Digitization of land records

It was introduced to computerize all land records including mutations, improve transparency in the land records maintenance system, digitize maps and survey, update all settlement records and minimize the scope of land disputes. This would provide clear titles of land ownership that could be monitored easily by government officials, facilitate quicker transactions, and reduce disputes. Most importantly it would reduce construction timelines and overall cost for the developer, the benefits of which can be transferred to consumer making property prices more attractive.

  • High litigation:
    • A World Bank study from 2007 states that some estimates suggest that land-related disputes account for two-thirds of all pending court cases in the country. These land disputes include those related to the validity of land titles and records, and rightful ownership.
    • A NITI Aayog paper suggests that land disputes on average take about 20 years to be resolved. Land disputes add to the burden of the courts, tie up land in litigation, and further impact sectors and projects that are dependent on these disputed land titles.
  • Agricultural credit:
    • Land is often used as collateral for obtaining loans by farmers. It has been observed that disputed or unclear land titles inhibit supply of capital and credit for agriculture.
    • Small and marginal farmers, who account for more than half of the total land holdings, and may not hold formal land titles, are unable to access institutionalised credit.
  • Development of new infrastructure:
    • Land that was earlier used for farming, is now being used to set up industries, power plants, manufacturing units, build roads, housing, and shopping malls.
    • However, several of the new infrastructure projects are witnessing delays, with land related issues often being a key factor.
    • These delays occur because of non-availability of encumbrance free land (evidence that the property in question is free from any monetary and legal liability), non-updation of land records, resistance to joint measurement survey of land records, demands for higher compensation by land owners, and filing of large number of arbitration cases by land owners.
    • For example, obtaining a land ownership certificate can take around 60 days in Gujarat and up to 12 months in Chennai and Odisha.
  • Urbanisation and the housing shortage:
    • More recently, land use is also changing due to urbanisation and further expansion of such urban areas.
    • While census towns are places with urban characteristics (population above 5,000, at least 75% of the population engaged in non-agricultural work, and a population density of at least 400 people per sq. km.), statutory towns are urban areas with a local authority.
    • Under new schemes for urban development (Smart Cities Mission, AMRUT), cities are trying to raise their own revenue through property taxes and land based financing. This further necessitates the importance of providing a system of clear land titles in urban areas.
  • Benami transactions:
    • A Benami transaction is one where a property is held by or transferred to a person, but has been provided for or paid by another person.
    • The White Paper on Black Money (2012) had noted that black money generated in the country gets invested in Benami properties.
    • Unclear titles and non-updated land records enable carrying out property transactions in a non-transparent way.
    • The Standing Committee on Finance (2015) examining the Benami Transactions Prohibition (Amendment) Bill, 2015 noted that generation of black money through Benami transactions could be pre-empted and eliminated by digitisation of land records and their regular updation.
  • Unused land:
    • A large proportion of government land lies unused. A large part of the unused land is high-value property in prime areas in major cities
    • Land hoarding by government agencies has created artificial scarcityand is one of the main drivers of skyrocketing urban real estate prices.
  • In India, we have a system of registered sale deeds and not land titles.
  • The Transfer of Property Act, 1882, provides that the right to an immovable property (or land) can be transferred or sold only by a registered document.
  • These documents are registered under the Registration Act, 1908. Therefore, the transaction gets registered, and not the land title.
  • This implies that even bona fide property transactions may not always guarantee ownership, as earlier transactions could be challenged.
  • Land ownership is established through multiple documents maintained by different departments, making it cumbersome to access them
  • For example, sale deeds are stored in the registration department, maps are stored in the survey department, and property tax receipts are with the revenue department
  • These departments work in silos and do not update the data in a timely manner, which results in discrepancies. One has to go back to several years of documentation to find any ownership claims on a piece of property, which causes delays.
  • The cost of registering property is high and, hence, people avoid registering transactions
  • While registering a sale deed, the buyer has to pay a stamp duty along with the registration fee.
  • In India, stamp duty rates across states vary between 4% and 10%, compared to 1% and 4% in other countries. The registration fee is an additional 0.5% to 2%, on an average.
  • Under the Registration Act, 1908, registration of property is not mandatory for transactions such as the acquisition of land by the government, property leased for less than one year, and heirship partitions
  • Real-time land ownership records will be available to the citizen
  • Property owners will have free access to their records without any compromise in regard to confidentiality of the information
  • Free accessibility to the records will reduce interface between the citizen and the Government functionaries, thereby reducing rent seeking and harassment.
  • This method will permit e-linkages to credit facilities.
  • Market value information will be available on the website to the citizen.
  • Certificates based on land data (e.g., domicile, caste, income, etc.) will be available to the citizen through computers.
  • Information on eligibility for Government programs will be available, based on the data.
  • It will help in transparent land records management with a single window to handle land records which will include maintenance and updation of maps, survey and registration of property.
  • It can also aid 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.
  • Digitization will also make both domestic and cross-border transactions time-bound with the click of a button.
  • The land digitisation efforts in India received a new boost at both the Centre and state levels after the launch of a survey of villages and mapping with improved technology in village areas under the SVAMITVA scheme last year.
  • The scheme seeks to confer land titles in so far unmapped and inhabited parts of rural India and to distribute property cards in villages.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha are the best performing Indian states in land record digitisation, according to an annual land records index prepared by Delhi-based think-tank National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER).
  • The NCAER’s Land Records and Services Index (NLRSI) 2020-21 released recently said nearly all states and union territories — 29 out of 32 — showed a gradual improvement in their efforts to digitise land records compared to the previous year.

A good land records system is a necessity for any harmonious and progressive society. The book would ultimately lead to an improved land governance system, reduction in land disputes, prevention of Benami transactions and a comprehensive Integrated Land Information Management System in the country, by sharing best practices.