Development oriented land administration in India - A case for national LIS
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It is common knowledge that, without accurate information about the lands and water, and without an up-to-date inventory of the country's resources and what is happening to them and to the environment, the government and the people of a nation are handicapped in controlling their own destiny. It is impossible, even to the best of governments, to make excellent use of the land and its natural wealth or to prevent its misuse, without good, factual knowledge of the country and its features. Land Information System (LIS), which is also frequently referred to as " Land Records System (LRS)" or "Cadastral System", provides this knowledge about the lands comprised in a country, state or a region.
Land Information System
"Land Information System" is defined as the combination of human and technical resources, together with a set of organising procedures, that produces information on land in support of a broad range of managerial requirements. It is built upon the "Cadastre".
The Cadastre is a parcel based and up-to-date land information system, consisting of :
For this reason, the Cadastre is a public land information system, and hence is managed and supervised by the government. In India, 'land' being a State subject, generation and maintenance of the cadastral records is different in different States. What is common to the conventional cadastral system or LIS in all the States is, however, the manual compilation, retrieval, updation and analysis of the land data involving literally millions of man hours spent by a multitude of government agencies over several decades. The conventional LIS is typically in the form of printed maps and related text records describing the features on the map. Almost without exception, land information worth hundreds of crores of rupees remains in government archives and filing cabinets, instead of being used to dynamically supplement the current knowledge base.
- a record of rights in land; and
- a graphical description of the land parcels linked to other records describing the nature of the rights or interests in the respective land parcels.
To the Indian landholders, a piece of land is not only a source of livelihood but also a geographical stretch, with which they develop strong emotional and even spiritual bondage. Indian concept of land ownership evolved over thousands of years and refers to reputed and undisputed possession of land. The colonial rulers introduced their own land records system in India two centuries ago, which was based on the systems obtaining in England and Western Europe. This system consisted of two parts, linked by a unique cadastral parcel number, also called survey number. They are:
Cadastral surveys were conducted periodically to locate and demarcate land boundaries on ground and to measure and map them so as to facilitate management of land parcel information.
- textual description and
- map showing locations and boundaries of all land parcels in every village.
The cadastral surveyor, by implication, played an important role in the establishment and maintenance of the cadastral system. He is responsible for most or all of the following items of work in a typical land records scenario in any State of India:
Need to replace manual Cadastral System
- Cadastral surveying and mapping;
- recording of cadastral information;
- land evaluation;
- land use planning;
- managing both the graphical and textual databases;
- resolving land disputes; and
- custody and supply of cadastral information.
Fortunately, we, in India, have in place a multipurpose Cadastral System, catering to the legal requirements like rights in land, conveyancing etc., fiscal requirements like land taxation, valuation etc., technical requirements like scientific mapping and documentation and administrative requirements like planning and monitoring development programmes. In practice, however, managing land has become a serious problem in our country because of rapid population growth, which has caused :
This phenomenon led naturally to a clearly perceived inadequacy of formal legal and administrative structures for land, which, as our planners now fear, may hinder or even compromise the basic ability of our country to compete in the modern market economy. It is rightly so, because an efficient land records / land information system is a key part of the legal, regulatory and institutional infrastructure of the State, that provides security of tenure, without which the landholders have no incentive to plow, sow, weed and harvest or to invest in irrigation and other improvements that would repay the investments over a period of time.
- tremendous pressure on rural land; and
- uncontrolled growth of cities due to large scale exodus of rural people to urban areas.
Here, we should not forget that the LIS/LRS is not an end in itself. By defining and legally protecting formal property rights, it provides for social stability, property taxation, land improvement credit, land development, productivity, liquidity, labour mobility and resource management, thus facilitating functioning of dynamic land markets, increased agricultural productivity, sustainable economic development, environmental management, political stability and social justice.
It is undeniable that we have to replace the existing manual land records systems of different States in India which are quite outdated and not fully relevant, by a contemporary automated national LIS.
Criteria for a modern Land Records System
To achieve this, a truly modern Land Records System, which has to satisfy the following criteria must come into existence throughout the country without further loss of time:
India urgently needs Cadastral Reforms - "Cadastral Perestroika" as Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer put it - to build and manage a national Land Records System or LIS.
- It must be demand driven, meaning that it must fulfill the demands of its clients, be they landholders or others.
- It must support public administration of land; the cadastral information shall be correct and up-to-date enough to be used to formulate, implement and monitor land policies such as those concerning land reforms, land acquisition, land consolidation and land markets.
- Its data must be truly transparent and accessible to the general public, subject to the protection of individual and private interests so that the information provided is not misused.
- It must be dynamic and self-sustaining.
Key issues for Cadastral Reform
I identify the following as the key issues that require serious and immediate attention for such a reform;
Action Plan to build a national LIS
- the need for appropriate land policies at the national level;
- the need to determine the type of land tenure to be defined by the land title, uniformly for the whole nation;
- the need to develop the necessary legislative framework to support the national cadastral system;
- the need to consider the economics of different solutions or approaches in establishing the national cadastral system;
- to determine the needs at the local level to meet user requirements;
- the need to identify and adopt appropriate technology for conducting cadastral surveys, computerisation of land records and their on-line maintenance;
- the need to establish appropriate processes, systems, HRD strategies and institutional arrangements in support of the modern national LIS;
- the need to redefine the roles of the industry, government and academia in creating and supporting the national cadastral data infrastructure;
- the need to create standards at the national level for cadastral survey equipment and methodologies, database management practices, data structures, data dictionaries, nomenclature, scales and accuracies, symbology and data exchange formats;
- the need to evolve a scientific land valuation system that facilitates the application of modern financing and insurance practices/instruments to the agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry and other sectors, with the ultimate objective of imparting the crucially important attributes of self-sustenance and economic viability to the national government's avowed programmes for rural development.
In my considered view, establishment of the national LIS calls for the following actions to be taken with conviction and commitment on the political and administrative fronts:
The present political leadership of the country is very progressive, dynamic and forward looking. Putting in place a national LIS calls for a great political will, a vision for the bright future of our motherland and an extraordinary conviction in the true welfare of the rural masses. It is highly desirable that the present Governments at the Central and State levels will appreciate the urgent need of a national LIS for overall development and prosperity of the community and will initiate steps to create the same, without losing further time.
- The ground situation in different States shall be taken stock of, with regard to the availability of basic land records, so that particulars are compiled district-wise, of:
After compilation of these particulars, a strategic, time-bound approach shall be adopted to computerise the land records of every single village in the country.
- areas that need to be resurveyed to build fresh land records directly in digital form;
- areas where land records have already been computerised but not put to on-line maintenance; and
- areas which have reasonably good land records; which need to be got field updated and then computerised.
- Feasibility studies shall be conducted by a designated national body of experts and professionals, to assess the magnitude of cost inputs needed to conduct cadastral surveys and computerisation of land records for the entire country. Basing on the financial implications so arrived, a conscious and determined effort shall be made to distribute the costs among all the interest groups to whom the benefits of the modern LIS will accrue, including, of course, the landholders.
I emphasise here that there is an enormous compulsion for us to change our mindset and think of innovative models, including:
Unless viable and realistic financing models are evolved with vision and boldness, our national LIS is likely to remain a dream for a long time to come.
- Joint ventures or partnerships between government and the private industry and academic institutions; and
- Autonomy to the Cadastral organisations in terms of management and financing.
- Cadastral map database shall be integrated with the National geodetic control network, so that the individual land parcel and the rights of the landholders in the said parcels automatically get prime focus in all development programmes launched by the Government. In such a scenario, individual aspirations are not sacrificed in the process of macro level development, whether in the rural or in the urban sector.
- The multiplicity and diversity of revenue laws in the country have been a cause of great confusion in land administration process, invariably driving the public towards vexatious litigation. All the revenue laws shall be codified, simplified and made practicably and pragmatically uniform throughout the country.
- Extensive privatisation of cadastral survey and land records computerisation shall be aimed at, so that automated national LIS is brought into existence within reasonable time. Indian industry has the total wherewithall to undertake this onerous task with efficiency and promptness. As I already mentioned earlier, Government can even think of implementing district-level Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT) or similar strategies, to usher in a revolutionary new era in the national LIS. Updation and incorporation of changes in the records can be entrusted to professional chartered surveyors, just as we have the system of chartered accountants. This will unburden the lives of our landholders to a great extent, besides ensuring that the national LIS, built at great cost and effort, does not outlive its utility prematurely.
- Institutional and administrative procedures of the Government, which have been in practice since times immemorial have to be suitably streamlined to match the aspirations of the people in the accrual of benefits from the national LIS. The foremost of the administrative reforms is to have a single department/agency, entrusted with the responsibility of building up and maintaining the LIS. This bold initiative calls for the integration of the land survey, land revenue and land registration departments into one coherent whole. It is a must for the national LIS to survive.
- Land based litigation can also drastically come down if the Government of India decides to introduce in the country the "Torrens System" of land title registration, in the place of the existing revenue registration, that is based only on reputed ownership and possession. Such a decision will impart far-reaching benefits to the landholders.