National Policy on Land Records

National Policy on Land Records

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P. V. S. Madhusudan Rao
Head, Central Survey Office, Survey Settlement
Settlement and Land Records, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh
6-1-12 NarayannGuda, Hyderabad.
Email: [email protected]

The Hindu Common Law (Manu’s Dharma Sastra) states that the right to the possession of land is acquired by the first person who makes beneficial use of the soil. Scriptures have clearly established that Hindu Law vested ownership of land to individuals and the Sovereign was entitled to only a share of the produce of the land for protecting life, liberty and property of the people. In most kingdoms and empires of the Indian subcontinent, the share of the Sovereign almost always remained one-sixth. No Sovereign in India, ancient or modern, ever claimed proprietary right to cultivated lands.

The British Government too claimed land revenue not as rent but only as tax, to meet the necessities of administration. When the first settlement was introduced in British India at the commencement of the nineteenth century by Lord Cornwallis, then Governor General of India, the policy of allowing all lands to remain private property was followed. It was Sir Thomas Munroe who later significantly changed this policy so to make waste and forest lands vest in the State. Sir Charles Turner, then Chief Justice of Madras High Court, ruled that the exclusive use and absolute disposal of the soil in perpetuity created to an individual his title to land. He contended that the Hindu law of ownership of land was as comprehensive as that in existence in England. Evolution of ownership of land is thus common for the entire country.

Right from Grama (village) and Upagrama (hamlet) of ancient revenue administration, till the recent day Village Panchayat, the revenue village has always been the unit of administration in India. Rev. Dr. Caldwell, an authority on Dravidian customs and manners, commented on the importance of the village system in India thus:

“The village system of India is one of the most remarkable features of Indian civilisation. Generally the civilisation of the Hindus is inferior to our own, but in some particulars it is in advance of ours; and one of the particulars in which it claims the advantage is the fact that every Hindu village is an organised municipality. The greater number of English towns and all English villages are mere collection of houses without any bond of connection or corporate life, without rulers, without office bearers, and without any organisation for the preservation or advancement of the common interests. In India, on the contrary, every village of any respectability is an incorporation. It has its council of headman, its rights of jurisdiction, its revenues, and its meetings for the transition of its public business ………”.

While the above narration was about a south Indian village, Lord Charles Metcalfe gave a similar description of the north Indian village. The land records in India have been a product of the need of the cultivators for having a secure system of cultivating their lands generation after generation, under the protective control of the Sovereign.

When permanent settlement was introduced in the country about 200 years ago, this ancient but crucial aspect was not lost sight of. For this reason, despite variations in their content and constitution, Indian land records — as they exist today in different States — have much in common. At the same time, it is difficult to treat all of them alike or to group all of them together owing to the differences in language and connotation, variations in land laws, procedures of conducting cadastral surveys and methods of land classification.

Need for a Common Land Records System
Any system which is uniform throughout the country will have its own intrinsic strengths. The system of land records is no exception. A uniform national system of land records is very much essential because of its vital importance in ensuring better micro and macro level planning and in guaranteeing peaceful/productive cultivation by the holder. The land records are no more a mere tool to collect revenues for the State, for which purpose they had been created by the colonial rulers. Considering that hardly anything changed with the rudimentary system of land records that the British introduced in India two centuries ago, we are in desperate need of a contemporary and common national system of land records.

In the Indian Constitution maintenance of land records have been clubbed with record of rights and cadastral surveys and placed them under the 45th entry of the State List in the Seventh Schedule. As such, land records essentially remained a State subject without any effort having been made in the direction of bringing some commonality into the different varieties of land records in existence. Though successive five-year plans have been eloquent about land reforms, strengthening of revenue administration etc., the issue of having a good, contemporary and uniform land records system for the country has somehow not been given the attention it diserved.

Not that the deficiencies in the existing system have been ignored. On the contrary, the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), Government of India, has taken initiative to identify the deficiencies in the present systems of revenue administration and Land records and to rectify them by funding the respective States. Centrally sponsored schemes for strengthening revenue administration and computerising land records have been introduced.

Meetings of Revenue Ministers and Revenue Secretaries have been convened from time to time to address specific problems plaguing the land records and think of solutions. The report of the Committee on ‘Revitalisation of Land Revenue Administration’ brought out by the MoRD in 1995 could be termed as the first systematic attempt at bringing about a semblance of uniformity into the chaotic affairs of land records existing in different States.

The Committee made some revolutionary recommendations such as (i) transferring Land Administration to Panchayat Raj Institutions, (ii) renaming the revenue department as Land Administration Department, (iii) merging the offices of the Sub-Registrar and Tahsildar for better maintenance of land records etc. Though the Committee did not advocate for a uniform national system of land records, its recommendations had a strong under-current which suggested that the Committee desired that some sort of uniform Land Administration should be in place in the entire country.

Following it up, the MoRD brought out a Vision Document for Computerisation of Land Records in the country in 1999. This document, for the first time, spoke about the standardisation of a Land Information System for the country, identification of ‘core data fields’ across the country which would be useful for planning purposes, implementation of uniform modern procedures to conduct cadastral surveys and generate land records, conversion of Land Records Administration into a financially self-sustaining activity etc. Recognition of the need for a common system of land records across the country has been formally heralded by the Vision Document. Formulating and implementing a national policy on land records in the new millennium is now due.

Ingredients of the National Policy
The ancient Indian village system and the near uniformity of laws in regard to ownership, occupation, tenancy, land tax etc., among different States render the framing of a national land records policy less difficult and more pragmatic if we show sufficient will to iron out the major differences among the important systems of land records in vogue in the country. Existence of such different systems within a country is by no means peculiar or incompatible. Several European and Asian countries did have them or continue having them.

Countries with a high level of awareness about the importance of a well-organised system of land records have not only succeeded in bringing about a uniform procedure into existence but also put the record in the digital environment for efficient maintenance, not withstanding the problems they initially faced.

The Netherlands, which has one of the best systems of land records in the world has been in the process of developing a ‘national clearing house’ for geographic information inspite of the fact that their cadastral parcels are just a series of lines and points without a data structure, with a sound planar topology, of course. Indian land records database is one of the best in the world by any reckoning. Through rational and scientific structuring, it is possible to achieve a national spatial data infrastructure that presupposes appropriate integration of topographic and cadastral map data. Such data infrastructure will have immense potential not only to make country level planning an accurate statistical exercise but also to produce a range of value-added data products that can be widely utilised by a host of Government, private and voluntary organisations.

’Draft National Policy’ on land records may include the following points. It needs to be put to an exhaustive nation-wide debate before being finalised and adapted for implementation.

  1. The existence of multiple agencies such as survey department to prepare cadastral records, revenue department to prepare record of rights in land and registration department to register transactions relating to land tend to compromise on the efficiency of updation of land records. There shall be a single integrated agency in every State which is responsible for the preparation and continuous updating of land records by employing modern technology.
  2. The single, integrated agency in every State shall be designated as the Land Administration Department, which shall work in tandem with the Panchayati Raj Institutions. It shall have uniform administrative set up in all the states. Its functions shall be:
  3. Conducting cadastral surveys to generate accurate land records and maintaining them;
  4. Implementation of all land related laws including land reform laws;
  5. Collection of land revenue, non-agricultural land assessment, irrigation dues, agricultural loans and all other dues under the Public Demands Recovery Act;
  6. Collection of agricultural statistics;
  7. Registration of land transactions;
  8. Safeguarding of public interest, public property and public assets including common property resources.
  9. Uniform methodology to conduct cadastral survey operations and to generate graphic records of land parcels, villages, towns and cities in prescribed scales shall be evolved for adoption by all States. Owing to its superiority, numerical cadastral Survey methodology needs to be considered for such adoption.
  10. With regard to the maintenance of land registers at the village level, ‘core data fields’ common and essential for all the States shall be identified and incorporated into the main registers which shall be common for all the States and maintained in the official language of the State concerned. These may include survey number and its extent, subdivisions and their extents, names of landholders, occupants and enjoyers, land classification, source of irrigation, assessment, land use, crop-statistics, abstract of all Government and communal lands in the village, particulars of encroachments and details of water-bodies. These can be compiled into one or more number of registers.Subsidiary registers containing particulars specific to each State or each region within a State can be additionally maintained.

    Integration and streamlining of village accounts at the national level is one of the most essential tasks to be accomplished in order to introduce a uniform system of land records in the country. Surprisingly, this task is not as difficult as it seems, given the cultural ethos, land administration patterns and land-title genesis in our country.

  11. Irrespective of ownership of lands, land records of any village shall be readily accessible to any individual, private/voluntary organisations, and public spirited bodies. The secrecy shrouding land records in the form of regulated access and restrictions shall be done away with and the landholder shall be made aware of its openness.
  12. The crucial issue of introducing the ‘ Torrens System’ to accord State’s guarantee to the title in land shall be re-examined for adoption in India since our is one of the countries where private ownership of land is a fully accepted norm from ancient times. Guaranteeing title in land, particularly in urban areas, has been strongly advocated by the cadastral professionals for a long time, to mitigate the vexatious disputes and litigation.
  13. Taluk and District maps in all the States shall be freely available without restrictions to all. In a majority of States, the restrictions imposed sometime during 1966 by the Ministry of Defence, Government of India are still continuing.
  14. Land Administration Departments shall not burden themselves with conducting the cadastral survey operations either in the rural or in the urban tracts. Instead, these works shall be entrusted to competent surveying organisations and solution-providers in the private sector. By conducting all future surveys this way, it will become possible to get the final records in computerised format and ready for maintenance. Further, privatisation will help arresting cost and time over-runs.
  15. Cadastral survey data to be generated in future may incorporate height information also to make it more comprehensive and useful.
  16. Technical qualifications shall be made mandatory to cadastral survey professionals at various levels, in all the States. Survey or Draughtsman Trade Test for lower level employees, Diplomas in Civil Engineering for middle-level employees and Degrees in Civil Engineering for gazetted cadre shall be introduced.
  17. Indian Survey Service (ISS) may be introduced to ensure efficient, precise and uptodate professional surveys and accurate maintenance of land records, across the country.
  18. The project of generating computerised cadastre can be financed by a public/private partnership, with the Land Administration Departments of the respective States being shareholders at an appropriate 20-25% shareholding. The other shareholders may include village panchayats, municipalities, metropolitan water boards, urban development authorities and private utility companies. Such an institutionalised arrangement will not only ensure expeditious coverage of large tracts of the country to generate modern land records but also will help develop value-added products linked to the requirements of the private agencies and the databases already in their possession.

    The cadastral division of the Land Administration Department shall function as a self- financing independent public body which may capitalise on the needs of its clients that include government organisations, utility companies, transport and logistics firms, consultancies, environmental agencies, real-estate firms etc. The enormous conventional / digital databases that will be built-up as a result, shall be available at moderate prices to promote their extensive use.

  19. The centrally sponsored scheme for Strengthening Revenue Administration and Updating of Land Records shall be continued through two more five-years plans with substantial increase in the central share in order to successfully conclude the programs in all the States.
  20. Training of the land administration staff at various levels shall be undertaken on a continuing basis, to make them conversant with the use of modern technology in the maintenance of land records. National Training Organisations with identical syllabi shall be set up either separately or by upgrading the existing training schools of the States and the Survey of India.
  21. Training Schools shall train everybody interested in land administration for a prescribed fee and award certificates, diplomas etc. Chartered Surveying shall be gradually introduced in all the States to promptly redress the grievances of landholders.

The above list is not exhaustive but contains some of the essential ingredients of the proposed National Policy on Land Records. Most of these points have been already putforth during various conferences like All India Cadastral Survey Conferences, National Committee on Revitalisation of Revenue Administration etc. Once this national policy is in place, a national LIS for India will no more be a distant dream.