Secure property rights and systematic land registration institutions are the bedrock of any modern economy. Both are critical for empowerment and intertwined with local communities’ strength, social capital, and civic engagement. As a result of their role in sustainable natural resource management, good governance, and poor community empowerment, land and property rights are receiving a lot of attention in development and environmental programming worldwide. They enable governments to collect property taxes, which are required to finance the provision of infrastructure and services to citizens, and they give individuals and businesses the confidence to invest in land. They also permit private companies to borrow money using land as collateral to create more job opportunities. However, without thriving land tenure systems, economies risk losing the foundation for long-term sustainable growth, jeopardising the livelihoods of the poor and vulnerable people. Without making significant advancements in land and property rights, it is merely impossible to eradicate poverty and increase shared prosperity. Therefore, policymakers and governments must put secure land and property rights at the top of the global agenda to ensure economic growth and social prosperity.
The Situation in Pakistan
Under Pakistan’s Constitution, various laws, rules, and regulations define and protect property and land rights. However, rural discontent in Pakistan is widespread due to chronic poverty, corruption, and the government’s failure to foster development. According to International Property Rights Index 2022, Pakistan ranks 108 out of 129 economies (International Property Rights Index, 2022). More alarming is that the situation has deteriorated after briefly improving from 2016 to 2020 (Ahmed, 2022). Since its inception, successive Pakistani governments have failed to implement political, legal, and structural reforms to protect property and land rights. Approximately 190 million land records of around 50 million landowners are managed manually through traditional methods in Pakistan (Shabbir, Shahid, Atif, & Niaz, 2020). Moreover, 60% to 70% of court cases in the country are related to land ownership (BR Research, 2021).
Even in the 21st century, the country has failed to fully digitalise its system leading to increasing issues of lack of transparency and accountability. The citizens have difficulty acquiring their land; sometimes, it takes years to prove ownership in courts. For example, it can take two decades to solve a normal civil case, and the completion of the trial may take another half a decade for the execution of the decree (Bari, 2018). Furthermore, land transactions are costly, and conflicts about land ownership’s legalities result from inefficient and dispersed land record systems. Therefore, the country must prioritise its land and property rights due to the benefits discussed below.
Benefits of Prioritising Property and Land Rights
An Important Agricultural Pillar
The world’s demand for food will keep rising as long as populations and consumption increase. The agricultural sector of Pakistan is considered the backbone of the economy, where it grew by 4.4% (Shah, 2022). Around 65-70 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for its livelihood (Pakistan Economic Survey, 2021). The current population of Pakistan is 240,485,658, a 1.98% increase from 2022 (Macrotrends, 2023). A comprehensive and multifaceted global strategy is required to guarantee sustainable and equitable food security. This framework must incorporate measures to improve the security of land rights, research and extension, and increased agricultural inputs to increase agricultural yields, such as fertilisers. Secure land titles incentivise farmers to invest in land, borrow money for agricultural inputs and land improvements, and enable the land sale and rental markets to ensure full land utilisation.
Foster Urban Development
By 2050, more than 6 billion people will live in urban areas (Tuck & Zakout, 2019). Pakistan has a growing urbanisation rate, with 37.44% of its population residing in big cities (Trading Economics, 2021). Failure to clarify land rights and resolve distorted land policies contribute to rising property values, potentially making them unaffordable to the urban poor. These gaps have already resulted in the formation of large informal settlements worldwide. For instance, 40% of Pakistan’s population lives in slums in and around the cities due to insufficient resources to afford accommodation (Anwar, Hasan, & Saqib, 2021). Therefore the top priority for cities should be to create more affordable and livable urban environments by formalising land markets, clarifying property rights, and instituting effective urban planning.
According to research, people are better protectors of the environment and their natural resource base when their property rights are secure. One of the most intense and destructive environmental practices is forest degradation. From 2001 to 2021, Pakistan lost 9.75kha of tree cover, a 1.0% decrease since 2000, and 3.56Mt CO₂ emissions. (Global Forest Watch, 2021). Many countries attempted to protect the forest by delineating forest boundaries but could not do so due to the unclear legal status of these lands. To revert this trend, governments will need to develop policies that improve tenure security in forest areas – ensuring that environmentally sensitive land remains as forest –while also allowing for the conversion of land use in non-environmentally sensitive areas to agriculture or other production.
Development of the Private Sector and Job Creation
The private sector requires land to construct factories, commercial buildings, and residential properties. However, the lack of land access and issues related to land titling and registration constrain the performance of the private sector. Thus, secure property and land rights are crucial for private sector development. Moreover, land or property titles are frequently used as collateral by businesses to finance operational costs and expand existing businesses or open new ones, thereby creating more jobs.
Women in most developing countries lag in accessing housing, land and property rights, as these rights are intricately linked to male family members and marital status. According to the Demographic and Health Survey 2017-18, 97% of women across Pakistan could not inherit land or house (Bacha, 2022). In 2021, the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice rejected the constitutional bill which declared women’s inheritance a fundamental right (Wasim, 2021). Also, in Pakistan, women remain governed by family laws and practices that discriminate against them in the name of tradition. Although the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan guarantees women’s rights to ownership (Abbasi, 2020), inheritance rights are usually violated by family members using coercion, fraud, fabrication, forgery, cheating etc. A woman who demands her inheritance is often labelled greedy and considered dishonourable to the family by the country’s socio-cultural environment. To close the gap between law and practice on women’s land rights, resilient and secure property rights will ensure women’s empowerment and a secure future.
Secure Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
Many countries do not legally recognise indigenous peoples’ land rights, despite having lived on their ancestral land for many generations, often predating the establishment of the modern state and even modern rights recording. In addition to being a matter of human rights, recognising the land rights of indigenous peoples is also prudent from an economic and environmental standpoint. Indigenous people will be able to use the resources on their land more sustainably once their land rights are recognised, raising their economic and social status and making them a more positive force in society.
Essential for PeaceKeeping
War and conflict are adversely impacting many regions around the world. Millions of people are compelled to leave their properties behind due to conflicts. Those forced to leave their homes and livelihoods will not be able to return if their property rights are not legally protected there. Peace cannot be fully realised if land and property rights are not addressed properly, potentially triggering a second round of conflict. When conflicts are resolved, secure property rights can serve as a critical foundation for reconstruction. Hence, secure property and land rights are crucial for peacekeeping.
A country’s system of property rights plays a vital role in identifying the level of development in that country. The fundamental purpose and accomplishment of secure property rights and effective land systems are to eliminate destructive competition for control of economic resources. However, many developing countries lag in implementing secure and effective property rights, resulting in various challenges such as conflicts, a weak economy, and malpractices. To ensure economic development and social productivity, governments must prioritise property and land rights as an important part of their policies and global agenda.
Abbasi, M. J. (2020). The Enforcement of Women Property Rights Bills,2020. Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice. Retrieved from https://senate.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1582101895_441.pdf
Ahmed, D. M. (2022, October 24). Property rights and economic development. Retrieved from DAWN: https://www.dawn.com/news/1716660
Anwar, A., Hasan, L., & Saqib, A. (2021). PIDE. Retrieved from pide.org.pk: https://pide.org.pk/research/cities-of-the-future/#Content-e323acc63196e6a8e38e
Bacha, U. (2022, March 5). DAWN. Retrieved from https://www.dawn.com/news/1678231
Bari, O. M. (2018). DELAYED JUSTICE AND ITS IMPACT ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN PAKISTAN. III. Retrieved from https://humanrightsreviewpakistan.wordpress.com/volume-iii/delayed-justice-and-its-impact-on-human-rights-in-pakistan/
BR Research. (2021, March 26). Business Recorder. Retrieved from https://www.brecorder.com/news/40077715
Global Forest Watch. (2021). Retrieved from https://www.globalforestwatch.org/dashboards/country/PAK/?category=summary&dashboardPrompts=eyJzaG93UHJvbXB0cyI6dHJ1ZSwicHJvbXB0c1ZpZXdlZCI6WyJ3aWRnZXRTZXR0aW5ncyJdLCJzZXR0aW5ncyI6eyJzaG93UHJvbXB0cyI6dHJ1ZSwicHJvbXB0c1ZpZXdlZCI6W10sInNldHRpbmdzIjp7Im9wZW4
International Property Rights Index. (2022). Retrieved from https://www.internationalpropertyrightsindex.org/country/pakistan
Macrotrends. (2023). Pakistan Population 1950-2023. Retrieved from Macrotrends: https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/PAK/pakistan/population#:~:text=The%20population%20of%20Pakistan%20in,a%201.85%25%20increase%20from%202020.
Pakistan Economic Survey . (2021). Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.finance.gov.pk/survey/chapters_21/02-Agriculture.pdf
Shabbir, M., Shahid, M., Atif, M., & Niaz, U. (2020, June). Land Record Computerization brings more Trouble for Farmers in Punjab, Pakistan. Journal of Business and Social Review in Emerging Economies, 6(2). doi:https://doi.org/10.26710/jbsee.v6i2.1216
Shah, A. (2022, June 9). pkrevenue.com. Retrieved from pkrevenue.com: https://pkrevenue.com/agriculture-surpasses-fy22-growth-target-economic-survey/
Trading Economics. (2021). Retrieved from tradingeconomics.com: https://tradingeconomics.com/pakistan/urban-population-percent-of-total-wb-data.html
Tuck, L., & Zakout, W. (2019, March 25). 7 reasons for land and property rights to be at the top of the global agenda. Retrieved from World Bank Blogs: https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/7-reasons-land-and-property-rights-be-top-global-agenda
Wasim, A. (2021, November 4). DAWN. Retrieved from https://www.dawn.com/news/1655782