March 16, 2012 — Ninety eight tribal families living for generations in Odisha on land for which they did not have recognized claims recently received ownership titles and with it a way out of a life without assets that has kept them trapped in poverty.

“This paper gives us an identity to demand food, education and our own house,” said Sukuru Majhi after getting a Patta (“land title”) on March 16th along with 97 others through a land title allocation state scheme in Odisha.

From Odisha’s Nabarangpur District, the families were presented title documents on March 16th at a modest ceremony in an emotionally charged atmosphere on seeing their struggle finally leading to secured land rights.

Without ownership claims some of the poorest communities also miss out on a range of social security schemes, including housing entitlements. Landlessness scuttles chances for the future generation to break-free from the cycle of poverty.

Lack of access to legal and administrative channels leaves most tribal communities on the margins of development. This is particularly visible among the tribal communities.

“I wish my mother and father were here to see that we now have a Patta for the land we have lived on,” said Phagunu Mali, a 72-year-old man. He kept touching the crisp land title document he had just received as if trying to come to terms with the tangibility of what the paper represents.

“We have lived in fear for as long as I can remember. Uncertain about what we would do when asked to leave this place. We cannot be evicted now as we have a Patta,” said Chandri, recounting what it is like to be living in constant fear without any legal claim.

“This paper gives us an identity to demand food, education and our own house,” said Sukuru Majhi, a mother of three, hinting at all that a legal asset like land can open access to.

The families that received their titles are from Gadaba, Bhatra, Paraja, Bhumiya and Kondhas communities from Nabarangpur District. They have benefited from a land allocation program initiated under Odisha Tribal Empowerment Livelihoods Programme (OTELP) in collaboration with Landesa’s partner in India, the Rural Development Institute (RDI).

Since 2011, the Community Resource Persons (CRPs) model developed and piloted by RDI has been a catalyst in the implementation of government land title allocation.

With young men and women drawn from the community to add skills and capacity to the revenue department, the process of thousands of poor families getting land has received tremendous boost.

“Though most of these families have been living on this land for three generations, they were reduced to the status of illegal squatters. Finally they have Pattas,” said 28 years old Makaranda Majhi, a Bhoomi Sanjojak – as CRPs are popularly called within the state.

“My grandfather and father lived and died on the same land where we live. They longed to see a Patta. But I have it now,” said 65 years old Mahadev, summing up a generational hope that he sees coming true.

The land allocation program is currently covering 1,042 villages in seven districts of Odisha. With the support from Bhoomi Sanjojaks and the revenue department, land titles have shown an amazing success in improving nutritional status among beneficiaries, besides improving access to credit and demand for education and housing schemes.