will produce an adequate supply of housing or leave huge populations living in urban slums. The efficiency of land markets and land regulation are a central piece of urban governance. When the barriers to land transactions and land development are high, developers will be unable to build the housing stock that is demanded by urban residents, leading to cities that are less efficient, more sprawling, have larger slums and less efficient economic sectors, and less able to absorb large numbers of potential migrants.

There are numerous policy reforms that could respond to better knowledge of the costs of land litigation. Land use policies could be revised to decrease ambiguity and thus risk of litigation. More clearly delineated property rights, for example through digitized land records, will decrease the likelihood of land being tied up in the courts. The broader research agenda that this project contributes to has even more far-reaching implications for policy.

Finding ways to reduce the barriers to entry to participation in the urban economy, from lower costs of living to improved transportation and access to services, is a key challenge to policymakers seeking to facilitate access to opportunity and equitable growth.

We will produce a set of academic papers describing the variation in the judicial environment across cities as it relates to litigation surrounding land. We will also engage policy-makers with our findings, decision-makers in key ministries in the Indian government and in think tanks that focus on urban development. Finally, we will produce public data on the city-level litigation environment, data which will be shared in our public data platform (SHRUG), which already makes public one of the widest sets of city-level economic data available in a developing country.


  • Research in progress.

    Project last updated on: 22 Jan 2021.