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Legal literacy TV programme in Andhra Pradesh: An uncommon empowerment tool


21 July 2012

Parvinder Singh

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It started as an experiment in villages and semi-rural parts of Andhra Pradesh. But after running for 58 episodes on Sunday mornings for a year, India’s first television weekly programme on secure land entitlements has created an extraordinary story of awareness and empowerment through legal literacy.

Bhoomi Kosam, a dial-in program with a weekly viewership of 60,000 at its peak, grew in popularity with a primetime slot and a dedicated audience of families whose lives are tied with land. Starting with a tentative 15 minute run-time on 23rd January 2011 – the opening show as many as 25,000 tuned in – it became a 45 minute programme.

Million reasons

The idea of a television programme of land issues may strike as a niche one, but when you look at the statistics of legal issues and disputes on land – and with it millions of lives – the reasons or need for a show like this becomes obvious. Close to 17 million rural families across India are landless or have insecure land titles. In Andhra Pradesh alone over 6 million cases of land disputes have been identified over the years.

Bhoomi Kosam, literally meaning ‘for the land’, was born in the context of a crying need. The landless and land insecure families are unable to take bank loans for agriculture. They are not registered as cultivators leaving them vulnerable and at the mercy of private money lenders.

There are two million families who do not have land or are unable to use the land due to legal issues related to title or possession. So what does it means in terms of day-to-day lived experiences?

Imagine not having documents that can establish that the house you live in is yours, or having an address that belongs to three other people or losing all the documents that you had.

The biggest chunk of audience for the telecast catering to Telugu speaking audience was in Telangana – a part of the state that has seen slew of farmer suicides in the past.

Demystifying law
A big barrier for rural families with insecure land ownership and landlessness is lack of awareness and inability to demand justice or resolution. They simply do not know what to do about it and find legal channels inaccessible.

The existing legal and administrative systems are not only complicated but unaffordable for the poor. On an average, it takes 15-20 years for a case to move up to the revenue courts. For those who rely on daily wages to make the two ends meet and no assets to lean on, the struggle to run around offices and court for follow up is a luxury that they cannot afford.

Andhra Pradesh has nearly 200 laws and acts dealing with land, many of them unknown to the people and even to the revenue officials who deal with land administration.

Bridging the gap
The programme responded to an average of about a dozen callers per episode and each episode is divided into four sections. In the first section a generic land issue is discussed with the experts providing detailed information on the subject. These are accompanied with visuals, graphics and video clippings. This five minute-long package is researched by Landesa India and produced by HMTV and usually highlights a real person’s problem pertaining to land. The problems could be loss of their ownership documents; or incorrect or incomplete documents; land related conflicts or as is often the case, the problem could be that the ownership claims have not been recorded in the revenue records. The land experts on the show explain how the situation can be resolved and provide information on relevant laws, rules and regulations. In the second segment, viewers are encouraged to call in with their queries. Two telephone numbers are repeatedly shown on the television screen throughout the show on which calls are received at the television station. From August 2011, three new sections were added to the programme. These are to explain revenue terminologies and records to showcase solutions and best practices.

The programme has dealt with queries raised by nearly 280 people who called from across the state, from various districts. Most of them had problems related with land for which they were seeking solutions. Many of them are poor and illiterate people who cannot afford an attorney, don’t have the skills or knowledge to navigate the bureaucracy, or understand how they could address their problem. Though meant for rural audiences, it has a sizeable following in the urban centres too.

Impact
“We get very useful information from this programme. This kind of information on land issues is not available anywhere else and it is free of cost” said P. Prasad who was one of callers on the show.

The primary impact of the program has been of providing information and through callers of clearing doubts. Making people aware of their land rights in their language and in a style that is accessible was the unique selling point of Bhoomi Kosam.

Training on legal issues related to land has never been part of revenue administration’s affair in Andhra Pradesh, especially from the perspective of landless and vulnerable communities. Bhoomi Kosam also played an important role in bridging the knowledge gap and was very useful for the revenue officials.

The state government had launched a programme in 2003 to train and work with a cadre of paralegals at the grassroots. One of their key tasks has been to identify land related issues in the villages, facilitate their resolution through legal analysis, case investigation, land surveys and coordination with the revenue department.

Most of these young men and women were the most loyal viewers of the weekly program that updated them on land laws, related problems and solutions. For instance, P. Venkateshwara Rao, a paralegal, heard about the Andhra Pradesh Land Licensed Cultivators Ordinance 2011 for the first time on one of the episodes of Bhoomi Kosam.

The episodes of Bhoomi Kosam have been compiled on a CD, copies of which have been sent to revenue officials, NGOs, paralegals and others throughout the state. These are being used in training programmes as a visual aid to supplement inputs on land laws. In areas with high rates of illiteracy, explaining technical and complicated land issues and land laws with the help of visual medium proves to be more effective than any other means.

Who calls?
The maximum number of callers on the show are from the Telangana region (73%), followed by 21% of calls from coastal Andhra and 6% of calls from Rayalaseema region. About 45% of the calls are from urban areas, primarily from Hyderabad followed by Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam. 55% of the telephone calls are from rural areas. Out of the total callers of 276, 27 are women, a mere 9.78%. Land problems in the state are most acute in the Telangana districts, which is apparent from the fact that majority of the telephone calls are from this region.

Land relations in Andhra Pradesh are very complicated which have led to a large number of problems being faced by actual cultivators. In many areas, especially in Telangana the names of current holders and actual cultivators are not recorded in the land registers, such cultivators are not eligible for institutional finance and a range of other public benefits such as compensation in the event of natural calamities.

Another common problem across the state, and especially in the Telangana region, is the issue of Sada Bainama transactions where the poor have purchased land on plain paper and in the absence of registration of the sale deed are not recognised as legal owners of the land. In each of the Telangana districts about 1 lakh acres is under Sada Bainama transactions.  In tribal areas Land Transfer Regulations Act are not being properly implemented and the tribal are being denied their land rights.  In large parts of the state, existing land records do not accurately portray the actual position of land holding and cultivation. Subdivision and fragmentation of holdings, due to household division over generations are most often not reflected in the land records which continue to list the names of deceased.

The television show is not being aired currently and a process is underway to repackage it with more interactive content and wider outreach.

 
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