By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Millions of cases related to land and property are stuck in Indian courts, draining litigants of resources and highlighting the urgent need for land reform in the country, a legal advocacy group says.
Matters related to land and property make up about two-thirds of all civil cases in the country, according to a recent study by Bengaluru-based Daksh, which found most litigants were poor men belonging to so-called lower castes with only basic education.
"It shows the urgent need for land reforms, not just to ease land and property transactions, but also to free up our courts," Surya Prakash, a program director at Daksh, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday.
More than 22 million cases are currently pending in India's district courts, according to government data. Of these, 7.5 million are civil cases, of which more than 6 million have dragged on for more than five years.
Civil litigants spend an average of 497 rupees ($7) per day on court hearings, the Daksh survey of more than 9,000 litigants showed. They also incur a loss of 844 rupees per day due to loss of pay or business.
The total cost of litigation every year is equivalent to about 0.5 percent of India's annual gross domestic product of $2 trillion, Daksh estimated.
With land records in several Indian states dating back to the colonial era, fraud is rampant and disputes are inevitable.
Plaintiffs and defendants in civil cases are generally from similar socio-economic backgrounds, the Daksh survey showed.
About 90 percent of litigants had an annual income of less than 300,000 rupees ($4,500), while 80 percent had not studied beyond school, according to the research by Daksh which expects to release its full report on the Indian judicial system on Wednesday.
Land records in India are gradually being computerized, and several states are taking steps to speed up land transactions and issue clear title deeds.
But progress is slow, and in the meantime, disputes over landholdings, titles, compensation and inheritance end up in court.
"People continue to approach the courts to settle land and property disputes despite the many problems they face," said Prakash.
"They continue to believe the courts are the only way for them to quickly get justice, despite data showing this is not the case."
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)