Land Conflict Watch (LCW) is the only comprehensive data-journalism project that digitally maps, collects and publishes data about ongoing land conflicts in India. India’s ambitious agenda for economic growth sets up contests between the industry, the State, the political class and the citizens over the use and ownership of land. LCW has a network of researchers and journalists spread across India, who collect quantitative and qualitative data linked to each conflict. The interactive database helps users including journalists uncover new stories or trends about the impact of land conflicts on the environment, economy, and people.
Land Conflict Watch’s website that has collected over 700 conflicts so far allows any user including journalists to find their own narratives based on their questions related to land and how it intersects with politics, economy, environment, gender, caste, public spaces, indigenous communities, health and education. The website has several filters that allows the user to broaden or narrow down their query so that they get what they are looking for and are also able to analyse the data. Journalists across the world have used this database to write stories of corruption, greed, political avarice, oppression, injustice as well as narratives of protests, movements and social resilience.
A data search on the website about the conflict cases in which communitys’ consent was not taken led to an investigative story about how the Indian government and industries forcefully acquired forest land without the mandatory consent of indigenous communities. The story led to a question being raised in the Indian parliament and inquiry was ordered into the matter. Our data has informed debates at critical points such as when the Indian Supreme ordered to evict millions of indigenous people who didn’t have land rights papers to live in the forests where they lived. Our data pointed to cases where the government wrongfully denied land rights papers to communities, which journalists used to write stories.
Civil society organisations such as Housing and Land Rights Network use our data in their reports about forced evictions.
The stories that used our data have appeared in international and national media outlets such as The New York Times, Foreign Policy, Reuters, Bloomberg-Quint, IndiaSpend, Business Standard, Hindustan Times, Scroll.in, Newsclick.in, and the Wire. Each story has helped broaden society’s understanding of land politics.
landconflictwatch.org leverages data visualizations to present the data in new ways to help users discover insights. The website is built with Webflow CMS and hosted on the Amazon Web Services. The home page show all conflicts mapped across the country, built using Mapbox.
LCW uses Airtable as its database. At rest, the data is encrypted using AES-256. In transit, the data is protected using 256-bit TLS encryption. The database is hosted and backed-up on the AWS hosting infrastructure.
The annual report is presented as a dashboard built with Google Charts to power the real-time charts.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Although we started collecting data in late 2016 which was put up on a basic website, the user friendly website was launched in October 2019. The most challenging part was to define and segregate various data points about the complex phenomenon that land conflicts are. The goal was to go as deeper as possible in each data point and connect them to macro level land questions so that the users can find what they are looking for and can also analyse it on the website. For example, if a user is looking for mining conflicts in eastern India, she can find their geolocation, when did they begin, which kind of mining is involved, how much land, what kind of land, how many people, what type of community, which government department, which private company, what laws are involved or were violated, whether or not the case is in court, which kind of human rights violations have happened, and a short description of the conflict. Codifying and standardising these intersecting data points made the tech side of things challenging.
Land conflicts have become endemic in land scarce India, and have major implications for the social, political and economic stability of the country. Despite these high stakes the discourse on land conflicts was completely uninformed by data and its analysis, which then hindered workable solutions to resolve those conflicts. Land Conflict Watch identified and filled that gap. But that also meant collecting our own data and evidence. That was also a challenging task given the issues of access because the government authorities in various parts of India do not want the truth to come out.
What can others learn from this project?
The depth and the vastness of the evidence-backed data present on Land Conflict Watch website makes it a unique journalism enterprise that fills a major gap in the understanding of why land conflicts happen, how they happen, what do they mean for the wellbeing of a country, and how they can be resolved.
Land Conflict Watch serves as an example and a resource of how to create a data based journalistic product about a complex social problem. A database that is constantly informing the discourse around that social problem. Others can also create similar databases or build on this database to contribute in informing a social debate that helps people understand why the world around them works the way it works.