We need a timebound mechanism to transition to a clearer land titling system
The Indian macroeconomic slowdown is perceived as being structural in nature. One of the key suggestions being made is that India needs to carry out factor market reforms including those of land markets. In this article we make a specific policy recommendation about land titling reforms. This lies at the heart of the quagmire that has stalled the progress of land reforms in India.
The Indian land titling system is currently based on presumptive titles. It is well-recognised now that we need to move towards conclusive titles. Conclusive titling works on three underlying principles of Torrens land title registration system — mirror curtain and insurance. In short the map/survey should mirror the true picture of the land including its ownership extent and value; the land record should automatically mutate after registration to curtain the past and depict the correct title holder’s name thereby obviating any requirement of producing complicated documents to prove ownership; and lastly the title holder would be insured against any loss on account of any defect in the records.
To move towards conclusive titling reforms are required at two levels — the legal framework and government process reengineering. The efforts towards conclusive titling began in 2008 with the National Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP). Over the last decade DILRMP has been fairly successful in its objective of computerisation of land and registration records.
The central government had proposed a Model Land Titling Bill 2011. However that has not yet been taken up by most states. Only two states Rajasthan and Maharashtra have made some progress. Along with states the Centre also needs to enact law/amend the Registration Act 1908 one of the central laws governing land.
Despite all efforts progress towards a legal framework for conclusive titling has been limited. Therefore we are proposing an alternate model. Instead of moving from one titling system to another directly India may take an intermediate step of enacting a law for Certificate of Possessory Title (CoPT). It would essentially mean issuance of a CoPT to the owner upon registration of a possessory estate and after a few years thereafter the land would become eligible to enter the conclusive land titling system. We recommend a period of five years in this regard. To add further flexibility in operationalising CoPT along with the law around CoPT state governments may also consider passing state specific “stamp acts” like has already been done by in some states. Also registration of land needs to be made time-bound.
This proposal has clear advantages. One it would continue to indicate the vision to move towards conclusive titling and such clarity would quash any misapprehensions. As people register their land records under CoPT they would get five years and at the end if there have not been any competing claims on the land this could be converted into a conclusive land title. Two it would help formalise the on-ground reality where sometimes possession is used as a criterion to decide presumptive titles in India. Three this would also automatically clear the pendency of civil suits in many cases.
Also the DILRMP needs to be revamped and as part of DILRMP 2.0 we recommend that the Centre undertakes a drone and satellite imagery-based GIS tagged fresh survey of the entire territory of India. The existing cadastral survey maps could be geo-referenced in this exercise to harmonise data between the current and the proposed system. Together these would create new survey maps of the land records system that would govern land administration.
The operations of land administration also may adopt the state-wide enterprise architecture approach and all institutional operators such as the departments of registration land and surveys urban and municipal affairs may use the same architecture and an integrated land database for smooth operations. Andhra Pradesh has already taken a lead in this regard. This may be adopted by others. Further unique land parcel IDs having inbuilt identifiers of type of land and location may be issued for all parcels of land. This has already been done in Uttar Pradesh.
The computerised land and registration records of the past decades which have been created as part of DILRMP may be used to establish a clear chain of presumptive title holders for all parcels of land. The unique IDs may also be mapped with the current title holders. This would assist in the issuance of CoPT later.
To move towards automatic mutation of land the registration and land departments could develop integrated business process flows with systems-based smart contract-like checks for automatic mutation. In sum if states enact CoPT and the Centre introduces DILRMP 2.0 and makes necessary amendments to the Registration Act it will unlock land’s true potential paving the way for a new paradigm.
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 30 2019 under the title ‘A certificate for the owner’. Bhandari is senior fellow at NCAER Kadyan is an IAS officer. Views are personal.