Need for land records modernization

Need for land records modernization
Jun 2018 , by , in Realty+ Connect

Land is a controversial subject globally. In India on an average land disputes take twenty years to resolve. Thus, there is a dire need for standardization and digitisation of land record system across the country.

A land’s value depends on its location and people with land rights are better off economically due to access to market opportunities by capitalizing, mortgaging or making productive use of the land. The land ownership is broadly defined by the access to a clear land title determined through various records such as sale deeds that are registered, property tax documents, government survey records, etc. However, lack of clear titles due to legacy issues of zamindari, gaps in the legal framework and poor administration of land records reduce the value of the land and inhibit its productive use. Land disputes further impact sectors and projects that are dependent on these disputed land titles.

According to the World Bank study from 2007 estimates, land-related disputes account for two-thirds of all pending court cases in the country. A NITI Aayog paper suggests that land disputes on average take about 20 years to be resolved.

Land titles are presumptive

Post-independence the zamindari system was abolished and the responsibility for land administration was transferred to the states. but land ownership continued to be determined through a combination of legacy system and the records collected and maintained manually by the state revenue departments. Land records are maintained across multiple departments and are in poor condition.

The transfer of land or property between a buyer and seller is recorded through a registered sale deed. But, such registration does not always guarantee ownership as they can be challenged. The onus of checking the validity of the rightful ownership of the property is on the buyer and not on the government. Gaps or mistakes in old land records, unrecorded past transactions and inability of the registrar to physically cross-check every property physical location and attributes are some of the factors that make it easy to question the ownership.

It is important that the process of digitisation be accompanied by updating of legal framework and capacity building at state and lower administrative levels.

Need to Standardize Land Record System

It is easy to challenge land in the absence of organised records, especially land ownership. According to the World Bank, 70 per cent of land and property in the developing world is unregistered and is outside formal markets. It is to be noted that land has been transacted in India for thousands of years and there is an evolved system to do it. However, digitisation of land records and standards, will vastly improve the ease of doing business.

Sunil Agarwal, Associate Dean and Director, School of Real Estate, RICS School of Built Environment, Amity University briefs on the newly launched International Land Measurement Standard (ILMS),  part of a global solution to standardising land tenure and ownership that could be the key to helping India move to a transparent, fair and secure land transfer system.

“Currently, there is ambiguity about land, especially agricultural land, whereby even if some details are furnished on the transaction document or government records, it becomes difficult to locate the same at the site and also there are significant variations, resulting in distortions in valuation and leading to disputes. This problem also exists in urban areas and ILMS could be the answer to this issue. The ILMS standard seeks to engage all stakeholders in the land ownership, registration, measurement and transaction process. It will also help forge direct links between land professionals, legal advisors and financial reporting by de-risking the land transaction process for all parties and implementing an agreed land information framework. As they currently stand, the ILMS stipulate that any land transaction include a description of the physical boundaries and total area of the piece of land in question, a description of how it is used, any associated buildings or services, ownership and type of tenure and an estimate of the value of the land, including clarity on how that estimate was ascertained.”

State Departments responsible for land administration in the country

Department Functions Documents maintained Officers
Revenue Collection of land revenue Record of Rights (RoR) District – Collector
Updating and maintaining revenue records Mutation register Block – Tehsildar
Village – Patwari
Survey and Settlement Maintaining spatial land records Village map District – Deputy inspector
City survey maps Block – Town surveyor
Village – Village Administrative Officer
Registration and Stamp Revenue Registration of property documents and deeds  Encumbrance certificate District – Registrar
 Evaluation and collection of stamp duty Sale deed  Block-Sub- Registrar

Sources: Land administration departments of various states; PRS

Digitization of Land Records

In the past, most of the land records in the country were through village maps marking boundaries and/or paper records which included names of all occupants. Due to the lack of maintenance of actual land records, there have been litigations and property scams. To address the same, The Digital India Land Records Modernization programme (DILRMP) was launched by Government of India in August 2008. The objective of the programme was to streamline and reduce the scope of land and property disputes, thereby improving transparency in the maintenance of land records.  The main aim of the programme was to computerize all land records, digitize maps, upgrade the survey and settlement records and sustain the same.

However, many states in the country have not yet digitized the basic survey documents, sketches, maps etc. Various types of information like property maps, sale deeds are maintained by different departments at the village level. Most of the times, these departments work alone and they lack training on digital access.

Ravindra Pai, Managing Director, Century Real Estate elaborates, “An online or digital record department has to be set up for the betterment of online land records maintenance or outsource to various companies who will assist in the maintenance. States can also consult and take feedback from developers on the main topics of sourcing, tracking, executing various land records. This will enhance people’s trust in the land business, where the land records going digital will lead to transparency and reduce time in document procurement. Most importantly it will reduce construction timelines and overall cost for the developer, the benefits of which can be transferred to consumer making property prices more attractive.  Karnataka was the first state in India to computerize land records under the “Bhoomi Project” followed by Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu in the year 2001. By the year 2007, the three states had their village property records computerized. In a move to protect property owner’s rights, Karnataka government has also introduced issuing of property cards authenticating the ownership details, area and location of each property apart from mapping it.”

Process of updating land records has been slow

Many states still do not have the means to survey lands. Some lands have not been surveyed for more than 100 years. Though the government wants complete digitization of land records, due to lack of clear and sufficient data and mismanagement between the various agencies handling land records, the data registered at various government levels is not identical. Statistics from the DILRMP shows that in most states, the digital land record database has not been incorporated with the digitized land registration database. Some departments work alone and the data are not properly updated.

As Agarwal mentions, “There are varied and different practices in various states in India to maintain land records, which add to a lot of confusion. While the Government of India launched the ‘Digital Land Records Modernisation Programme’ in 2008 to modernise management of land records and lower the rate of land related disputes, the pace of its implementation has been rather slow.”

Status of completion of various components under DILRMP as of Sept 2017

Computerisation of land records 86%
Mutation computerised 47%
 Issuance of digitally signed RoR (Record of Rights) 28%
Cadastral Maps digitised 46%
Spatial data verified 39%
Cadastral maps linked to RoR 26%
Real time updation of RoR and maps 15%
Number of villages where survey/re-survey work completed 9%
Area surveyed 35%

Sources: Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development; PRS.

DILRMP has so far been focusing on the last aspect of digitising and updating of records. Further, the programme’s progress has been slow. Processes such as surveys and re-surveys, which would help update the spatial records, have been going on at a slow pace due to the huge volume of records.

Registered property title documents should be provided by the government as evidence of ownership to support the real estate industry through faster transactions and completion of projects. There are inconsistencies noted in various land records as they are maintained by various departments at the village and district level. These in turn affect any future transactions planned.

The government should ensure that the existing land records should be free of any encumbrances. They will have to be consolidated. If land dispute cases have to be solved then digitization of land records is very important for the country. It must include the site plans, exact location, projected look, owner ship details, Khata details sharing property tax and other cesses payable on the property. There will be lesser land-related conflicts due to the identification of the division of land owing to digital maps.

Expressing his views Pai said, “At regular intervals, a fresh survey of every parcel of land to update records will help everyone in purchasing, transferring and selling land, giving deeds, and making all kinds of land transactions at the press of a button. This will also help in identifying and avoiding any confusion about which land has been earmarked as government land through online registration. There will be lesser land-related conflicts due to the identification of the division of land owing to digital maps. Transparency brought through digitization of land records will make it difficult for the general public to evade property tax. Planning of industrialization and smart cities by the government will become easier. The government’s initiation towards digitization will not only speed up the process of land acquisition but will also help in building up of local revenues through property tax billing and collection and also by providing conclusive titles to land owners.”

To Sum Up

Computerization of land records is beneficial for buyers as they are clear on the correct details of the owner of a particular property.  Digitization will help the buyer to check for transparent market based pricing before buying the land and is a substantial measure to achieve clarity on land ownership.

As a general practice, documents are usually kept with the Revenue Department and are not easily accessible to the public. The Committee on Financial Sector Reforms (FSRC) in 2009 had suggested that online documentation of land records can be linked with court registries of the corresponding district or the state, through which a buyer can get immediate information of any pending litigations with regard to a property.

Unclear land titles, accompanying costs due to title disputes and litigation, and lack of transparency in real estate transactions make the real estate market seem sluggish. Clear land titles will help in accelerating the pace of new projects.

Digitization will help in transparent land records management with a single window to handle land records which will include maintenance and updating of maps, survey and registration of property. It will also help in online approvals of plans and occupancy certificates. It will help in showcasing the ownership status and ease overall business processes in the sector. Overall it becomes easier for the developers and buyers to check on the authenticity of the land or the property.

DILRMP is currently being implemented in all states, but with differential progress. Measures that could improve the computerisation of land records include, clarifying the policy and establishing clear criteria and accountability, identifying best practices on technical and legal issues, promoting skill training among technical staff across states and prioritising integration between records and registry.


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