Locating the Breach: Mapping the Nature of Land Conflicts in India


This report highlights the causes and consequences of land conflicts in India. It was published in February 2020 by the New Delhi-based data research agency Land Conflict Watch (LCW), with the organisation’s Thomas Worsdell and Kumar Sambhav as its authors. The report was released with the support of Oxfam India and the Rights and Research Initiative (a global coalition of organisations working on forests and related rights).

The report examines the sectors, social factors, laws and types of land involved in land conflicts in India. It aims to aid academics, citizen groups and policy-makers understand the nature of these disputes.

The publication contains information on 703 ongoing conflicts since 2016, from 332 of India’s 733 districts. LCW’s team of 42 field researchers from across India collected data on 84 parameters under three main categories: number of people affected, land area under contestation and the existing or potential capital investment involved in the dispute.

The 56-page report has seven chapters: Background (chapter 1); A Quick Glance at the Principal Findings (chapter 2); Methodology (chapter 3); Data Analysis (chapter 4); Thematic Analysis and Emerging Policy Issues (chapter 5); Research Agenda for the Future (chapter 6) and Appendices (chapter 7).


  1. A land conflict is defined as an instance where two or more parties challenge “…the use of, access to, or control over land and its associated resources.” It excludes any dispute between two private entities unless it has a larger public interest.

  2. The 703 disputes documented in the report impact over 6.5 million people, cover 2.1 million hectares of land, and involve investments of over Rs. 13 lakh crores. The State is a conflicting party in 95 per cent of these, private companies or businesses are involved in 27 per cent, and three per cent are between different communities.

  3. The report categorises disputes under six sectors: infrastructure, power, conservation and forestry, land use, mining and industry. Land conflicts due to infrastructure projects impacted the maximum number of people (over 30 lakh), followed by mining-related cases (over eight lakh).

  4. An average of 10,668 people are affected by each land conflict. The mean for mining-related cases is 21,312 people – the highest of the six sectors.

  5. Infrastructure-related disputes reported the highest amount of investments (over Rs. 7 lakh crore), followed by conflicts due to power- and industry-related activities (Rs. 2.8 lakh crores and Rs. 2.7 lakh crores).

  6. The report states that 36 per cent of the recorded conflicts are exclusively about common lands, 29 per cent involve private lands and 32 per cent involve both.

  7. The average number of people affected was 4,650 for each forest-related conflict and 9,901 for cases involving non-forested common land. Conflicts involving both kinds of land impacted a mean of 20,856 people.

  8. About 18.6 per cent of the 703 registered cases are about the violation or non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA), impacting 1.2 million people. Over half of these are related to conservation and forestry activities.

  9. Through its state forest departments, India has undertaken numerous plantation drives to meet its commitment under the Paris Agreement to increase its forest cover by five million hectares by 2030. (The Agreement is a legally binding treaty adopted at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2015.) Many of these drives are being carried out on the community-owned lands of forest dwellers, who have the authority to manage forest resources under the FRA. LCW in 2017 analysed 45 disputes – covering over 100,000 hectares and involving 56,480 forest dwellers – where officials conducted plantation drives without the consent of village assemblies. In some cases, officials had fenced off areas despite the communities having received their land titles under the FRA.

  10. In 38 instances, tribal communities and forest dwellers contested the use of forest areas for industrial projects. They affected close to a million people in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh. Only 23 of these projects updated their forest clearance documents on the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change’s website – as is mandatory. The word ‘consent’ was missing in the documents of 13 of the 23, the report notes. In the remaining 10, local authorities claimed there was nobody living in the project-affected areas or issued false certificates saying that the projects were unopposed.

  11. In many states, communities are deprived of their traditional land rights when governments allocate areas – including forest areas – for land banks. The report explains that many state governments began creating these in the 1990s to facilitate infrastructure and industrial projects. They enable private investors to acquire land without having to undertake lengthy bureaucratic processes such as those under the land acquisition laws. In 2017, LCW analysed eight land conflicts due to the creation of land banks, concerning over 3,600 hectares and 148,000 people.

  12. The LCW documented 31 ongoing conflicts involving about 92,000 Dalits in 13 states and covering 39,400 hectares. States that reported these conflicts – such as Bihar, Gujarat, Kerala, Maharashtra and Punjab – are characterised by their poor implementation of land reforms and a high incidence of landlessness among Dalits.

  13. The Ministry of Home Affairs – the report notes –identifies 90 of India’s 733 districts as being affected by left wing extremism (LFW), in 11 states: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Kerala.

  14. The 90 LFW-affected districts are the sites of 17 per cent of the conflicts documented in the report, involving 31 per cent of the total area under dispute and 15 per cent of all those affected. These districts are the sites of 43 per cent of the conservation and forestry conflicts, and 36 per cent of mining disputes recorded in the report.

  15. The government of India – notes the report – recognises Fifth Schedule Areas in 100 districts across 10 states: Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana. These 100 districts are the sites of 26 per cent of conflicts documented by LCW, involving 41 per cent of the total area under dispute and 28.5 per cent of all those affected. About 60 per cent of the mining conflicts recorded were from these districts.

  16. The 159 conflicts registered from north India were largely related to the infrastructure and land use sectors. About 40 per cent of conflicts in central India were related to power and mining. Majority of disputes in south India were due to infrastructure projects. And the East reported 45 per cent of all the conservation and forestry conflicts.

    Focus and Factoids by Ishita Puri.


Thomas Worsdell and Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava


Land Conflict Watch; supported by Rights and Resources Initiative and Oxfam India


Feb, 2020