Is right to land for shelter a human right? - open until December 21st | Land Portal

One of the unique aspects of the National Land Reform Agenda currently being pursued by the Central Government of India (viz Ministries of Rural Development and Tribal Affairs) is the right to land for shelter. This evolved as a part of what is being seen as a second round of land reforms in India yet-to-be realized in the coming years. Setting minimum holding and not simply ‘ceiling’ for landholders has been an important addition to reduce inequity and poverty. The Right to Land for Shelter may be finally put into law and as such it will have a similar effect as the Right to Food, the Right to Education and other rights that are recognized as social justice principles derived from the fundamental rights of the Indian Constitution.

To be effective, land reform has to address the need for land for agriculture and the need for land for housing. Historically the discourse of land-rights only meant rights over land for agricultural purposes. But including the agenda of right to shelter in the broad discourse of land-reforms enables the development of solidarity between marginalized groups in rural and urban areas and this strengthens the overall efforts for social-justice. In the rural context right to shelter can easily translate into rights over homestead land but in urban context, with the high premium for land, it becomes more challenging. Land is thus a matter of security, of dignity; it is a matter of citizen's respect and protection; it is a matter of recognition of a link to land which is not only a question of pure food security, but also a source of culture and identity for indigenous as well as non-indigenous marginalized groups. In that sense, right to land is more than ever a human right.

In international law, the Right to Adequate Housing is part of the Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) and there cannot be adequate housing without a piece of land along with it. It is implicit. Similarly in the Right to an Adequate Standard of Living, which is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UPR), it implies that you have some kind of safety, security and it is suitable to climate or climatic changes. The rights to adequate housing, food and life with dignity are also found in the Charter of Indigenous Rights recognizing the importance of land within the indigenous cultures. Recently the UN has been moving towards a Right to Land as a Normative under the International Human Rights Code. As well the Peasants Declaration for Land Rights and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Land Tenure, all converge in pressing for a right to land for the poorest section of the society.

Women who form the largest segment of small farmers and agricultural labourers in India necessarily need a right to land for shelter in order to maintain their dignity in the family and society; they need an identity to ensure that they are recognized as farmers; and they need assets to provide for family well-being and to resist violence from the family and society especially in the case where they are vulnerable and single. The right to shelter land therefore provides an indispensible piece in the thrust for human and inclusive development.

As discussions are going on at the moment with the indian Goverment, we – Ekta Parishad - would like to share ideas and opinions on this link between right to land and right to shelter. How can we make linkages between right to land and right to shelter when right to shelter can mean different things for rural and urban contexts? Have you experienced similar assessment around the globe and how did they affect local situations? On a gender perspective, do you think that a right for a land to shelter really impacts on the protection of all citizens? Should the issues of landlessness and homelessness be addressed seperately, according to you?

Thank you very much in advance for your active participation. A report of the discussion will be available online after the closing.

Jai jagat!

Some questions to frame the discussion:

What is your experience of land reforms?

Do they have an impact on homelessness? As an activist, what arguments can be used to create a real link between right to land and right to shelter?

Do you believe that a right to land for shelter is a human right?


To get into more details, please have a look at the text of the Agreement signed on October 11th between the indian Government and the marchers of Jan Satyagraha : click here

"Secure land tenure and property rights can be delivered through a variety of forms. They are fundamental to shelter and livelihoods; as such, they are an important foundation for the realisation of human rights and for poverty reduction. Secure land rights are particularly important in helping to reverse three types of phenomena: gender discrimination; social exclusion of vulnerable groups; and wider social and economic inequalities linked to inequitable and insecure rights to land." (...)

Check also the facts, figures and studies related to the subject in the report of UN Habitat Secure land rights for all, click here .

News article about the subject, published November 17th:

Government mulling to make law on providing homes to people

Posted on: 27 Nov 2012, 03:07 PM

Right to Home before 2014 LS polls!

New Delhi: After providing right to food and jobs to every citizen of the nation, the UPA Government is all set to announce ‘right to home’ ahead of 2014 general elections. The government is likely to announce this during the next budget session.

Under this scheme, the government will guarantee home to every citizen. The Central Government has started drafting the National Land Reforms Policy to expedite its flagship programme.

Though Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) has already existed for below poverty line (BPL) families but the pro-poor scheme has not benefitted lakhs of landless families leading to wide spread protests against the government. Heeding to the demands of landless farmers, the government agreed to provide pieces of land and financial support to them.

A special task force established for this purpose met on Monday and arrived at consensus on various issues. The proposed National Land Reforms Policy provides for financial support of Rs 20,000 to the landless farmers in the first phase.

A similarly provision for increasing the financial support from Rs 45,000 to Rs 75,000 under Indira Awaas Yojana (IAY) is currently under consideration of the Union Cabinet.

Convener of Jan Satyagraha, PV Rajagopal, who attended the meeting of task force, said that the government had agreed to these demands in principle and a draft of National Land Reforms Policy will be presented during a meeting on January 17.


A statement for the importance of shelter in a broader sense - focusing on its importances related to children and gender.

Thank you Dominik for this input. It is true that the right to shelter is essential in matters of security for the most vulnerable populations, including women and children of course. But then, what makes the difference between the right to shelter and the right to land for shelter? Whatd does the idea of land bring to this issue?

A controversial comment on the right to shelter associated to right to land, ESCR rights, tha Indian Constitution and homeless people, found today on :


Unlike certain other ESC rights, the right to shelter, which forms part of the right to an adequate standard of living under article 11 of the ICESCR, finds no corresponding expression in the DPSP. This right has been seen as forming part of article 21 itself. The court has gone as far as to say, “The right to life . . . would take within its sweep the right to food . . . and a reasonable accommodation to live in.” However, given that these observations were not made in a petition by a homeless person seeking shelter, it is doubtful that this declaration would be in the nature of a positive right that could be said to be enforceable. On the other hand, in certain other contexts with regard to housing for the poor, the court has actually refused to recognize any such absolute right.

In Olga Tellis v. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985) 3 SCC 545 the court held that the right to life included the right to livelihood. The petitioners contended that since they would be deprived of their livelihood if they were evicted from their slum and pavement dwellings, their eviction would be tantamount to deprivation of their life and hence be unconstitutional. The court, however, was not prepared to go that far. It denied that contention, saying:

No one has the right to make use of a public property for a private purpose without requisite authorisation and, therefore, it is erroneous to contend that pavement dwellers have the right to encroach upon pavements by constructing dwellings thereon . . . If a person puts up a dwelling on the pavement, whatever may be the economic compulsions behind such an act, his use of the pavement would become unauthorised.

Later benches of the Supreme Court have followed the Olga Tellis dictum with approval. In Municipal Corporation of Delhi v. Gurnam Kaur, (1989) 1 SCC 101. the court held that the Municipal Corporation of Delhi had no legal obligation to provide pavement squatters alternative shops for rehabilitation as the squatters had no legal enforceable right. In Sodan Singh case (1989) 4 SCC 155 a constitution bench of the Supreme Court reiterated that the question whether there can at all be a fundamental right of a citizen to occupy a particular place on the pavement where he can squat and engage in trade must be answered in the negative. These cases fail to account for socioeconomic compulsions that give rise to pavement dwelling and restrict their examination of the problem from a purely statutory point of view rather than the human rights perspective.

Fortunately, a different note has been struck in a recent decision of the court. In Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation v. Nawab Khan Gulab Khan, (1997) 11 SCC 123 in the context of eviction of encroachers in a busy locality of Ahmadabad city, the court said:

Due to want of facilities and opportunities, the right to residence and settlement is an illusion to the rural and urban poor. Articles 38, 39 and 46 mandate the State, as its economic policy, to provide socio-economic justice to minimise inequalities in income and in opportunities and status. It positively charges the State to distribute its largesse to the weaker sections of the society envisaged in Article 46 to make socio-economic justice a reality, meaningful and fruitful so as to make life worth living with dignity of person and equality of status and to constantly improve excellence. Though no person has a right to encroach and erect structures or otherwise on footpaths, pavements or public streets or any other place reserved or earmarked for a public purpose, the State has the constitutional duty to provide adequate facilities and opportunities by distributing its wealth and resources for settlement of life and erection of shelter over their heads to make the right to life meaningful.

Answer to: It is true that the right to shelter is essential in matters of security for the most vulnerable populations, of course including women and children. But, what makes the difference between the right to shelter and the right to land for shelter? What does the idea of land bring to this issue?

We already identified that there is a general need for the right to shelter – it is to provide a space of security for every human being.

If we focus on the quality of the right to "land" for shelter it seems to be important to distinguish between rural and urban areas.

Key elements of urban areas are that many people are living on a relatively small piece of land and are not dependent on access to land in order to make a living. So, the right to land for shelter is a demand which does not face the structures and conditions of and in urban areas. The structure of cities requires a right to shelter - like the human right for adequate housing.

The right to land for shelter focusses on the need of areas, where the access to land is a key element in order to guarantee a livelihood.
It would be a reaction on land classifications and expulsions. Today, the problems of displacements are, that people often do not get any compensation. As a result, hundred-thousands of people have to migrate to the slums of cities to find a job.

As I understand the right to land for shelter,
it would be a first step in order to prevent displacement without compensation. It would keep people's independence for making a living. As land regulations and classifications prohibit a settlement in every area, the right to land for shelter would make sure that people can't be displaced without offering an alternative, legal place for settlement.

The right to land for shelter differentiates “the right to land” and “the right for shelter”. To make sure that people stay independent it has to go along with the "right to land" (for agriculture etc). In the end "the right to land for shelter" would lead to a reduction of migration from the countryside to cities.

The right to land for shelter, in my understanding, would go further than just addressing the rural dwellers, in this sense that it concerns every homeless people in India (more than 40 million families are homeless in India), and that is what makes it fully different from the right to land as it has been addressed until now : laws like the Forest Rights Act in India are already made (although poorely implemented) to protect rural and especially forest dwellers from displacement, and to offer compensations in some negociated cases. This is mainly a question of livelihood and food security, including also the cultural and spiritual access to land for indigenous people. What is fully new about the right to land for shelter is that it takes into account that people made landless are also made homeless, thus join slums and become urban dwellers, thus are made much more vulnerable : what we are talking about now is not just food security, but security in a general way : the possiblity to have a little homestead land! This is essential to the most vulnerable populations, not only rural ones, with a special focus on women and children.

Today on human rights day (December 10th).. please share the '30 points of dignity " with
your readers -- the framework for equality without discrimination that all
must learn , know and own to achieve our collective vision and mission
Thank you
Shulamith Koenig

In your hands, a document to learn and integrate into our daily lives

Read it out loud to re imagine and re craft a meaningful change for a new

30 points of dignity

MOVING FROM CHARITY TO DIGNITY - Free from fear and free from want

Summary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Recognizing the humanity of the other as our own

Article 1 All human beings are born free and equal.

Article 2 Everyone is entitled to the same human rights without
discrimination of any kind.

Article 3 Everyone has the human right to life, liberty, and security.

Article 4 No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.

Article 5 No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or
degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6 Everyone has the human right to be recognized everywhere as a
person before the law

Article 7 Everyone is equal before the law and has the human right to equal
protection of the law.

Article 8 Everyone has the human right to a remedy if their human rights are

Article 9 No one shall be arrested, detained, or exiled arbitrarily.

Article 10 Everyone has the human right to a fair trial.

Article 11 Everyone has the human right to be presumed innocent until proven

Article 12 Everyone has the human right to privacy and family life.

Article 13 Everyone has the human right to freedom of movement and residence
within the state, to leave any country and to return to one's country.

Article 14 Everyone has the human right to seek asylum from persecution.

Article 15 Everyone has the human right to a nationality.

Article 16 All adults have the human right to marry and found a family.
Women and men have equal

human rights to marry, within marriage, and at its dissolution.

Article 17 Everyone has the human right to own property.

Article 18 Everyone has the human right to freedom of thought, conscience
and religion.

Article 19 Everyone has the human right to freedom of opinion and

Article 20 Everyone has the human right to peaceful assembly and

Article 21 Everyone has the human right to take part in government of one's
country directly or through free and fair elections and access to the public

Article 22 Everyone has the human right to social security and to the
realization of the economic, social

and cultural rights indispensable for dignity.

Article 23 Everyone has the human right to work, to just conditions of work,
to protection against

unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to sufficient pay to ensure a

existence for one's self and one's family, and the human right to join a
trade union.

Article 24 Everyone has the human right to rest and leisure.

Article 25 Everyone has the human right to a standard of living adequate for
health and well-being,

including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social

Article 26 Everyone has the human right to education including free and
compulsory elementary

education and human rights education.

Article 27 Everyone has the human right to participate freely in the
cultural life and to share in scientific

progress, as well as to protection of their artistic, literary or scientific

Article 28 Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which
these rights can be

realized fully.

Article 29 Everyone has duties to the community.

Article 30 None of the human rights in this Declaration can be used to
justify violating another

human right.

--Human rights are Universal, Indivisible, Interconnected and interrelated

--With equality and without discrimination for all women and men, youth and

--Democracy as a delivery system of human rights

--All must know, own, organize, plan and act guided by human rights as a way
of life.

"A real democracy is a delivery system of the holistic vision and practical mission
of human rights as a way of life."
-Shulamith Koenig, Recipient of the 2003 UN Human Rights Award

"The Right to Land - a Human Right!"
Have a look at a very interesting Interview with Shivani Chaudhry, the Associate Director of Housing and Land Rights Network

Link to the Document:



Extract of the Interview: 

Q. Can a Landreform be a direct link to poverty reduction in India?

 A. Yes, absolutely. The government keeps talking about poverty reduction but it needs to address the causes of poverty. A very strong way of preventing people from becoming further impoverished, is to give them rights to their land: If so, they will be less likely to be displaced and less likely to migrate to urban areas and to lose their livelihoods and be pushed into poverty. Of course, giving land is not going to solve everything; it’s just the first step. Once you have land, then you need access to resources, agricultural implements and access to credit. The larger agenda thus has to be of ‘agrarian reform.’ This needs to be accompanied by a moratorium on forced evictions and strong laws to protect people’s rights, including their right to information, prior informed consent and participation.


Q. What are the most important concepts to promote land reform?

 A. First, land should be considered a right that is integrally linked to the right to live with dignity and essential for the fulfilment of several other human rights, including housing, food, health, work, water, and security. At the international and UN level too, work is being done to promote the normative development of the right to land as a human right. The right to land also brings together civil and political, and economic, social and cultural rights. The right to land could be seen as a human right in itself, because it’s so intrinsically linked to the right to life and to the right to live in dignity. Land is not just a social and economic but also a cultural asset. Communities, especially indigenous peoples and forest dwellers have strong cultural and spiritual ties with land. There is thus a very strong argument for the human right to land.


Q. The discourse about land reforms includes also a very strong gender dimension. How you want to make sure that women’s rights are going to play a crucial role in the whole debate

 A. Central to the issue of equality, social justice and poverty reduction, is the need to recognise women’s rights over land. We have to articulate and advocate for a separate right for women over land. If not, it is likely that the title over land will be in the name of the man of the family. But men are more likely to sell the land, to move off the land. But if the land is in the names of women, they are more likely to hold on to it, because women are more responsible for the food, for providing for their family, and for sustaining livelihoods. A large number of women in the country are now farmers. In many regions just the men migrate, while the women stay on and take care of the land. This is what we call the ‘feminisation of agriculture.’ More women become farmers, so we need to recognize them as farmers, and also give them land in their names, to enable them to cultivate it and have access to resources. While we are talking about land for individual women, it’s also important that common land in villages be given to groups of women. And we have examples of women doing collective farming, even in Ekta Parishad. They collectively cultivate the land and then they use the produce for their families. This gives them economic independence and security. They can independently purchase food and water for their children with it. If you look at the Agreement on Land Reforms between the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) and Jan Satyagraha which was signed this October2, women’s rights have been listed in an annex. So what we are saying is: if women’s rights over land are not an explicit point, women’s rights have to be included and made a priority in each of the ten points of the agenda.

Land should preferably not be jointly given, but should be registered just in the name of the woman of the household. If it’s marital property, which means that the husband brings some land into the marriage, the woman’s name should be added on to that at the time of marriage. But if land is allocated by the government to a family, it must be in the name of the woman. Special priority must be given to single women. For example there is a scheme of rural housing called the Indira Awas Yojana3 (IAY) and under that, if the government gives you money to build your house, it has to be registered in the name of the women. But so far, nobody is checking if it’s implemented adequately. Thus there needs to be a monitoring committee to ensure that schemes are implemented adequately and that women are able to benefit. One of the points in the agreement with the Ministry of Rural Development is to provide land for landless persons under IAY as well, which is a positive development.


Q. We can conclude: The special consideration of women rights is crucial for the whole project of a new law on land.

 A. Yes, without that, nothing will change. But you have to remember that the agreement mentions a very small amount of land, just for ‘homestead,’ which is ten cents (400 square metres) per family. That’s a small amount of land. I think there should be some flexibility in the size depending on the size of the family, their livelihood, their agricultural needs. Land and housing are integrally linked to livelihood. It is therefore critical that the homestead land provided is sufficient for people to continue with their livelihoods and protects their right to work along with the right to adequate housing.

While it sounds good on paper, that everybody will have land, the real question is how this translates into reality and how the government implements this, especially in the backdrop of persisting feudal land ownership models in rural India and large scale project-induced displacement. The government’s land acquisition and rehabilitation bill must protect the right to land as well; otherwise we will have a situation of the same Ministry giving land to some people while encouraging the displacement of thousands from their land. This is not just counter-productive but also against human rights





Quelques commentaires du CETIM par rapport à la question du droit au logement au niveau du droit international:

1) Le droit au logement est reconnu dans le droit international qui implique, entre autres, l’interdiction des expulsions forcées (voir à ce propos la brochure du CETIM sur le droit au logement. Elle contient de nombreuses précisions utiles. Comme toutes nos brochures, elle est disponible en trois langues (français, anglais et espagnol) :

2) Puisqu’il s’agit du droit à la terre, il faudra à mon avis mettre en avant l’article 11 du Pacte international relatif aux droits économiques, sociaux et culturels qui comprend également la réforme agraire (art. 11.2.a. je mets le lien en anglais, L’Inde, ayant ratifié ce pacte en 1979, aurait dû procéder à une réforme agraire, en faveur des paysans sans terre, depuis longtemps (voir également nos publications sur le droit à l’alimentation et sur le droit à l’eau, uniquement les versions anglaises:

3) Il faut naturellement mettre en avant également l’article 1er commun aux deux pactes internationaux relatif aux droits humains, surtout le passage suivant : « En aucun cas, un peuple ne pourra être privé de ses propres moyens de subsistance. (art.1.2, voir la brochure du CETIM sur le droit à l’autodétermination, je mets le lien pour la version anglais, Même si l’Inde a émis des réserves à cet article, je pense que ça vaut la peine et suis sûr que des juristes indiens peuvent argumenter là-dessus…

4) Puisqu’il s’agit également de lutter contre la pauvreté, je te signale notre récente publication électronique sur la pauvreté et droits humains qui peut vous donner quelques arguments supplémentaires (disponible également en trois langues, mais je mets le lien uniquement en anglais,

Dear Melik Ozden, Thank you very much for this reminder of legal texts and international conventions around the right to housing, implying the prohibition of forced evictions, the article 11 of the ESCR Pact which contains a reference to agrarian reforms for landless peasants, and the references of the two international pacts on Human Rights, about the fact that no one can be deprived of his livelihood resources. Although, as you remind us, India has expressed some doubts about this last article, it still seems that this is quite a good tool for indian jurists to use in the legal struggle for land rights and housing. Thank you very much indeed, and I welcome all the people interested to check the documents of CETIM, available in various languages, as they are precious tools in the struggles for rights, locally and globally.

In you original post you say "Recently the UN has been moving towards a Right to Land as a Normative under the International Human Rights Code. As well the Peasants Declaration for Land Rights and the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Land Tenure, all converge in pressing for a right to land for the poorest section of the society."

I am particularly interested in what is happening at the UN, and who would be a good person to contact there on this move. If you have any references and contacts, could you provide them please?

Dear Mr Baulman Thank you very much for your inputs and comments. It is very interesting to hear your approach from an Australian and urban perspective on the issue. I believe you are quite right about the paradox of the Declaration of Human Rights which mentions the right to property, and this is an even more important reason in my view to push for the recognition of Economical, Social and Cultural Rights. I also agree ont he fact that the consumption system itself has to be reconsidered to make these land rights a proper reality, probably Gandhi's principles could be a good example to follow in that sense?This is also relevant when we mention, in the case of access to land and natural resources, the community rights VS individual properties, as well as acquisition ceilings for land.

About the right to land at UN level and the progresses around it you might want to to contact the office of the High Commissionner for Human Rights. Some of the people there have been following up quite tightly on the right to land issues at global / legal level. If you want some more precise contacts, please send me your email and I will answer you directly. You also have the links to documents in english about international laws in the comment below of Melik Özden, director of CETIM. I invite you to check these.

Published today in News Track India : Scheduled cast women protesting in Pakistan's Punjab to have rights about the land they occupy to live.



Hindus in Pak's Punjab province hold protest for land ownership

Lahore, Dec. 19 (ANI): More than 100 Hindu women from Rahim Yar Khan in Pakistan's Punjab Province have demanded that the government give them ownership rights of their occupied residential land.

The women held the protest under the banner of Scheduled Caste Rights Movement Pakistan (SCRMP).

SCRMP chairman Ramesh Jay Paal said 'scheduled caste' Hindus were living in the city in a miserable condition, as they had no property or financial resources in the area, reports the Daily Times.

He claimed that Hindu families in the area have no land ownership and said that their places of worship too have been occupied by people belonging to other religions.

Another SCRMP member, Preetam Balach, said that due to lack of schools and poor economic conditions, only two percent of the total Hindu population was receiving education. He said that they had no resources to run any business so they were forced to serve landlords at their farms.

Hindu leader Arjun Mangi said that there were hundred of thousands of square feet of government land which is not being used for cultivation or for any other purpose, adding that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif should give them the ownership of the land for residential purposes. (ANI)

I first apologize because I didn't have time and courage to read all your comments which are, I'm sure, very interesting...
When I read the question, I just want to say YES...
Living in Manila where many families have to live in the streets, their first human right which is the right to dignity is denied...
No shelter...No security
No security...No job
No job...No money
No money...No food
No food...
No school for your children...
No water...
No cleanliness...

Is right to land for shelter a human right?
Yes, it is. We had discussion at the CESCI Centre in Madurai, The group here believes that every human being should have shelter and that is a human right. And it is obligation of the government to fulfill it.
There is close link between right to land and right to shelter. Just promise to give shelter need to be backed up by the giving access to land.

Ekta Parishad has focused in the rural context. We believe that Right to land to shelter to the landless will give security and dignity to live for people. Especially the women and people from the marginalized community. Both the landlessness and homelessness should be addressed jointly.

Dear Vijay, dear lady from the Philippines, dear all,

Thank you both for these valuable comments for the discussion. As it is true that landlessness should be considered with a special attention to homelessness, is seems to me also that the right to land for shelter is more than anything else done to reduce poverty, especially for the most marginalised.

DEAR ALL THIS DISCUSSION IS NOW CLOSED! You will find a report of this discussion online in January 2013. In the meantime we wish you a happy new year and we hope to catch up online very soon!

The report of the discussion is now online! You can find it here .

Many thanks for your participation and special thanks to Dominik!

We look forward to meet you online again,

The Ekta Parishad team

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