Distribution, not Redistribution: Populism and the Trajectories of Land Titling in South India

Authors: Indivar Jonnalagadda*, University of Pennsylvania, Karan Misquitta*,
Topics: Political Geography, Economic Geography, Legal Geography
Keywords: populism, land titles, bureaucracy, discourse analysis, urban-rural comparison
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: 8223, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Land titles or “pattas” have always had a central place in the Indian imaginary. In the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh (AP) processes of land titling have been mobilized by successive state governments for populist gains. While new legislations and technocratic schemes that enable dispossession attract the bulk of academic attention (Levien 2018), these titling programs are announced and carried out through government orders (GOs) and communications internal to the bureaucracy. In this paper, we analyze bureaucratic discourse using the texts of GOs for three arenas where these programs are implemented---urban slums, government wasteland, and forest land---to demonstrate how populist visions are translated into bureaucratic procedures. We show how the uptake of government orders by the bureaucratic machinery results in creative and iterative reinterpretations of the original programs. While it is formally prohibited to transfer the land that is distributed, informal markets and bureaucratic mechanisms that support de facto transfers and the assetization of titles to access government schemes thrive (Benjamin 2008; Birch et al. 2016). Based on the discursive evidence and ethnographic observations of the everyday functioning of the land bureaucracy in Hyderabad city during a titling program in 2015, we offer a framework to think about how populist programs are constrained firstly, by the specific way in which they are bureaucratized, secondly, by how they affect existing informal land markets, and finally how they in turn constrain the state in its role as a broker in the conversion of urban and rural land into financial assets.

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