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EditorSpeak: From no-win to win-win

Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Managing Editor
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The measurement and record of land ownership is as ancient as civilisation itself. The act of staking out a parcel of land to grow crops or to build a dwelling marked the transition of humans from hunter-gatherers to farmers and tradesmen. It led to the creation of society and rule of law. It also led to usurpation, conflict and crime. Out of this chaos grew the need for precise demarcation and the concept of the cadastre.

Today the need for cadastral maps is a given. What has changed is the use of the cadastral information. Originally designed to establish ownership, and aid valuation and therefore taxation, cadastral information has now become base information for many planning, implementation and monitoring activities. In conjunction with satellite imagery, it provides better information about the quality of land and therefore its best use. It enables the owner to manage his land sustainably.

The integration of cadastral information with natural resources and economic information enables better planning and better utilisation of scarce resources. The lack of such information gives rise to malpractices. For example, one opinion is that the collapse of the US property market and its disastrous effect on the international stock market was due to the fact that land information was not available to the mortgage market. In developing countries, land records and the technology of managing them have remained unchanged for a century or more and is the root cause for crimes like land grabbing and encroachment. The importance of the cadastre for planning was realised but the old maps were found to be too full of errors to be useful. The task of correcting these maps was seen to be so humongous as to be impossible.

Modern technology has changed this no-win situation to a winwin situation. Many countries are remapping their cadastres using the latest electronic tools which can directly transfer the data to computers to be used with GIS and other software. Going beyond this, technology now enables 3D cadastre, real time cadastre and even crowd sourced cadastral data to enable fast acquisition of accurate, assured and authoritative data. Integrating cadastre into SDI seems to be the mantra for success of both cadastre and SDI. However, it is worthwhile to note that technology can provide data but its use for the improvement of the quality of life and the reduction in illegal activities requires social and political commitment.

While we discuss such issues, we also need to look at communities like nomadic and tribal groups which do not have the concept of land ownership. It is a challenge to be able to guard and assure their rights as much as it is necessary to respect and truly record the rights of land owners.