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Land? Information? System?

The land of Zimbabwe bleeds by land battles. Zimbabweans’ invasions of the white-owned land is probably a backlash of ignorance of land issues. A report in “The Economist, April 8-14, 2000″, alleged that the President of the country, Mr Robert Mugabe, himself encouraged his supporters to invade the white-owned farms. Another report published in the April 15-21, 2000 issue of the same journal reports a recent opinion poll of 1,900 Zimbabweans which found that only 30% of them wanted all the white farms to be seized. Three quarters of the people questioned blamed the government, rather than the white farmers for the fact that land reforms had still not been implemented even after 20 years of independence. In 1980, Robert Mugabe planned to resettle 162,000 families in five years, but only 70,000 families have been resettled so far.

In India, even after 50 years of independence, land reforms are yet to take place in their true spirit in several states. The struggle for land between landlords and landless often takes a violent turn especially in Bihar. The violence over land highlights the urgency of Land Information System, which is not only efficient and operational but also is just and flexible to local needs and cultural milieu.

The relationship between man and land is dynamic. The trend of the dynamics depends upon the priorities set by the society. During the feudal era, human beings were tied up with physical land where land was the symbol of wealth and status. The Industrial Revolution, however, initiated a process of breaking that tie as people started visualising land as a commodity. The concept of land planning came with the population explosion after the second World War. In the1980s environmental degradation and sustainable development had widened the approach towards land as evident in Agenda 21. The Agenda 21 requires creating efficient and accessible land markets that meet community needs by improving land registry systems and streamlining procedures in land transactions and to establish appropriate land tenure to provide security for all land users, especially indigenous peoples.

The Cadastral System
The word ‘cadastral’ is a Latin term that refers to the registry of lands. It has something to do with determining and defining land ownership and boundaries. The cadastral system should be systematic, sustainable and sensitive to local requirements, culture and needs. The key to the success of the cadastral system lies in how it protects the land rights and permits those rights to be traded. It is not important how sophisticated are the legal or technical aspects.

Cadastral issues around the world
Ian Williamson in some of his papers (www.geom.unimelb.edu/research/publications/IPW) discussed the state of cadastral records and issues in various countries. The following paragraphs will quote his work quite liberally. According to his study, countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Japan and Korea rely on a well-established cadastral system, supporting an efficient land market. All lands are included in the system with the result that they can be bought, sold, leased or mortgaged with security and relative ease. This is not to say that the cadastral systems in these developed countries are efficient or ideal. However, these rich countries can afford relatively expensive systems, which the developing countries will find difficult to afford. Access to the latest technology and to highly skilled personnel are not the major issues in the developed world. The major issues are concerned with appropriate government policy with regard to the development, modernisation and maintenance of cadastral systems, appropriate institutional arrangements, standards and data certification, development of a spatial data infrastructure, and the role of the cadastre as a central component in a broader land information economy. Countries such as Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, which are in the early stages of development, have agrarian societies with limited land registration, cadastral surveying and mapping and land information system expertise. However, many of them recognise the importance of developing land markets to support economic development. Countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and China with rapidly expanding economies are basically agrarian societies but have major growing industrial bases. They have the ability to use the latest technologies and in general have good educational systems, but often insufficient trained manpower to serve the expanding land market. These countries appear to recognise the social, political and economic importance of an efficient cadastral system. They are also considering options to privatise certain aspects of their systems but to a much lesser extent than the developed countries.

The countries in Eastern and Central Europe, and some African countries are primarily concerned with establishing complete cadastral systems in a short time. Such countries often wish to develop cadastral and land information systems modelled on their Western European neighbours and to use the latest technologies. Unfortunately, there is a lack of recognition that the countries in Western Europe are building on well-established “complete” systems, which are over 100 years old and are now applying technologies from a highly sophisticated industrial and educational base. It would thus be difficult for Central and European countries to develop systems similar to those found in Western Europe in short to medium term if they follow the same approaches.

The administrative setup
In India, it is the responsibility of the district administration to maintain all the land records and collect land revenue from the farmers. Everything relating to land and land disputes comes under the charge of Tahsildar, Naib Tahsildar, Kanungo and Lekhpal (Patwari). The patwari is very important as he is the one who maintains the records. These officers assist the Collector in this work. Each district is divided into tahsils. Every tahsil comprises parganas and villages. It is important, for an agricultural country like India, that the classification of agricultural land, its measurement, the assessment of its produce and maintenance of land records are properly maintained and updated.

The hard realities
In the states, land ceiling acts are in force which restrict a person not to hold land beyond a limit. The abolition of the zamindari system could happen without much resistance is not only due to the will power of the government but also due to the fact that in an era of industrialisation people were less attached to land and were more interested in capital which they can invest in business. Also, the powerful people of the villages manage to retain large holdings of land due to their ‘understanding’ with patwaris and by using the loopholes in the ceiling act by keeping huge lands in the names of their relatives. Either the land is in the name of close relatives or in the names of employees and distant relatives. However, in the latter cases, the owner has the power of attorney in his name. It is difficult for the policy makers to take the corrective measures as it would go against the interests of the ruling class. Unfortunately, these vested interests influence politicians and senior bureaucrats who, in turn, undermine the successful creation of an efficient cadastral system. That’s how despite all the big claims of land reforms, certain people still manage to hold hundreds of acres of land. Even the ‘Bhoodan Yagna’ by Vinoba Bhave, could not yield the desired results, as most of the donated lands were fallow.


Technology: A tool, not panacea
A recent study undertaken for the Victoria Government has given the benefit-cost ratio of GIS about 3:1in the Australian context. Another study completed in 1995 for Australian and New Zealand Land Information Council (ANZLIC) for the period 1989-94, signified notable cost savings by the use of existing sources of digital cadastral data as compared to the next-best alternative. The cost savings to cost ratio for cadastral data Australia wide was 2.8:1, excluding all other benefits such as the development of new areas of activities, improved data storage and distribution, and many others. While there is good justification to establish digital cadastral database to support LIS and GIS, it is not to suggest that one should jump into it without realising the constraints and the ground realities. Use of technology is essential in developing an efficient cadastral systems. However, one should keep in mind that mere introduction of technology will not solve the problem.

There may be two approaches to the issue:

Approach 1

If we computerise the existing records without matching them with the existing ground realities, the error will keep on getting magnified with the processing of incorrect data. Worse, we neither have the trained manpower to handle the technology nor have the required infrastructure to accommodate the technology. Technology is not a panacea, but a tool to assist the process of LIS. A mismanaged, mishandled technology will lead to incorrect diagnosis of the problem which, in turn, will result in policy prescriptions which may aggravate the problem instead of solving it.

Approach 2
Instead of working without plans, it is better to work with a wrong plan. How will a policy maker be able to have the basic idea about a problem unless he/she has certain basic information? GIS may help a policymaker to at least realise the extent of the problem. In this context, one may prefer to have an approach to initiate the process of incorporating technology in cadastral mapping and keep on sorting out the problems as and when they are identified.

It is important for the country like India to channalise the existing manpower and infrastructure right from the village level in a proper manner. Introduction of technology, without doing basic groundwork, may slow the cadastral process. The solution probably will be to introduce simple technology slowly and as the infrastructure improves, keep on introducing advanced technologies such as GIS and GPS.

Anyway, it is planning, not the technology that fails.