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Thursday, December 14, 2017

How well is India's land record digitisation programme doing: Findings from Rajasthan

by Anirudh Burman and Devendra Damle.

Good titles in land improve the security of land tenure, and also enable land holders to capitalise land, either by mortgaging it, or making productive use of it. Conversely, the lack of clear titles in land reduce the security of land tenure since titles are prone to challenge, and inhibit productive use of land since it is difficult to signal title over land (here). It is therefore essential for a well functioning land market to have a well developed land titling system.

The Government of India has been running a program for improving land titles called the Digital India Land Record Modernisation Program (DILRMP, titled the National Land Record Modernisation Program until 2015) since 2008. The DI-LRMP was initiated to improve land titles in India, with the ultimate objective of creating a system of conclusive titling. The title recorded with the state is considered conclusive proof of the title to land in a conclusive titling system.

To be conclusive, a titling system requires that (a) all land transactions be recorded by the government, (b) the applications for registering land titles be verified scrupulously before they are registered, (c) the status of a title once registered is final and not open to dispute (curtain principle - or drawing a curtain over past defects/ disputes), and (d) the registry be completely updated in relation to the status of titles as they are present on the ground (mirror principle). The DI-LRMP aims to create this system all over India through the following activities (see NLRMP Guidelines):

  1. Digitisation of textual revenue records (contained in Record of Rights, revenue records are updated through "mutation", and are presumptive proof of the title recorded in the RoR) and registration records (records with the registration department - all agreements pertaining to transfers of land have to be registered, save specified exceptions), including maps.

  2. Integration of the processes of mutation (RoR updation), registration and map generation/ creation.

  3. Creation of modern record rooms, capacity building within the administrative machinery.

  4. Allowing for processes of land registration to be initiated online in addition to physical processes.

  5. Fresh land surveys and mapping in areas where required.

The completion of these activities is envisaged to take India close to a conclusive titling system. Our team was one among three coordinating research institutions to conduct the first assessment of the progress of the DI-LRMP. The NIPFP team chose the state of Rajasthan to conduct this study. Rajasthan is the largest state in India constituting 10.4 percent of the total area and contains 5.67 percent of the total population of India.

Our study was able to highlight:

  1. Issues with the implementation of the DI-LRMP, at different stages of implementation; and

  2. The issues faced by the local administration in the maintenance of land records and in implementing the DI-LRMP.

The removal of systemic and administrative issues highlighted in this report may make the implementation of the DI-LRMP more effective. The report based on the study is available here.

Land records in Rajasthan

Work on computerisation of Records of Rights started in 1999-2000, well before the NLRMP was conceived. These activities got subsumed by the Land Records Computerisation project which was later subsumed by NLRMP.

Rajasthan's history presents some interesting challenges to this exercise. The state was originally composed of five main Riyasats (princely states), and several smaller ones. Each of these five Riyasats used different units to measure land. For example, a bigha in one Riyasat was the equivalent of 3000 sq.ft., while in another it was close to 1600 sq.ft. These differences still persist today. Not only are the units of measurement different, but some of the official terms used in relation to land records also vary across districts. The state government tried to introduce the metric system in 1976, but as per discussions with local officials and villagers, it was rarely used in practice by the local populace who were more comfortable with the old measurement systems. With the DI-LRMP there is a renewed effort to standardise units of measurement across the state.

1976 was also the year the state government last undertook re-survey operations across the state. The re-survey operations which will be undertaken under DI-LRMP will be the first since then. All maps currently in use were made using traditional techniques. They will be replaced by maps made using High Resolution Satellite Imagery.

In spite of early movements towards improvements in land records, the level of implementation of DILRMP in Rajasthan remains low. This is highlighted in the findings from our study.

Scope of the study

Our study evaluated the implementation of DI-LRMP through four activities:

  1. Collecting state-level data from government websites of the Department of Land Resources, Government of India, as well as the websites of the Departments in charge of Revenue and Registration, Government of Rajasthan;

  2. Interviews with senior officials in the Departments of Revenue and Registration in the Government of Rajasthan;

  3. Performing test-checks on the land record websites on the government of Rajasthan, and

  4. Studying the implementation of DI-LRMP in two tehsils in Rajasthan.

The research team undertook the tehsil level study with the help of local retired revenue officials. This facilitated interactions with local officials in the revenue and registration offices in the two tehsils. In addition, the study involved a visit to five villages each in the two selected tehsils, interactions with villagers, and collection and verification of information relating to a sample of ten parcels in each village (a total of 50 parcels in each tehsil).

Findings


State-level findings

We first collected state-level data from websites of the Rajasthan Government, and verified it in conversations with government officials. The state-level data reveals the following:

  1. Most RoRs (revenue records) have been digitised, but maps have not been updated through modern survey methods and the maps available online at present are digitised copies of cadastral maps.

  2. Our test-checks revealed that while most records of rights are available online, there was a significant volume of cases where the records were not available/accesible. There is a uniform problem of the absence of legacy records online.

  3. The RoR is available only in paper form locally in a total of 1603 villages out of 47,918 villages.

  4. Only a small proportion of the RoRs are available with digital signature of the designated official (3,632 villages out of 47,918), and RoRs of most villages are not available in a legally usable form (42,683 villages).

  5. Most tehsils in Rajasthan have functional and usable maps, albeit in paper form. 88 tehsils out 242 have some proportion of damaged or mutilated maps. In all other tehsils, 90 percent or more of maps are in a usable condition.

  6. While there has been some provisioning for online registration, most of the processes are still manual. Out of 527 Sub-Registrar Offices (SROs), 117 SROs have online systems for verifying documents and paying stamp fee duty.

  7. The state of Rajasthan has made very little progress on integration of all three processes - mutation, registration and map generation. The process of registration alerts the revenue records database by noting the fact of registration in some form in 15 SROs, but this does not work the other way round, i.e. the process of changes in revenue records does not alert the registration database.

An analysis of the findings from the state highlights significant steps required to be taken for the implementation of the DILRMP. This was also confirmed by our study of DILRMP implementation in the two tehsils selected for the study.

Tehsil-level findings

Tehsil selection: The two tehsils selected for the study were Girwa and Uniara. Both tehsils are at different stages of implementing DI-LRMP:

  1. Girwa: Girwa is part of the sub-humid southern plains agro-climatic zone. It is situated on and around the rocky hills of the Aravalli Range, at an average elevation of 540 meters. The climate is moderate year-round with moderate seasonal variation in temperature and humidity. Rainfall is scanty with little to moderate year-on-year variation. The main reason for selecting Girwa as one of the sample tehsils is that it is a good representative of the typical tehsil. It represents the typology of about 184 tehsils, out of 314 tehsils in Rajasthan in terms of the status of land records computerisation.

  2. Uniara: Uniara is a tehsil in Tonk, Rajasthan and is situated approximately a three-hour drive away from Jaipur, the state capital. The tehsil is primarily agricultural, with little or no industrial activity. The tehsil is largely rural, with no large cities in its close vicinity. Uniara is part of the semi-arid eastern plains agro-climatic zone. The terrain is flat barring a few areas to the northwest. The climate is predominantly dry and there are large seasonal variations in temperature. Rainfall is scanty with large year-on-year variation. Uniara is cited as an example of a model tehsil in Rajasthan with respect to land records modernisation. It was also featured in the Success Stories of NLRMP report published by the Department of Land Records, Government of India.

Findings from Girwa and Uniara

Vacancies: We found significant vacancies in the local administrative units in both tehsils. Tables 1 and 2 provide details of the sanctioned and vacant positions in Girwa and Uniara respectively.

Table 1: Revenue Department Vacancies in Girwa
Post Sanctioned Vacant
Patwari 52 20
Land Revenue Inspector 13 0
Naib-Tehsildar 3 1
Tehsildar 1 0

Table 2: Revenue Department Vacancies in Uniara
Post Sanctioned Vacant
Patwari 54 35
Land Revenue Inspector 13 4
Naib-Tehsildar 3 1
Tehsildar 1 0

Accuracy of recorded land area: We measured a total of 99 parcels across the two tehsils (Figure 1). In 30 percent of the cases the area is within 5 percent of the area on record. In 25 percent of the parcels, the difference between the area on record as compared to the area as measured, is 10-20 percent. In 24 percent of the sample parcels, the difference between the area on record as compared to the measured area is more than 20 percent. It must be noted that digitised cadastral maps were not available for either tehsil for the purpose of our study. The deviation recorded here is the deviation from the area recorded in the RoR.

Figure 1: Difference Between Area on Record vs Measured

Causes for deviation from recorded area: Encroachment onto neighbouring land is the most frequently observed cause for deviation from the recorded area. We observed two types of encroachments:

  1. Encroachment onto adjoining fields i.e. onto private property, and

  2. Encroachment onto public property. This can be further subdivided into two types: (a) encroachment onto roads, nallahs and farm roads, and (b) encroachment onto pasture land, forest land and other government-owned land.


Figure 2 provides details on the causes for differences between recorded area and measured area.

Figure 2: Causes of Difference Between Area on Record vs Measured
Note: Only shows parcels where the difference is 10 percent or larger.

Information recorded in Record of Rights: We noted that a number of transactions and kinds of titles are not recorded in the RoRs at the tehsil level. For example, construction on agricultural land is not recorded if less than 500 square metres. Possession, independent of ownership is also not recorded. Encumbrances other than mortgages are also not recorded. This is an impediment in providing conclusive titles, as a number of rights over land are not recorded at all.

Administrative issues: We found local administration under-staffed, lacking basic infrastructure (at the patwar-mandal levels) including electricity in some places, and without network connectivity. Most of the administrative processes are manual. In addition, revenue administration is burdened with a number of tasks at best incidental to land revenue and record management. Some officials pointed out that land revenue collection, a core activity for the revenue department, does not seem like a feasible activity any longer as the costs of collecting revenue far exceed the revenue collection. Building administrative capacity is therefore an important challenge for the state.

Conclusion

Our report makes the case for legal and administrative changes based on the results of our study. It is important to realise that the process of digitisation must be accompanied by complementary legal changes and administrative capacity building. Rajasthan has an advantage in the fact that its digitisation program is not yet at an advanced stage and some of these issues can be fixed right now rather than later. Additionally, while digitisation may remove some dependency on human interaction with revenue officials, land record management will continue to require sufficient human capital.

 

Anirudh Burman and Devendra Damle are reasearchers at National Institute of Public Finance an Policy.

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