Indian policymakers realized the importance of revamping the land records management system during the latter half of 1980s. Since then, there have been various modernization programmes directed towards updating and computerizing the existing land records, digitizing all the cadastral maps, simplifying the process of transfer and registering of property.
The first of these centrally-funded programmes – Computerization of Land Records (CLR), and Strengthening of Land Administration and Updating of Land Records (SLA &ULR) – were rolled out as pilot projects in the early 1990s. Over the subsequent years, CLR was emulated throughout the country. The National Land Records Modernization Programme (NLRMP), undertaken in 2008, encompassed the previous efforts of the government. The most recent format is the Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP). It aims to develop a modern, comprehensive and transparent land records management system in the country with the objective of moving towards a conclusive land-titling system with title guarantee, instead of the existing presumptive-titling system.
DILRMP includes the following components – computerization of land records, computerization of registration, survey/ re-survey activities, digitization of cadastral maps, establishment of modern record rooms and real-time updating of spatial data (maps) with textual data (such as, Record of Rights or RORs). Until 2008, around 80 per cent of the total funds released under CLR, SLA &ULR, had been utilized. And till September 2017, 64 per cent of the total funds released under DILRMP (previously, NLRMP) have been utilized by the states. In totality, around INR 1585 crores have been spent by the Centre (excluding the states’ expenditure) for modernization of land records.
Land is a state issue and the onus of implementation of reforms falls ultimately on the states and UTs. The overall pace of transformation in the land records management system has been sluggish. As per the DILRMP portal, even though computerized copies of RORs are available in 86 per cent of the villages through kiosks located at the tehsil offices, handwritten records continue to be used in 11 states and UTs. Studies conducted in Karnataka, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and other states to assess their performance in improving land records, suggest that the records obtained by villagers may have discrepancies as the survey/re-survey work using modern techniques is completed in only 8.5 per cent of the villages in the country.
Furthermore, just about half of the total existing cadastral maps have been digitized till now, and real time updating of ROR and maps is operational in only 19 per cent of the villages. Under DILRMP, a total of 4281 modern records rooms were sanctioned out of which 38 per cent have not even been started. One of the objectives of the project is to reduce the human interface, but with only 28 per cent of the villages issuing digitally signed RORs, it is yet to come to fruition.
Mutation is the change of title ownership from one person to another when the property is transferred. By mutating a property, the new owner gets the property recorded on his name in the Department of Land Revenue and the government is able to charge property tax from the rightful owner. Presently, the process of mutation is computerized in 47 per cent or just around half of the villages. This directly affects land transactions and thus, ease of doing business.
Need for better land records
According to the Daksh Access to Justice Survey 2015-16, land-related disputes account for 69 per cent of all cases in India. Resolution of land disputes is a cumbersome process mainly due to a highly opaque system of maintaining records – across different departments and without regular updating. This affects future land transactions, as is presently the case with stalled infrastructure projects, proclaiming land acquisition to be a major roadblock.
Digitization of records will facilitate transparency and provide easy access to information for faster use and re-use. It is cost-effective in terms of eliminating the need for physical storage of records, and will improve business continuity. It will also reduce human interaction leading to lesser delays, harassment and bribery.
Ensuring a system of clear land titles will help in securing property rights, which are key to a country’s development. At a time when private investment has slowed down and perceptions are crucial for investment decisions, the states need to play their part and streamline the process of land acquisition and transfer. They must prioritize these overdue reforms, and make the land records maintenance system clean and transparent, which will then have considerable potential to overcome deficiencies in the existing one.