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What Other States Can Learn From World’s Largest Slum Land Rights Project In Odisha

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By Shalmoli Halder and Sushant Kumar:

Informal settlements—or ‘slums’—present significant demographic and economic value to India’s increasingly populated and concentrated urban centres. Accounting for nearly 17 % of India’s 377 million urban dwellers, residents of these informal settlements contribute to more than 7.5 % of the country’s GDP. In spite of this immense value, the ubiquitous threat of forced evictions due to missing or insufficient paperwork, and lack of necessities such as sanitation and clean water continue to undermine the rights of those that call these settlements their home.

Informal settlements hold considerable value, and a lot of it is unrealised. Formal property rights to their residents could help make this previously ‘occupied’ land an economically viable asset. Studies on slums in Bengaluru, for example, found that the average purchase value of a slum house is approximately INR 15 lakh. Given their informal status though, these properties can neither be sold easily nor taxed by the government thereby leading to a loss in potential benefit.

Related article: When does a slum stop being a slum?

The Formalisation Of Land Rights

Earlier this year, the Odisha government commenced the world’s largest slum titling project by ordaining Odisha Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act of 2017, that seeks to formalise the land rights of urban slum dwellers.

Under the Act, the government aims to provide approximately 2,00,000 households with formalised land rights to reduce insecurity, increase welfare, provide access to necessities, and improve the lives of millions of its citizens. Although the Odisha government’s initiative is path-building, bold, and ambitious, it has illustrated that there is much more to be done. The Odisha government’s land titling project is an opportunity to act as a catalyst for broader large-scale transformational impact. To do so, there is a clear and immediate need to build on these current efforts. However, transplanting such programmes to other Indian states would not be without its challenges and obstacles.

Unlike issues that enjoy universal support—such as education and health—the formalisation of land rights is considerably more politically sensitive and onerous, particularly in regional contexts. As this is still largely unchartered territory, implementing any such programme will require expending political capital, and undertaking a considerable administrative effort to navigate the challenges. Even at the national level, land rights have yet to feature prominently as an issue to be addressed nor do they hold a significant place at the Centre’s agenda. Thus, the impetus for such programmes must come from state governments, civil society nonprofits, and other relevant and responsible stakeholders.

The Odisha government’s formalisation of land rights can offer many learnings for states looking to improve the quality of life for their citizens residing in informal settlements.  To this end, there is a need to answer three critical questions: the where who, and how.


To determine where such projects could have the greatest potential for impact, it is essential to consider the magnitude of the benefit generated. States and communities with the highest need such as those with a high percentage of urban populations and greatest visibility such as those with approaching elections can offer substantial benefit and promise.

The question of need can be answered by determining the number of potential beneficiaries, or the number of households living in urban slums in a particular state. As benefit generated cannot be considered within a vacuum, the potential for other states adopting these practices through visibility must also be taken into account, particularly during the initial stages of adoption. For example, if a programme is adopted by a state that is perceived to be an ‘exemplar’—i.e. a state whose policies and models are usually emulated by other states—it could create a domino effect that creates momentum in other states to adopt similar policies.

It is also worth noting that such programmes must always be context-cognisant. To this end, the nuances of the Odisha model may not be entirely relevant for other states, and a need for context-specific and nuanced adaption of the programme may emerge.


Identifying the right stakeholders to engage and work with is critical to the successful adoption and implementation of such programmes. There are two stakeholders, however, whose buy-in is absolutely essential: the community served, and the influencers.

Photo courtesy: The Bridgespan Group

Considering the needs and concerns of the community throughout the programme—from inception to implementation and follow-up—is crucial to getting a realistic understanding of the issues and challenges they face. Consequently, having a thoughtful and sufficient understanding of these issues is critical to formulating a programme that adequately addresses them. Creating multiple touch points for repeat community engagement and feedback may prove beneficial in keeping communities engaged and motivated.

In addition to ensuring continuous community engagement, identifying and working with legislative and administrative influencers, who are not only willing and able take up the issue but also have the wherewithal to follow-through, is critical.

Undertaking a programme of such magnitude depends on support from the highest levels, and requires significant commitment and investment—elements that must primarily be found from within the state. While engaging with legislative influencers helps with the adoption of the Act itself, securing adequate buy-in from administrators is integral for its adequate implementation. Without administrative officials’ engagement and involvement, the programme’s effective implementation on the ground may suffer. One of the primary success factors in the Odisha story has been the push and support from the CM office, and the tremendous championship from the administrative officials.

Related articles: IDR Interviews | Xavier Dias


Paramount, however, is that implementation is executed in a collaborative, and strategic way. The Odisha government’s collaborative approach, for example, engaged multiple stakeholders and partners, ranging from technical partners such as the Spatial Planning and Analysis Research Centre (SPARC), to nonprofits working on the ground with communities, and leveraged their relevant operational, thematic, and regional expertise. Doing so not only brings in a diversity of unique perspectives to the table but also helps create multiple layers of accountability and management protocols that can be leveraged in the future.

The Odisha government has undoubtedly undertaken an ambitious programme with the potential to create immense benefit and value. It will not only improve the lives of numerous slum dwellers who currently don’t have access to even the most basic necessities, but also create countless positive learnings for the government and the state’s economy. However, it is not sufficient to implement this programme in Odisha alone. The Centre and state governments must look at the learnings from Odisha’s formalisation of land rights not as an anomaly, but instead as a model that can and must be emulated.

About the authors

Shalmoli Halder: As an analyst based in Mumbai, Shalmoli sources and evaluates investments in India for Omidyar Network’s Property Rights initiative. Before joining the firm, Shalmoli was an associate consultant at Dalberg Global Development Advisors, where she supported projects, performed research, and analysed data for a variety of clients including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, USAID, and Omidyar Network spanning gender, financial inclusion, education, and property rights. Shalmoli graduated from Yale University, where she studied biomedical engineering and political science.

Sushant Kumar: As a member of the Intellectual Capital team, Sushant helps to define Omidyar Network’s investment strategies and to develop the firm’s strategy, research, impact, and learning agendas, with a focus on India. Before joining Omidyar Network, Sushant was a principal at Accenture Strategy, where he led key initiatives across consumer goods and technology industries. Before Accenture, Sushant worked as a strategist with the GSM Association, Capgemini, and Evalueserve; driving thought leadership across policy, consumer technology, and digital media sectors.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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