Land is an exceptional asset; its value keeps constantly increasing in vast majority of instances due to its unique nature of limited supply and highly popular demand. Throughout history, land has been used as an invaluable part of the human evolution as it is useful for livelihood, shelter, economic and industrial purposes.
Ownership of land is proven by the access to a land title, a document confirming ownership. In India such ownership is proven through a various record like registered sale deeds, property tax documents and government survey records.
AMBIGUITY IN LAND RECORDS
Land titles are important in sale-purchase agreement between people but the same have been known to ambiguous. The reasons are the same-
1. India has a presumptive land title system. The documents that confirm land ownership are ones like a sale deed which is a mere transaction receipt, it not a government guaranteed document. So, the onus of checking the previous ownership lies on the buyer and not the registrar, hence it is subject to challenge.
2. Land records in India are maintained by different departments which do not work in tandem with each other. Hence, across department data is not updated completely. This lack of regularity has led to discrepancy between the documents and the actual ground level condition. These poor land records often affect future transactions as they don’t reveal actual position.
IMPACTS OF POOR LAND RECORDS
1. Several legal disputes between seller-buyer, neighbours arise due to unclear land ownership. This heavily affects the real estate market.
2. Farmers usually rely on land for loan collaterals. Unclear land titles deprive them of getting institutional loans as there is formal ambiguity to their ownership.
3. Unclear land titles also slow the speed of urbanization as households near cities become disputed and the construction is halted for long period of times.
4. Black market dealing increases due to unclear land titles. When land owners can’t legally deal in their land and begin construction, they take the easy way and conduct black market dealings. This deprives state of any form of taxes.
In order to mitigate all these harms, the government of India implemented the National Land Records Modernization Programme (now called Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme). With this policy the state wanted to digitise the registration process of all land records. The results achieved thereof, have not been overwhelmingly appreciated.
NEED FOR CLEAR LAND TITLES
1. High Litigation- Land related disputes aren’t easy to solve. A NITI Aayog study claims that it takes on average 20 years for a land dispute to be solved in a court. Land disputes increase the burden of the courts as it takes decades to reach on a conclusion. It further disrupts the economic activity that was dependant of these lands. Clear land records will help in achieving faster solutions of these disputes.
2. Agricultural Credit– Farmers use land as collateral to take loans. Disputed lands are unable to achieve any form of collateral for these farmers. Large land-owning farmers often find it easy to procure loans from banks but the small land owners who own less than 1 hectare of land cannot procure such loans due to ambiguity in their land records and often have to resort to the informal sector to take loans.
Also due to discrepancy in land records and actual ownership, farmers often face difficulty in having insurance claims for the actual loss. An efficient system can improve the deteriorating condition of the agricultural industry.
3. Infrastructure Development– Recently, India has seen a shift from Agrarian economy to an industrial economy, this means more and more land is now needed for setting up commercial industries. This development is often delayed due to land related issues. These delays are due to non-availability of encumbrance free land, filing of arbitration cases, non-updated land records, etc. A clear land record system can facilitate rapid commercialisation and development.
4. Curbing Illegal Transactions– Unclear or non-updated land titles can enable a non-transparent system of carrying out land transactions. This way state loses necessary taxes.
CHALLENGES TO ESTABLISHING CLEAR LAND TITLES
Even though establishing clear land titles is a much-needed reform but it might be more difficult than we assume it to be-
1. For this eutopia to come true, all past inaccurate land records need to be corrected in accordance with ground position. This process shall take very long considering the huge amount of discrepancy within land records of this country. Also, such a process is extremely resource intensive as well.
2. This shall also require all land records to be collected at one place. In status quo, land records are scattered amongst various departments. Any alterations currently in one department might not be in accordance with the records of another department. For solving these problems, all information related to land records need to be collected, updated under a single window or authority for easier access and clearer records.
3. Land records are currently placed under different legal frameworks, some under state or central laws, a clear land record system means amending all these state and central laws which is a tedious task.
ALREADY UNDERTAKEN REFORMS FOR LAND RECORDS
All prior measure by government to improve land records were merged in 2008 and now is known as a single policy named Digital India Land Records Modernization programme which is a part of the Digital India initiative. The initiatives under the new DILRMP are
1. Computerization of all existing land records.
2. Digitization of maps and data.
3. Updating all the existing surveys
4. Development of core Geospatial Information System (GIS) and capacity building.
5. A single window system for land records which will provide for the maintenance and updating all records.
Even though all of this sounds fascinating, real progress is still lacking in this area and the current progression is still far from perfect. The progress made under DILRMP till date is-
1. Computerization- The progress report is attached here. In certain areas this process still needs to be faster.
2. Post, February 2017, it was decided that DILRMP will include urban areas also in addition to rural areas. Urban bodies in need of surveys are 55 million.
Clear and updated land records is a necessity in this fast pacing world where land is important for all sorts of commercial and household activities. Due to India’s history of un-updated land records, it is difficult to culminate all the existing data and compile it at one place. Certain reforms like Digital India Land Records Monetization Programme are stepping towards the much-needed progress of introducing an organized system of land records where it is easier for people to deal with properties. But even with DILRMP in place, there is a long way to go.