Land administration: a long way to go

Land administration

Rapid urbanisation has led to the complexities experienced in land transactions in the country. They are further exacerbated by continuing migration, industrialisation and frequent land use changes as cities expand. Land continues to be a major source of income to the government through stamp duties and is a key element in implementing a wide range of government programs. Land administrators, lawyers and surveyors are involved in the process of creating and defining land parcels and land rights, but the land registration process does not guarantee title ownership, though the right to property is a legal right in India. Hence, there arise complications in land administration.

Land administration is the way in which the rules of land tenure are applied and made operational. Land administration comprises a wide range of systems and processes to administer. The processes of land administration include the transfer of rights in land from one party to another through sale, lease, loan, gift and inheritance; the regulating of land and property development; the use and conservation of the land; the gathering of revenues from the land through sales, leasing, and taxation; and the resolving of conflicts concerning the ownership and use of land. 

The Global Plan of Action for Sustainable Development adopted by the Rio Conference 1992 (Agenda 21) pointed out the major issues the world faces: they are poverty, problems of sustainable settlement, deforestation and environmental degradation. These are directly related to the land issue. The major problems are related to access to land for the urban and rural poor, creating efficient and accessible land markets, and the lack of proper land records in certain states.

In the Indian context, initial land administration focused on land revenue only but the scenario has completely changed with urbanisation and the growth of the cities. It is difficult to define  land parcels and to describe associated rights, especially in metropolitan cities, since these are expanding to the fringe areas at a rapid rate.

Land administration and policy have not clearly demarcated land markets either in urban or rural areas nor in the peri-urban areas of most cities in the country. Illegal transfers of land and lack of coherent management of restricted land and their updated information, boundary disputes, ownership rows, land re-measurements, payment of land taxes, land possession and no encumbrance certificates are vexatious issues.

In most countries, land administration is one of the most corrupt public services. As far back as 2006, Transparency International estimated that bribes paid annually by users of land administration services amounted to $700 million in India. Moreover, as records of rural land transactions after 1882 are maintained by both the revenue department and the stamps and registration department, the overlap further increases transaction costs and frauds.

There were complaints related to land administrators because they are not able to provide immediate relief to people as our land records are manual and cannot be immediately checked. However, there has been a paradigm shift in recent years. Most states in the country now have digital information about land and digital parcel maps. In some places, both are integrated. Computerised land registries are operational in states like Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu.
These have reduced the scope of corruption associated with land administration.  

Land-related conflicts lead to court cases and litigations, resulting in social costs, creation of fake documents where a single property is sold to several persons, encroachments and illegal constructions. Hence, more control at the official level is required to tackle these irregularities.

E-governance in the context of complicated land management practices is an innovative remedy. Interestingly, the considerable efforts made by the Government of Karnataka via Bhoomi, KAVERI and Mojini projects is a promising approach to overcoming the hurdles in land administration in the state.

I-land administration

The need of the hour are the countermeasures to complicated land administration practices, such as computerisation and integration of land records, allowing private sector participation in surveying, reduction of stamp duty to encourage a reduction in malpractices in the process of land registration.

In order to achieve sustainable and rational outcomes, appropriate laws are required and their implementation should be the focus of land administrators. Countries like Australia are advanced in E-land administration. The latest concept is I-land administration. I-land is integrated, spatially-enabled land information available on the internet, which facilitates government policies by information encompassing people, interests, rights, prices and transactions. Proper execution is required so that each state makes a quick journey from online to E-land and I-land administration.

The commodity ‘land’ has the power to transform the governments and institutions of modern economies and societies and their functioning. Land information with spatial data infrastructure has the power to transform economies and societal functions through the ways in which tax is collected, services are delivered, spatial expansion is achieved, etc.

An effective land administration system is the only way to an efficient land market. Hence, better land management policies are required for the land markets of modern economies. Therefore, the challenge ahead for the administration and policy-makers is how to capitalise on the opportunities provided by modern technology and administration models to deliver better services.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Acharya Institute, and Doctoral Fellow, ISEC, Bengaluru)

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Land administration: a long way to go

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