The land records in the India have evolved almost a century ago, but they have remained practically unchanged till date. The statutory periodic resurveys for creation of up-to-date land records were also not conducted in the last 7 to 8 decades. Consequently, land records are out of tune with today's developmental imperatives and are unable to serve the contemporary requirements.
It is suggested that the present system of land records be replaced by a more comprehensive, computer based Land Information System (LIS), which will contain agricultural, soil, irrigation, demographic, climatic, meteorological and elevation information, in addition to the graphical sketches depicting land holding, ownership related information and village maps.
An LIS may be briefly defined as an on-line repository of information that enables the most efficient use of land and a system that relates macro level development programs and landuse practices to the individual landholdings and their owners.
It is also suggested that a single and uniform national level LIS should be evolved, so that standardization of cadastral survey methodology and maintenance and operating procedures are achieved across all States and Union Territories in the country.
Such a uniform national LIS provides several additional benefits, besides serving the needs of the landowners and the Revenue Departments. Some of the major benefits like micro watershed development, agricultural monitoring and rural development are discussed in detail. Other benefits are also briefly presented.
The conventional Land Information System (LIS) in India essentially comprises of land records of each village, which are created by an aggregation of the graphical sketches of individual landholdings and the descriptive details of the land parcels such as title and extent. An Indian village is the smallest statutorily recognized administrative unit, having well defined geographical boundary and separate land records.
The land records of the country in the present form have evolved almost a century ago, i.e., during the British rule, and have remained the same without any significant change in their content or application. These records satisfied the minimum requirements such as showing the reputed ownership of the landholder, the extent of land owned by him, soil classification, landuse, land revenue etc.
In some parts of the country, the conventional land records comprised of additional details such as irrigation facilities, agricultural/crop statistics, location-based remission of taxation and livestock census. On the whole, the existing conventional LIS for the Indian villages consists of two primary components, viz.,
- Descriptive land register with the title and other related particulars in respect of each landholding in the village, and
- Graphical record consisting of field measurement sketches of the holdings and the village map or, at times, only the village map.
In spite of minor variations in the general format of the conventional LIS from State to State in our country or from region to region within a State, the land records consisted of the above components, while revenue accounts are updated annually for each village for the purpose of recording newer titles, newer extents and newly computed assessments.
The present day land records have hardly undergone any change during the last 7 to 8 decades. Consequently, they are unable to serve the contemporary requirements due to their inherent limitations, a few of which are readily identifiable.
- The present day land records were mostly conceived by the Maharajahs and the British Crown. Though the British tempered them scientifically, these land records are still out of tune with the aspirations of our times and the planning and developmental imperatives of our economy.
- They wholly emphasize on the fiscal concerns of the State and not on the proprietary clarity.
- They are mostly outdated and do not reflect the ground realities, viz; correct title, correct boundary and correct extent.
- They consist of only rudimentary agricultural/crop statistics and do not provide accurate inputs for micro-level and macro-level developmental activities.
- Both their generation and maintenance are so cumbersome that the State Governments have been finding it very difficult to conduct timely maintenance and updation.
- A direct consequence of the lack of maintenance of the records is the apathy of landholders towards the correct delimitation of their plot boundaries and recording of correct title in land registers, often resulting in vexatious land-based litigation from the lowest to the highest Court in the Country.
- There is an ever-growing mismatch between our agricultural and industrial advancements on one side and jurisprudence of land records on the other. This has been resulting in societal strains and conflicts.
- Agrarian reforms like consolidation of landholdings etc., initiated by the Central and State Governments, failed to fulfill their objectives, because an equally radical culture of updated title referencing system had not been evolved.
- The inherent deficiencies in the field procedures to create graphical land records, in not conforming to a common reference system for the entire country, has now resulted in glaring mis-matches in the small scale maps of districts and States, produced by aggregation of the village level land records.
Since these records presently constitute the conventional LIS, these shortcomings are inherent to the conventional LIS and there is not much that can be done to overcome them, unless the entire system is reorganized and tuned to the needs of the present day. This reorganization has to be effected in terms of the content of the land records, the procedures employed in generating them and the process of maintaining them up-to-date.
Land Records for the New Millennium - A computer based Land Information System (LIS)
In order to get rid of the above mentioned deficiencies and to fully cater to the present as well as future requirements of the landholders on one side and government departments and other organizations involved in land matters on the other, the substitution of the existing and outmoded records with a modern and dynamic system is essential. No doubt, creation of fresh land records throughout the country is a highly cost intensive and time consuming operation. However, there is no escape from the fact that the century-old edifice of conventional land records has been fast crumbling and should be replaced sooner than later, at least in a phased manner, by a contemporary system that is alive to the needs of the day and will remain so for decades to come. For this, it is essential to employ modern methodologies to achieve higher order accuracy, economy and speed in generating spatial database, right from the level of individual landholding. Scientific and economic generation of up-to-date spatial database through modern cadastral surveys is central to the creation of a modern land records system. In order to lessen the financial burden on the State as well as Central Governments, suitable means of funding large scale cadastral survey and land records building activities need to be evolved without further delay. I cannot but visualize the best scenario for Indian land records in the new Millennium thus:
- Extensive private participation in conducting cadastral surveys economically, speedily and accurately and building a computerized data warehouse of land records
- Enhancement of the scope of the conventional system into a versatile and future-proof computerized land information system (LIS)
- On-line maintenance of land records through a fully networked hierarchy of functionaries, right from the village level, ideally upto the national level, with in-built monitoring/check points at Taluq, District and State levels.
In this context, a contemporary LIS can be defined in the briefest form, as an on-line repository of information that enables the most efficient use of land - a scarce national resource.
From an operational point of view, an LIS based on land records relates the macro level developmental programs and landuse practices to the individual landholdings and their owners/enjoyers.
It is no doubt possible to build a comprehensive LIS based on existing land records and village maps and linking them to the title particulars from settlement records and the agricultural as well as irrigation statistics from the annually updated revenue records. The resultant would be a modest and quite a basic form of LIS, which, by implication, is not entirely up-to-date and comprehensive. However, such a modest system does meet the needs of the landholders as well as the administrators at least partially, and the expectations from such a system will also be modest in terms of its scope and accuracy.
Single versatile LIS for the entire country
As already stated, land records evolved in India during the Moghul period but were put on scientific foundation by the British, who conducted large-scale surveys to determine the boundaries, extent and reputed ownership of agricultural holdings in the villages. The settlement process that followed, settled the fertility of soil through a reasonably detailed procedure of soil classification. As the cadastral surveys and settlements had been done over a period of nearly 70 years in British India between 1860 AD and 1930 AD through a continuous process of experimentation and refinement, different regions in our country possess different types of land records today, varying in their constitution, implication and content. However, as already mentioned by me in the beginning, the two primary components of Indian land records are common in their constitution and implication, if not in content, for all the regions. This is a positive feature of the existing system of land records, which renders designing a common LIS for the whole country possible. A common LIS for the entire country has certain distinct advantages:
- Creation of a single and uniform system, rather than having to cope with different systems across the country, is certainly more efficient and economical. Standardization of procedures for maintenance and updation becomes easy.
- A single LIS has the intrinsic uniformity and statistical accuracy for better management of land reforms and the national planning process.
Given the various types of graphical and descriptive land records existing in the country, the implementation of a single and uniform national LIS presupposes:
- Standardization of procedures to conduct modern cadastral surveys and to generate graphical and textual records
- Definition of minimum common data for land records, applicable for the entire country
- Minimization of differences in content, implication and constitution of land records obtaining among the States, and
- Standardization of the operating procedures, organizational restructuring and modalities of implementation.
Designing a National LIS
Once the above stated prerequisites are met, two crucially important criteria go into the designing of the national LIS:
- Salient features that characterize the LIS
- Database schema that defines the scope of the LIS
The salient features concern themselves with the creation of a logical and physical model of expectations, operations and procedures of implementation, whereas the database schema defines individual and relevant data entities that go into constituting the LIS.
I visualize a contemporary national LIS with the following salient features:
- A clear perception of the expectations from the national LIS, including an inventory of the present and future needs of the users and design of logical data model to cater efficiently and dynamically to the perceived expectations.
- Standardization of the procedures of generating graphical and textual data and selection of the most suitable programming environment.
- Data security procedures to create a built-in mechanism that serves the privacy aspect of the availability of data, vis-à-vis the players involved, i.e., the public, the NGOs and the Government.
- Standardization of the procedures of maintenance and updation including an inventory of processes to access, validate, update, modify, extract and sell the data to the users at various levels.
- Appropriate legislation covering the whole gamut of operations of the modern LIS - such a legislation can contain specific provisions to make the LIS financially viable and self-sustaining.
- Standardization and the hardware and networking components.
- Standardization of the LIS software
- A comprehensive training module for the departmental functionaries, which duly considers the significance of 'attitudinal change' to make the LIS a success.
Since I consider that an efficient and uniform national LIS cannot deliver the goods and meet the pre-determined expectations, unless its core data fields are identified without ambiguity, I am of the opinion that the scope of the LIS requires to be carefully defined, though it is truly difficult to exhaustively deal with it at this stage. Still, I venture to visualize a practically efficient and functionally comprehensive national LIS, that consists of the following data fields, some of which have been an integral part of the existing conventional land records and some others external to that.
- Graphical Data - this essentially comprises of the graphical sketch of each landholding with full dimensional data and a map of the revenue village, along with height information. This also includes derived maps of Taluqs, Districts and State, created by mosaicing the village maps.
- Textual Data - this data flows essentially from two important sources, the primary one being the conventional land records and the other, the Government of India Census.
- Data from land records - these particulars can be readily extracted from the existing land records. They are, survey number, sub division, extent, name of the land holder, name of the present enjoyer, name of the encroacher, if any, soil classification details, land use, source of irrigation, extent irrigated under the single crop, extent irrigated under double crop, crop statistics including nature of the crop, extent sown, duration of the crop etc.
The LIS may also contain a few additional particulars, basing on a carefully designed national model.
- Census data - census data is available for all the villages and towns in India, in terms of demographic profiles, physical aspects, economic resources, amenities and services etc.
- Demographic profiles - population density, population figures, sex ratio, literacy, work force etc.
- Physical aspects - rivers, climate and rainfall, soils, flora and fauna etc.
- Economic resources - forestry, minerals and mining, electricity and power, landuse pattern, agriculture, animal husbandry, fisheries, industries, trade and commerce, banks, transport etc.
- Amenities and services - educational facilities, medical facilities, availability of drinking water, postal and telegraphic facilities, communications and approach, power supply and irrigation facilities.
- Places of tourist and religious interest.
In fact, the wealth of census data is such, that the village and town census directories further classify the above categories into several sub-categories. Just to cite an example, the educational facilities are further differentiated in terms of primary or elementary schools, middle schools, secondary schools, higher secondary schools, colleges, industrial schools, training schools, adult literacy centres etc. Likewise, medical facilities are differentiated in terms of Ayurvedic, Unani and Homeopathic hospitals, maternity homes, child welfare centres, primary health centres, family welfare centres, nursing homes, TB clinics etc. Such classification is done in respect of all categories.
You will at once appreciate that the above data is capable of creating a reasonably versatile national LIS when integrated with the spatial data, comprised of the maps of landholdings and villages.
Right Cadastral Model For a Uniform National LIS
Here, I desire to add that the numerical cadastre which is in vogue in the Southern States of India has an inherent strength of retaining landholdings dimensionally stable during the maintenance operations, unlike its Northern Indian cousin, which comprises of only a village map generated directly on the field through plane-tabling techniques.
It is, therefore, my profound belief that the numeric cadastre based design shall be recognized for its superiority and adopted uniformly in all the States across the country, particularly because it renders maintenance of computerized record, much more objective.
Applications of the National LIS
The utility and benefits of the LIS to the key players involved is truly unlimited. I discuss below a list of specific applications, of course, is not exhaustive.
- Micro Watershed Development (MWD) As I mentioned earlier, one of the shortcomings of the existing land records is the lack of height information. In order that the proposed LIS should form a viable medium for agricultural applications, it should be supplemented with height information. Considering that several parts of India are semi arid and agriculture is predominantly rain-fed, development of micro watersheds for conservation, equitable distribution and efficient utilization of water, for increasing agricultural productivity, assumes paramount importance. This is particularly critical in areas not falling under any major irrigation project.
Some of the important factors that influence the successful implementation of this program are:
- Delineation of watershed boundaries, drainage pattern and slope information from elevation data - this information will facilitate location of water sources and reduction of run-off.
- Meteorological data providing total annual precipitation.
- Hydrogeological studies to delineate natural aquifers for storage of rain water.
- Land capability studies involving precise soil classification, soil fertility, availability of nutrients and micro nutrients, humidity retention characteristics etc - this information will facilitate scientific basis for deciding cropping pattern.
- Up-to-date landholding information in the form of land records and village maps - this will facilitate cooperative efforts in watershed development among the landowners and equitable distribution of water.
When all the above parameters are brought into one single database, there is a tremendous scope for studying the interaction between them and performing a variety of analyses employing mathematical, logical and empirical models based on statistical, socio-economical, cultural and other criteria. Land and water being scarce commodities, the crucial importance of LIS in the area of micro watershed development for improvement of agricultural productivity needs no further emphasis.
- Command Areas Development (CAD) Model The river systems in India command specified areas for sustained irrigation potential, through highly evolved canal networks. However, it is often found that the areas irrigated by the multi-purpose project systems, as reported by the irrigation departments, are vastly different from the figures reported by the revenue and statistical departments. Using the national LIS, it is possible to readily evolve a dynamic and modern system for each crop season in the irrigation command areas to identify and record extents under irrigated crops in each village, by employing remote sensing technology. Such an exercise results in fixing fairly scientific targets for water tax collection and enhancement of revenue flows to the exchequer. It is possible that the water tax so collected is ploughed back into the maintenance of the distribution network of the Irrigation Command, as is now being done by Government of Andhra Pradesh, through constitution Water User Associations (WUAs).
The CAD model has several distinct advantages over the traditional monitoring systems now in place. To indicate a few:
- It is possible to compile village-wise and survey number-wise areas under each of the irrigated crops for each crop season, with reasonable accuracy
- Rational fixation of water tax collection targets increases revenue in-flows.
- Concealment of cropped area is almost totally eliminated.
- The gap between the estimated command area and the actually irrigated area can be assessed over a period of time and the functional optimization of the command attempted.
- Correct assessment of the damages inflicted on standing crop is rendered possible during natural calamities such as drought, cyclone, floods and the quantity of unaffected crop can be correctly estimated. Results of such studies can be made use of in planning and executing hazard mitigation/relief measures.
- A hybrid model for rural development
The versatile national LIS contemplated by me has the landholder as its nucleus. Ours being predominantly an agrarian economy, the crucial role played by the landholder in the economic prosperity of the nation need not be emphasized again. With every single detail of each landholding scientifically recorded and preserved for ready retrieval, the national LIS caters well to the planning and implementation of the farmer welfare measures by the State and Central government, as part of the overall rural development strategy.
Due to unscientific cultivation and harvesting procedures, lack of proper financial inputs into the agricultural operations, absence of suitable crop insurance mechanism and a host of other such factors, a majority of the marginal and small landholders had been reduced to agricultural labour. Gradually, due to sustained unfavourable conditions in the villages, the agricultural labour got transformed into migrant urban labour and the resultant problems are quite serious sociologically and economically, in the urban and rural centres.
The marginal and small farmer welfare measures can be precisely planned to cater to every single village, by making use of the national LIS. These measures can be integrated with the conventional rural development activity, to evolve a hybrid model, wherein benefits flow objectively and correctly to the needy target groups. As a result, the implementation of rural development strategies becomes more focussed and result oriented. Prevention of migration of the landless poor, marginal farmer to urban centres is a welcome bonus from this application.
- Other Applications of LIS:
The contribution of a comprehensive LIS in the fields of socio-economic development, aforestation, waste land development etc., is too obvious to merit a detailed explanation from me.
- Valuable and readily usable information can be generated and passed on to the farming community to choose the correct crop for the correct season, by evolving a model involving agricultural, climatic, water resources and terrain related parameters linked with cadastral boundaries. Such an application is bound to result in greater productivity.
- It has long been recognized that agricultural productivity is greatly enhanced by preventing landholdings from endless fragmentation and by consolidating unviable small holdings. The national LIS, with its scientific and realistic land evaluation model, will be of great help in the successful implementation of the land consolidation program, which has hitherto not been successful.
- It is often found that important infrastructural development projects get bogged down in the myre of dispute-ridden land acquisition procedures, leading to staggering time and cost overruns. It is identified that most of the disputes generally arise from defective land records and faulty land valuation procedures. The national LIS has a very important application in rendering land acquisition work prompt and dispute-free, through scientific and realistic land valuation process.
- The national LIS serves as a comprehensive planning, monitoring and decision support tool in the development of agricultural and agro-based activities, by providing crucial landholding-wise statistical inputs to finalize strategies related to financing, crop insurance, land development loans etc.
- Non governmental and voluntary organizations, which undertake developmental activities in the rural sectors, will have a valuable tool in the national LIS, which provides a total and correct picture of the socio-economic status of a village, vis-à-vis the landholder.
- The national LIS makes the basic land records open and readily accessible. This alone will radically transform the landholder from the status of being exploited to the status of being offered services on request. An immediate result is a substantial reduction in land-based litigation. Considering that about 10% of the cultivable land in any village is generally kept fallow due to civil litigation, the prospect of increased agricultural productivity can be readily appreciated.
- Sri P V S Madhusudana Rao, Dy Director, Central Survey Office, Survey Settlements, & Land Records (SS & LR) Department, Government of Andhra
- Dr. L R A Narayan, Senior Advisor, Speck Systems Limited.