Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana - Urban & Women's Property Ownership

Sayali Marawar & Simran Pal Kaur

18 Aug 2021 11:52 AM GMT

  • Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana - Urban  &  Womens Property Ownership

    Women's ownership of property and housing is often constrained due to historically rooted barriers of certain cultural and social norms in India. Caste and class hierarchies further impact some groups of women more severely. While women are not a homogenous group, there are certain shared experiences and vulnerabilities emerging from gendered relations of power and...

    Women's ownership of property and housing is often constrained due to historically rooted barriers of certain cultural and social norms in India. Caste and class hierarchies further impact some groups of women more severely. While women are not a homogenous group, there are certain shared experiences and vulnerabilities emerging from gendered relations of power and inherent patriarchal nature of our society that has led to highly skewed property ownership by males. The percentage of women's land ownership in India is ambiguous, owing to the wide variations in national datasets determined by the respective agency which undertakes calculations, decides the criteria and estimation models that they use. Hence, making empirical evidence on this issue very elusive.

    International laws regard property rights as a basic human right irrespective of gender. To improve women's economic security and rights, UN Women, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, advocate for women's land and property rights to mitigate feminised poverty. Property rights for Indian women, like those of women in other countries, have evolved over time as a result of a sustained struggle. In 2005, amendments incorporated in the Hindu Succession Act 1956, did away with gender discrimination and now treats daughters and wives as equal parties to the property.

    Mandate On Women's Property Ownership

    Over time, the national housing schemes have also introduced mandates on women property ownership. The erstwhile Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MoHUPA) while implementing Rajiv Awas Yojana (2011-2015), released draft Model Property Rights to Slum Dwellers Act, 2011 which mandated that the legal title to the house shall be in the name of the woman head of the household or in joint ownership with the male head. The current national housing scheme Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana - Urban (PMAY-U) of the Government of India (GoI), followed suit and further accentuates the mandate of registering the house in the name of the woman or jointly.

    While the government has demonstrated its good intent by including such progressive measures in the PMAY-U's mandate, there are certain systemic bottlenecks in universally implementing the same. In India, land and property ownership rarely gets inherited by the woman directly. This means that for achieving ownership of an existing property, a property transfer process needs to be initiated by way of executing a gift/settlement deed. In cases where the property is being newly purchased/acquired today, the title can be made directly in the name of the woman. While there are larger prohibitive cultural and social norms at play which prevent a typical Indian household from taking this bold step, the resistance is also on account of the tedious processes and costs associated with getting this done. Since land is a state subject, it is in the purview of the states to implement changes that can ease and incentivise the process of registering property ownership. Hence, with limited efforts from the states on implementing systemic reforms on stamp duty and registration charges thus far, the universal implementation of women property ownership remains a distant goal.

    With the intent of removing operational bottlenecks in PMAY-U's implementation, MoHUA issued subsequent circulars to clarify that the mandate for registration of house in the name of the woman is applicable only for new purchases and not for new construction/enhancement on an existing piece of land/house. This dispensation, however, unintentionally had a large impact in the implementation of women ownership/co-ownership criteria. As a result, the Beneficiary Led Construction/Enhancement (BLC) vertical which has 69 lakh houses sanctioned and provides subsidies directly to landowners/homeowners to build or improve their own houses, shall be unable to achieve absolute women property ownership as the states have used multiple mechanisms to navigate this bottleneck. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, the beneficiary of the scheme as per the management information system (MIS) is commonly the woman head of the household, irrespective of land ownership by the male/female/joint. In Assam, due to constraints such as women not having a bank account nor the land being in her name, males are allowed to be the beneficiary of the scheme. At present there is no preference for who can apply for the PMAY-U house. In case the land is owned by one of the family members, a no-objection certificate (NOC) is secured from the landowner in favour of the beneficiary. In Tamil Nadu, commonly, the free house pattas are granted in the name of the woman or in joint ownership. However, if the land is in the name of the male then the primary beneficiary in the MIS for receiving the subsidy under the scheme shall also be the male or have the woman as a co-applicant. Several other states have resorted to utilising the dispensation option provided to expedite the implementation, rather than pursuing the more elaborate option of amending regulations, reducing registration charges and stamp duty and enforcing women ownership/co-ownership.

    Moreover, the updated PMAY-U guidelines released in January 2021 state that the inclusion of the name of the woman in the registered title/sale deed shall be permitted at a later stage as well, as mentioned in clause 2.5 of the guidelines. The guidelines further advise state governments to keep the stamp duty and registration charges nominal or exempt them entirely for economically weaker section (EWS) and low-income group (LIG) households, since the regulation of these charges are in the ambit of the state governments. The legislative and institutional interventions of a fee waiver can help reduce the financial burden on women while also mitigating the barriers to guarantee affordability in exercising this option. Several states like Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Tamil Nadu have reduced registration charges and stamp duty for gift/settlement within the family members. Other states are also being encouraged to take the lead in enacting the recommendation.

    However, there are some implementation challenges in reducing such charges. For instance, in Assam, the process of getting the land title deed itself takes about two to three months. It was decided that special camps would be conducted with coordination with the circle office but it could not be realised. The main challenge is to navigate through multi-departmental operations including the circle office, inspector general of registration department, district collector office etc.

    Hence, implementation of the mandate of women's property ownership is compromised due to lack of enforcement of women's ownership criteria and reluctance in the state governments to adopt a revised process that includes reduced stamp duties and quick and hassle-free property transfer. While the flexibility in the criteria allowed greater progress towards achieving the goal of Housing for All, it inadvertently compromised on the goal of ensuring high adoption of women ownership/joint ownership. A new pucca house improves quality of life for households but if and when a dispute arises in that household or in times of other crises whether the woman will feel empowered or vulnerable shall depend highly on the property's ownership status.

    Legal rights or mandates are essential but not always sufficient to translate the rights into effective access and use. There are certain open questions that need to be explored further in order to seek well-rounded solutions that can make the mandate on women property ownership more effective. Some of the pertinent questions are — does property transfer need to be incentivised? Can gift deeds be encouraged and the stamp duty and registration charges be waived off or reduced for transferring property to women? Should GoI have strictly mandated transfer even if that meant a reduced number of completed houses initially in the PMAY-U Mission? An exploration of these questions is critical to carve a way ahead for enabling women's access to adequate housing and property to achieve an overall social well-being.

    A large-scale transformation toward women's ownership/co-ownership necessitates a combination of factors such as shift in socio-cultural attitudes and behaviour, the enforcement of rules, a conducive process of documentation, low or no transaction costs, etc. A market changing reform of this magnitude required a massive push, which was available through the substantial subsidy under PMAY-U. A carrot-and-stick approach of enabling the subsidy incentive to enforce the mandate, even if reluctantly, ownership/co-ownership of property in the name of the woman head of the household, would have gone a long way to change the society's mind-set to this pertinent issue.


    Sayali Marawar (Lead - Field Engagements, Indian Housing Federation)

    Simran Pal Kaur (Research Associate - Applied Research, Indian Housing Federation)

    Field inputs on state-level implementation from UnATHI Fellows Co' 21

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