Nexus of Good: Revolutionising home ownership

By adding the names of rural women in property cards, Pune Zilha Parishad has been transforming the social attitude and promoting economic development

Nexus of Good: Revolutionising home ownership

Pune Zilha Parishad has recently concluded a drive to include names of women as owners of properties in rural areas of the district, with 8.15 lakh properties of the 9.27 lakh households having at least the name of one woman as a house owner. This is indeed a transformation.

The Maharashtra government had articulated policies to include women members’ names in property documents. The government had also enacted a law whereby if the woman is the first owner of the property being purchased, there is a discount of five per cent on the stamp duty. Despite the policies and exemptions, only 16 per cent of the property cards of the houses in rural areas of Pune contained women’s names. It was at the initiative of Ayush Prasad, a young IAS officer and Chief Executive Officer of Zilha Parishad, that a minor revolution began. As the drive for correction of land records was launched, he instructed the field officers to add the names of women members of the households.

To give impetus to the drive, Ayush Prasad called the office bearers of the Gram Sevak and Sarpanch Unions, and requested them to “cooperate” with this drive. They were surprised because, usually, it was they who called on the Chief Executive Officer for a variety of issues being faced by them, and never the other way around.

Meetings began in each Gram Panchayat at the ward level. There was confusion about whether including women’s names was optional or mandatory. The confusion was allowed to persist. There was hesitancy, especially among joint families. Sarpanches stepped in to explain that the inheritance would not be affected if all the women’s names in the household were added.

At the end of the first round of the campaign, the numbers went up to 41 per cent but much more work was to be done. Updated property cards were distributed during the Women’s Day celebrations. Encouraged by households, and driven by the fear of missing out, more people got interested and applied for the addition of the names of women members. In six months, the drive had grown to include nearly all houses with women members. It was not only the property cards that were getting changed, it was also the attitude that was gradually changing.

Take Sasewardi Gram Panchayat in Bhor Taluka, for example. All but six houses in the village of 1,400 persons have updated their property records to include women’s names. The six houses that are left behind have no women in their households. The Gram Panchayat has recently installed boards with the names of both owners of the household to give a sense of visible ownership to women because they felt that property cards were either in personal records or in the files of Gram Panchayat. Boards on the house would be a daily reminder of their newfound ownership. The idea for this drive came from the WhatsApp status of Ayush Prasad himself who was posing with his wife Indrani Misra outside the gate of their official residence. The photo had a board by the side of the gate containing both their names, inspiring the idea of installing name plates. About 30 years ago, when 33 per cent of the seats in Panchayati Raj Institutions were reserved for women, the ruling party of the time had lost a bye-election in Bhor, which many had blamed on the empowering reservation. Today, the same taluka is happily accepting and driving the empowerment of women.

The tax demand among all properties in rural areas is roughly Rs 424 crore. The upper slab of the tax rate is fixed to be 0.4 per cent of the value of the property. So, a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that the minimum value of all built-up property is Rs 1.06 lakh crore. Nearly 89 per cent of these properties are owned by women, and since many are co-owners — assuming there are equal men and women in a household — 44.5 per cent or Rs 47,170 crore is the value of the property owned by women. Through this drive, property that is transferred in the name of women stands at about Rs 40,000 crore. The lady of the house no longer just lives and supports the household, she also owns the household. About 30 years ago, when the first Elector Photo ID Cards were distributed, many women got a name and an official government identity for the first time. Similarly, credit to this drive, many women have become owners of immovable property for the first time.

Niti Aayog often writes about monetising rural assets and increasing the participation of women in the workforce. Pune District has over 2.60 lakh women who are part of Self-Help Groups (SHGs). Women in these groups have been borrowing and investing in setting up small enterprises. These are creating jobs and generating income. Now that they own property, women can access larger loans to start larger enterprises and grow more rapidly. During the period of the drive, over Rs 500 crore worth of loans have been given by banks to the women.

Pune Zilha Parishad has mobilised a volunteer force of 21,000 women to prevent and protect those who are victims of domestic violence. The Domestic Violence Act, 2005, requires women’s protection officers to relocate women to shelter homes, discouraging them to report cases of abuse. But with the security of residence due to co-ownership of the house and the support of the volunteers, more women resist and report domestic violence. The cases being reported to the police have gone up by three times, and it is not at a stage where the victim is badly injured.

The Gram Panchayats that have worked very hard to include the names of women by reaching out to each household — counselling them, accepting applications, hearing objections and then updating property cards — have also benefited as they have collected record taxes worth Rs 360 crore. Notices were issued in the names of both men and women, and they said that women were more law-abiding.

Ayush Prasad and his wonderful team have demonstrated how women can actually be empowered. They present a great example of Nexus of Good, which can be replicated in all the districts of the country. A simple thing like adding names to a property card can transform social attitudes and promote economic development. Programmes like these have long-term impacts and the real fruits would be enjoyed by the generations to come. This would be similar to the impact created through the efforts like the Elector’s Photo ID Card and reservation of seats for women in Panchayati Raj institutions.

Views expressed are personal

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