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Enhancing the Impact of Government Efforts to Modernize India's Land Records
November 13, 2017

India International Centre, New Delhi

A three-institution study of the modernization of land records in three Indian States was released at an event held at the India International Centre, today. The study recommends a number of reforms that could help to improve property records and services, enhance the impact of computerizing land records, and potentially reduce land related litigation in India. NCAER along with the Indira Gandhi Institute for Development Research (IGIDR, in Mumbai) and the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP, in New Delhi) have conducted impact assessment studies of the Government of India’s Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme in Himachal Pradesh (done by NCAER), Maharashtra (IGIDR) and Rajasthan (NIPFP).  NCAER, which coordinated this collaborative effort by three of India’s most prominent policy research institutes, also released its overall Synthesis Report based on the findings of the three State Reports. 

 

Security of property rights and land titles are fundamental to well-functioning land markets, themselves essential for robust economic activity in agriculture, manufacturing and services.  Land-related disputes in India account for about 60 to 70 percent of all civil litigation, and as much as 90 percent of land parcels are subject to legal dispute.  It is estimated that land market distortions reduce annual economic growth by about 1.3 percent.  In 2017, India vastly improved its overall ranking in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2018 Index to 100th (out of 190 countries) from 130th in 2016.  Unfortunately, on the indicator for “registering property” (in this case urban property), India’s ranking in Doing Business 2018 has worsened from 138th to 154th.  The reports recommend actions to improve land records and registration services that could substantially help individuals, families and communities confirm and secure their property rights, reduce the cost of doing business, and reduce the huge litigation overhang that land holdings in India suffer from. 

 

India has presumptive land titling, the right over a property arising out of its occupation or possession with the ability to hold the property until the possession is obstructed. Since 2008, the Government of India has run the National Land Records Modernization Programme, a Centrally Sponsored Scheme under the Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development.  The scheme allocates funds to States to digitize their land records and move to modern land records management systems.  More recently the programme was renamed the Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP).  The key objective of the DILRMP is to move India to a conclusive land titling system with titles by a modern, comprehensive and transparent land records management system. DILRMP seeks to do this through computerization of land records, digitization of maps and integration of text and spatial data, survey and re-survey and updating of all survey and settlement records (including creating original cadastral records wherever necessary), computerization of registration and its integration with a land records maintenance system, development of core geospatial information systems, and capacity building in all these areas. Between 2008-09 and 2017-18, the Government has sanctioned some Rs 1,927 crores for the DILRMP, though much less has been utilized by the States.  As of 11/11/2017, the DILRMP website reported that the programme had covered some 5.65 lakh or 86% of all revenue villages in the country.   

 

The three state studies and NCAER’s overview study released today are the first pilot studies to assess the actual impact on the ground of the DILRMP. The impact assessments show that while all three states have pursued the computerisation of land records and of the registration process, the emphasis has varied considerably. The computerisation of textual records has received the greatest attention in Himachal Pradesh, while Maharashtra has focused on automating the registration process. But in all three states, the contribution of the DILRMP to these efforts has been rather muted. As a result, the potential inherent in digitising land records and their registration has so far been realized only partially, and much more needs to be done. The state reports were presented by Ms Diya Uday, IGIDR, Mr Anirudh Burman, NIPFP and Prerna Prabhakar, NCAER. Mr Deepak Sanan, Senior Advisor, NCAER presented the overall Synthesis Report. Releasing the reports along with other dignitaries, Mr T Haque, Chairman, Land Policy Cell, Niti Aayog stated that there is a need to conduct such a scientific study for all states in the country. 

 

This work of the three institutions was supported by the Omidyar Network as part of its global efforts to help people and communities confirm and secure their property rights. Mr Peter Rabley from Omidyar Network, who was also present for the release of the reports,  conveyed the pleasure of Omidyar Network  in supporting this study which they see as being critical to the development of the economy.  

 

The work in the three states compared the on-the-ground situation with that shown in the land records on five dimensions—ownership, possession, land use, land area, and encumbrances. All three state reports highlighted large discrepancies between the land records and the on-the-ground situation. Professor Devendra B. Gupta, who led the study at NCAER said, “We need to strengthen systems for real time updating of land records if the national objective of a sustained availability of comprehensive and accurate land records is to be achieved.  This is absolutely essential for the better functioning of rural and urban land markets in India.” The NCAER synthesis report and the three state reports offer a number of key suggestions, including for better staff training and process flows to ensure comprehensive, accurate records that can be updated in near real time, linking disparate data bases, and technological innovations that were simply not possible just a few years back.  These and other design and deployment improvements suggested by this work have the potential to dramatically improve land record services to the public, and hopefully reduce property related litigation in India. Suggested changes in the DI-LRMP design can incentivise States to improve their land records: half the DILRMP funding from the Centre could be based on the inputs required for digitisation of land records while the other half could be based on the performance outcomes of States in computerising land records and ensuring their real time updating.  This would require the kind of field testing of outcomes that the three institutions did.

 

As explained in its synthesis report, NCAER is proposing to launch a NCAER Property Records and Services Index (N-PRECSI) to rank States and Union Territories on their progress on land records modernization. Mr Deepak Sanan, Senior Advisor at NCAER who guided the impact assessments, noted that “This approach would fit well with India’s current focus on competitive/cooperative federalism and could prove to be a significant step towards achieving the national goal of effective land record management and conclusive titling.”  Dr Shekhar Shah, Director-General, NCAER, said that, “the findings of this work by NCAER, IGIDR, and NIPFP hold tremendous significance for India’s rapid economic growth through the better functioning of rural land markets. These findings can help formulate state action plans to attain the goal of secure, assured land records that mirror ground realities and are generated by efficient titling services. This work can importantly help the Department of Land Resources make evidence-based design and implementation changes in the DILRMP that would encourage and support state efforts to bring about palpable improvements in their land recording services. NCAER’s proposed Property Records and Services Index for Indian States and Union Territories will also help.  The N-PRECSI may be further enhanced in time to reflect how land buyers and sellers perceive the quality of services they are getting.” Shah further added, “NCAER is also considering a study on land litigation in selected Indian High Courts to shed light on the extent to which inappropriate land records are the cause of land disputes and to develop a typology of different types of land record problems and relate them to corresponding types of land disputes. This should help point to the root causes of India’s burgeoning land litigation and suggest solutions.”  

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