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India to speed up digitisation of land records

New Delhi, India: The National Council of Land Reforms in India, headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is considering infusing the recommendations of a committee on state agrarian relations set up by the Rural Development Ministry in 2009. The recommendations include an impact study of computerisation of records, setting a timeframe of two years for survey operations in states and reviewing the cost of the programme.

The first meeting of Council is scheduled in October 2011. The meeting aims to identify ways to speed up digitisation process of land records across the country.

Digitisation of land records has remained largely confined to making available scanned copies of title deeds online. Without fresh surveys of properties, digitisation fails to reflect errors and disputes over property titles. At a time when land acquisition has become a political hot potato and land disputes continue to clog courts, fresh surveys are a prerequisite for proper digitisation and comprehensive land reforms. “States are just computerising old records and that is not of much help,” said Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Though some states have invested in land records through their own resources and public-private partnerships, the progress has been slow and uneven. The problem is two- fold – the inability of most states to pump up their capacity to utilise funds under the schemes and the genuine cash crunch that has marred survey operations necessary to establish new land records.

“Survey operations have not really picked up. There are many problems. A comprehensive survey in one district of Andhra Pradesh in 2006 had cost around 30 crore,” Ramesh added.

At this rate, a comprehensive overhaul of the land records across India’s 641 districts, accounting for some inflation, will cost over INR 19,320 crore. However, since 1987-88, when it started various schemes to modernise land records, the centre has given states around INR 1,030 crore for the purpose. Between 2008-09 and 2010-11, the centre gave the states around INR 540.98 crore, of which the states have utilised INR 22.34 crore – a meagre 4 percent – primarily to computerise land data in 206 districts.

The centre had merged two prominent centrally-sponsored schemes – Computerisation of Land Records and Strengthening of Revenue Administration and Updation of Land Records – to form the National Land Records Modernisation Programme in 2008.

“The results of the earlier disjointed schemes were very uneven across states due to the absence of a common goal and timeframe. The new scheme was meant to address that,” said an official in the rural development ministry’s department of land resources.

Survey operations in the scheme envisaged collection of spatial data from satellite imagery or aerial photography including forest and revenue surveys leading to updated maps and record of rights. All maps were then to be digitised and data included with plot numbers and unique identification for each land parcel.

Source: Economic Times