No Entry (India)

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No entry
No Entry Hyderabad Map.png
Location: Hyderabad, India
Author: Nikhilesh Sinha and Indivar Jonnalagadda
Affiliation: Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL and Hyderabad Urban Labs

Original Text: Nikhilesh Sinha (Bartlett Development Planning Unit, UCL) and Indivar Jonnalagadda (Hyderabad Urban Labs)

The term no entry refers to an informal system of land transfer that is prevalent within the urban limits of Hyderabad, India. While similar practices may exist in other parts of the country, the term is specific to Hyderabad, which is India’s fifth largest city, and the capital of the recently formed state of Telengana. The term itself derives from the English word ‘notary’ or ‘notary public,’ through the agency of which the alienation and transfer of property rights is deemed to be ratified. A notary public of the common law is a public officer appointed by either the central or state government to serve the public in matters concerned with estates, deeds, powers of attorney, and foreign and international business (SRO.324, The Notaries Rules, 1956). No entry is a colloquialism which has passed into common use, and while its root may be an English word, it is used frequently and even predominantly by those who do not speak English. The term can relate to the land that is being informally transferred, to the informal way it has been transferred, or to the informal documents that accompany such informal transactions.

No entry transactions are informal as they do not go through the State Revenue Department – the authority in charge of all matters pertaining to urban and rural lands at the State level (sub-national), including land expropriation, registration of transactions, determining terms of tenure, documenting title deeds etc. [1]. Formal land transactions not only involve a notary, but are also approved by the state revenue department. In the case of a no entry transaction, the vital additional step of being approved by the state revenue department – and the resultant paying of land tax and stamp duty – is not taken. While the notary is a public officer, the ratification of property exchange without the State Revenue Department’s approval and formal registration constitutes an extra-legal act.

Sales and purchases of property via the no entry system are not entered in the land registry records, and none of the associated fees are paid to the state. These should include stamp duty (7 per cent of property value), transfer fee (2 per cent of property value) and registration fee (0.5 per cent of property value). Indian law requires the registration of all property transfers unless the value of the property under consideration is less than one hundred rupees (Registration Act 1908), which is roughly equivalent to £1 in exchange value. Yet in practice, such registration is rarely carried out. No entry documents resemble formal property sale agreements, made in good faith (bona-fide), but drawn up on non-judicial stamp paper. A large proportion of no entry transactions involve exchanges of property located within informal settlements, or slums, or spaces where there may be multiple or conflicting claims on land [2].

The dual nature of the no entry system – not formal, but not wholly informal either, because it is structured and codified – is well-suited to enabling transactions in cases where property rights are not clearly defined or deemed inalienable/non-transferable under the existing legal constraints. In other words, the no entry system appears to have evolved as a tactic to enable transactions that would otherwise be impossible under the law. Slums, spread across the country, create a massive demand for systems similar to no entry, based on a mélange of informal arrangements with the state, as well as those that emerge where the state is absent. Slums can be divided into notified, i.e. identified and recognised by the state, and non-notified slums. Notification is essential for slums to receive municipal services such as piped water, sanitation services and electricity, yet half of all slums in India are estimated to be non-notified[3]. The reasons for non-notification are associated with issues of ownership of the land which the slum occupies. For example, notification is possible if the land belongs to the city government, but several slums in the Hyderabad area are located on government land that does not belong to the city government [4]. For example, there are slums on land that belong to the Central Defence Ministry, Ministry of Railways, and on private lands where there is some ambiguity about legal ownership.

In practical terms, for residents in notified slums on city government land, or in low-income housing colonies built under government schemes, notification opens the possibility of being granted a patta. Pattas are documents issued by the State Revenue Department, which bestow an inalienable property right under certain conditions and for a certain time period [5]. The conditions of the patta reflect the underlying objectives of the state and often aim at granting tenurial security, while restricting sale or marketisation (ibid). Thus, the patta-holder may hold the right to live on the property and bequest it, but is not allowed to transfer or lease the property to a third party.

No entry document
The original patta, the possession certificate

Against the backdrop of such limited property rights, the no entry system serves as an instrument for trading the officially non-tradable pattas. If a patta-holder decides to sell the land specified in the patta, a no entry document is drawn up and then notarised by the public notary office. The original patta along with the no entry document then constitutes a proof of ownership – with the understood limitation – for the new owner. With each subsequent sale, the original patta along with all of the no entry documents from each of the previous transactions gets passed on to the new owner. No entry land is not normally built over by the de facto owners or used as collateral, but it is often leased out either partially or wholly.

The nearest equivalent to the no entry system can be found in squatter settlements in Bogota, Colombia. Here, illegally subdivided plots are transferred via a private agreement, which is drawn up on ordinary paper, usually handwritten and not even registered by a notary [6]. Interestingly, the seller may employ the use of a testaferro (‘figurehead’) – someone over sixty – to act as a co-signatory and nominal owner as ‘cover’ for the real owner, because senior citizens cannot be prosecuted under Colombian law (ibid). The no entry system can also be likened to the transfer system of properties through aurfi contracts (which translates roughly as ‘hand claims’) in Cairo, Egypt. The aurfi contract requires signatures of the buyer and the seller, as well as those of two male witnesses of their handshake agreement. Such contracts can be formalised through the dawa saha wa towqia – a relatively simple and inexpensive procedure in a local court – though such formalisation does not give any legal status to the property transaction itself [7]. In other words, while the procedure fomalises the exchange of certain limited rights to the land, it does not acknowledge legal ownership of the land by the seller – and by extension the buyer. Like no entry, the aurfi contractual system is not recognised by the state as legitimate means of property transfer. There is however an important difference between the two system: the aurfi contract infers liability to pay aawayid (property tax), and thus implies a tacit acknowledgement of the informal system of property transfer by the Egyptian authorities, while in India there is no recognition of the no entry system. Comparable yet distinct informal land transfer practices have been reported to exist in Benin[8], Burkina Faso [9], North-West Rwanda [10], as well as some other parts of Africa [11].

While the no entry system is specific to Hyderabad, most of the informal systems of land property transfer mentioned above perform similar functions in rural as well as urban contexts in developing countries. In rural contexts, they provide a low-cost means of enabling free-market transactions that brings land to its most productive use [12]. For instance, land that is not being cultivated may be brought under cultivation by the new owners, especially where certain investments are required which would be uneconomical under a short-term lease. These informal mechanisms of transfer may also be recognised by informal lenders, allowing access to capital, where formal systems may be cumbersome or unavailable. Most significantly, these systems are more accessible to a wider set of potential buyers and sellers, providing greater equity in land markets. In urban settings, the issue of access to land is often intimately linked to access to housing or shelter, and associated benefits such as livelihood opportunities, public services and credit [13]. In countries like India where one in four city dwellers can be classified as poor, informal systems like no entry provide access to basic services for a vast number of people.


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