‘Land’ Where We Stand

‘Land’ Where We Stand


Saswati Paik
Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi- 110067
Email: [email protected]
Long back, the earth was ‘No man’s land’. It was man who found ‘Land’ as a space on earth, which, by birth, has geographical identity. Through the process of human civilisation, land has perceived another identity i.e. the identity by means of its use. Land produces, land accommodates, land nurtures; land is an asset to human being, a resource of nature that is qualitatively precious but quantitatively limited. So land needs maintenance, and for the sake of maintenance, its identity by means of both location and use has to be identified. Here comes the question of land information that must be maintained by a ‘system’. This ‘system’ changes both spatially and temporally as per the human need as well as progress of civilisation.

When Demand exceeds Supply
With the increasing pressure of population awareness is growing regarding the ‘best practices’ for reform strategies of land administration. It aims at promoting active land market or to support sustainable development. Since the last few decades the policy makers of the world are concentrating more on sustainable development and while implementing the strategies for ‘sustainable development’ they are stressing more on the basic land information infrastructure. Sustainable development means “development that effectively incorporates economic, social, political, conservation and resource management factors in decision-making for development” (Ting and Williamson, 1999).

With the increase in population all over the world, the pressure on land is also increasing. The problem of imbalance between the supply of land and demand for land create further complexity in keeping the records of land information. The data and information on land are most important records for any national government. But the land records kept by the local administrative officials rarely reach the national level, especially in the developing countries where people-land ratio is far less and legal processes concerned with possession of land are much more complex than the developed countries. Thus the gap in data transmission causes further dilemma in proper and systematic land administration supported by basic land information infrastructure.

Data Generation for Land
Over the last one decade or so, cadastral systems have become much more important in the eyes of policy makers in the developing world. A cadastre is normally a parcel-based and up-to-date land information system usually managed by one or more government agencies, containing a record of interests in land, especially in land tenure that is concerned with rights, restrictions and responsibilities. Land registration and cadastre usually complement each other, they operate as interactive systems. Both of them are like three-legged stool consisting of legal data, physical and thematic data and surveying data. A cadastral system is not a monolithic block, it must be designed to fulfill the changing legal demands of both the government and private sector. But there is no justification of a cadastral system without a resource available to keep it up-to-date.

Land administration approaches depend largely on the circumstances of any nation, state or jurisdiction. Because of the difference in the stages and status of development the countries of the world consists of different potentials of developing land administration and cadastral system. The parameters that affect the advancement of cadastral system are (a) major relationship of mankind to land, (b) land tenure relationships, (c) wealth and development, (d) technological progress, level of education and technical and professional training, (e) institutional arrangements (such as decentralised, deconcentrated or centralised), (f) political interferences, (g) administrative infrastructure etc.

At the time, when the developed countries have expanded its sophisticated land registration system recognising it as an important source of land information essential to support good governance and sustainable development, the developing countries are suffering from some major constraints regarding cadastral system. The difference should not necessarily be explained only in terms of technological gap, numerous other factors are also responsible for the same.

Development is Dynamic
In each specific country, for each specific region, a range of different strategies must be implied depending on the relationship of humankind to land. This relationship is dynamic, as development is a dynamic process in the nations of the world. The parameters of development are affected by several other factors such as urbanisation, globalisation, sustainable development, economic reform, etc. All these factors determine as well as influence, to a great extent, the specific strategies adopted in reforming or establishing the land administration system. On the basis of these strategies, ‘tool box’ for the institutional, legal, technical and administration solutions might be selected. The ‘tool box’ always provides the scope of evolution or modification as per the need of the nation. Even it has also been found that the status of development of the developing countries differ so much that a single strategy of land administration may not match any other country having the same status ‘developing’.

Where to Keep, Where to Give
Cadastral system associated with land administration must be recognised as national activities. They are relevant both to rural and urban areas. The recommendations made in the UN-FIG Bathurst Declaration stated “… Whilst access to data, its collection, custody and updating should be facilitated at a local level, the overall land information infrastructure should be recognised as belonging to a national uniform service, to promote sharing within and between nations”.

In developing countries the land records are usually kept at the local land office level including cadastral maps, land registration documentation and land tax records are kept by the local land offices which generally works closely with the elected local authority, responsible for land use, development and environmental management. Above all the local authority gives priority to their own agenda with little regard for national policies. This approach rarely fulfills the objectives of national sustainable development. For implementing land administration, decentralisation is most essential. A central authority is required to establish policies, ensure quality of services, provide or coordinate training, to limit corruption and to implement a personnel policy.

A great challenge in land administration in the developing countries is to bring the national mapping agency together with the national cadastral agency in a cooperative relationship and ideally under the same organisation. A central authority might provide the funding base to ensure the implementation of policies at the local level that will further support the state or national level objectives. Such a broad approach supports the establishment of a national focus for land administration including the creation of a spatial data infrastructure which is difficult, but not impossible.

Imitations vs Limitations
According to the UN-FIG Bogor Declaration, “The success of a cadastral system is not dependent on its legal or technical sophistication, but whether it protects land rights adequately and permits those rights to be traded (where appropriate) efficiently, simply, quickly, securely and at low cost”. Rather the success mainly depends on the updation of the data kept in the cadastral system. The introduction of Information Technology (IT) and computerisation of land administration records is difficult for a country having financial constraints as it requires long-term political, financial and institutional commitment. Experience from the developed countries suggests that the best way to introduce IT is through the involvement of the private sector. In those countries where labour costs are low, it is better to utilise simple manual systems rather than the expensive IT, especially GIS which require both large financial and technically trained personnel as a support. In emerging economy, the focus is more concentrated on ‘catching up’ of the mistakes done before rather finding more innovative methods. For a developing or underdeveloped country, a fully surveyed cadastral layer is too expensive, but that does not necessarily mean that documentation or registration of a diversity of rights over land cannot go ahead.

Another problem usually faced by the developing countries is the emergence of two parallel cadastral systems; one is an informal system used by the wider community and the other is a relatively expensive, slow and administratively bureaucratic system that is still influenced by the colonial heritage of the countries concerned. Despite all such difficulties, developing countries such as Thailand have institutional arrangements where surveying, mapping, land registration and valuation are within the one government department. Today, Indonesians under the National Mapping Agency are incorporating the latest mapping technologies for systematic topographic mapping.

Who will bear the Cost?
In the developed countries the government is responsible for the majority of the initial costs in establishing the spatial data infrastructure in a state or nation and also particularly for financing the cadastre. Even in the developing countries the same process must be followed. To establish a spatial data infrastructure for a state or for the entire nation the central government should fund initially for creating the database and also for ensuring the use of the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) through the establishment of partnerships and funding mechanisms to make it worth while for all users.

Interference Unwanted
The meaning of introducing ‘Land administration’ should never be confused with ‘Land reform’. The introduction of a land administrative system should not change the land tenure relationships. Land administration reform should be non-political in nature as much as possible and should be concerned only with the process of introducing an efficient land administration infrastructure in place to manage the humankind to land relationship. But, unfortunately, land reform and land tenure reform, have by their very nature, political objectives such as redistributing land between different groups. The developing countries are no exceptions in terms of this fact.

‘Old is Gold’!!
Although arranging a nationwide cadastral survey and preparing an updated database are not easy tasks for a country pursuing a slow development process, initiatives must be started at micro level which can further enrich the country-level database on cadaster. Before thinking about computerisation of land data or information, more concentration is needed for investigating the data sources and resources already available in the raw form. At the same time, updation of maps is a major process that must be taken into consideration. In India both the central and state governments have been seized with the recurring problem of inadequately-maintained land record system; it has made administration of land reforms difficult and has served to neutralise their benefits. A weak land record system had also been viewed as a systemic weakness that has caused atrocities to be perpetrated upon the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. In 1988-’89 a centrally-sponsored scheme on Computerisation of Land Records (CLR) was started with complete financial support from the government as a pilot project in eight districts with a view to remove the constraints inherent in the manual system of maintenance and updating of land records and to supplement the requirements of various users. By 1991-’92, the scheme was extended to another 24 districts in different States. Now the most challenging problems in India are regarding the updation of old tehsil and mouza maps, poorly maintained and preserved by the government officials. Many of the borderlands are declared to be ‘Restricted’ for which land information are not available at all. If the base be poor, how can we expect an excellent output implementing only some sophisticated technology like IT or GIS?

From ‘Developing’ to ‘Developed’
In developed countries, nowadays the value of land registration systems is not only confined to be a mechanism to quiet titles, reduce disputes and support efficient land markets, it is now functioning as an important source of land information essential for the support of good governance and sustainable development. But this recognition is rarely found in the developing countries. As a part of development process, it is the right time for the developing countries to feel the need and the trend of a land administration reform with a support of a systematic Land Information System which will help to accelerate the process of development at micro and macro level.

Land records available on Internet?

The Punjabis living in Europe or America will soon be able to see the records of land owned by them at their homelands and also will be able to have copies of those records from the internet. They will have to be no more dependent on the Patwaris for the drafts, copies or khasra documents of their own lands in the state of Punjab in India. Primarily budget has already been sanctioned for it. Ramtech Corporation, a New Delhi-based company has started study for this purpose as the work has been assigned to that company. Earlier the company has computerised the land records of Radhigarh Tehsil of East Madhya Pradesh and another tehsil of Raipur District in Chhattisgarh. But those records have not been incorporated in internet. The task of incorporating land records in internet is, for the first time in India, being initiated in Punjab state and those will be available in Gurumukhi language.

Initially it is going to be adopted on experimental basis in the district Phagwara. Because maximum NRIs from this area are residing in foreign countries. According to the plan, all the data and information related to lands such as village maps, mutation etc will be incorporated into the computer. In this digitised database, around 200 types of information related to land records will be available. All these might be viewed from anywhere in the world through internet. After digitising all the land records those will be incorporated into the maps so that planning at administrative level will be benefited. All sort of planning on income and cost will be made in computer only. Internet will help to choose the suitable areas of further planning. And above all the performance of land records department will be improvised and corruptions in this regard might be reduced. Any change or error in the records will be found easily. If succeeds, the government of Punjab may also take initiatives to implement the same plan in other districts of the state.