Gaps in Land Modernization – Pre-Independence and Post-Independence Era

Land as an asset, through time immemorial, has been unique in value as it’s immovable, its appreciation is dependent on location and with an increase in population, and its demand too keeps increasing while there is a limited supply. Access to land hence, has always had an extensive overarching impact on livelihoods and on industrial/economic/social growth. Land ownership in India is generally considered to be demarcated by access to a land title, which determines the ownership of land. However, various reasons such as legacy issues with the zamindari system, loopholes in the legal framework and inefficient administration of land records, have led to unclear land titles and unending legal disputes. These gaps in land administration have plagued us since pre -Independence era; from the permanent settlement of 1793, through the Rent Acts from 1873, the successive state tenancy acts until independence and even post-Independence. It’s only now, with the digitization of land records in the 21st century that we’re looking at an overhaul of our Land Administration System. Hence, to understand the underlying problem inherent in the modernization of our land administration system, here’s a brief insight into the evolution of land records and the gaps in land modernization – pre-Independence and post-Independence. Looking at the pre-independence era, land titles and access was mostly granted to and concentrated with the landlords or zamindars, who held permanent property rights. The zamindars would collect rent from a specific territory and pay a fixed sum to the government as land revenue and this land revenue, was one of the key sources of government income. Since the primary interest of the landlords was in maximizing rent collection, a system was created for the maintenance of land records and the facilitation of this prerogative. These land records were used to furnish information, pertaining to the revenue assessment and important details such, area of the property and details of ownership/possession, were obtained from them. Even after the abolishment of Zamindari system, post-independence, the record of land ownership continued to be determined by an archaic combination of these maintained records. Limited land surveys were conducted in the colonial period. Settlement areas were often clubbed together under a single survey number. These settlement areas have transitioned into the Indian cities of today and lack detailed records. Post-independence, the sole responsibility of land administration was duly transferred to the states, with the records collected/maintained annually, by their respective revenue departments. Furthermore, post doing away with the zamindari system, new land reforms like policies on land re-distribution, tenancy reforms were introduced, to keep a check on previously unregulated systems. The discretionary powers of Tehsildars remain in place despite attempts at institutional reforms. In terms of the administrative responsibilities of the states, the Land Record Management functions were not accorded sufficient priority and thus aggravating the mutation backlogs. Updates to survey were often not conducted. Also, spatial records were often not accurate due to outdated technology and in many cases the spatial and textual records do not match and this continues to lead to litigation cases. The land redistribution reforms were brought with the objective of limiting the amount of land that a person could own, and extra land, if any, was to be consolidated with the government. These laws, known as land ceiling laws, were later repealed in urban areas (due to the resultant unused land banks lying with the government). The tenancy reforms, on the other hand, looked at secure tenure for tenant cultivators (providing them some semblance of land rights) and fair rent, however, these too proved to be largely unsuccessful. Presently, most states have either banned or imposed restrictions, on the leasing of agricultural land, which has further aggravated the problem of informal tenancy across the country. Poorly-maintained/unclear land records have had far-reaching impacts across sectors, the pre-independence legislation need to keep up to speed with the changes in technology. Hence, the need to bridge the gap and look at the modernization of land records has become an important concern, in order to have conclusive land titling. With the DILRMP looking at the digitizing and updating of land records, further steps of law amendments, administrative change, surveys/re-surveys to update spatial records, are now in queue, to streamline the land administration system in India, and finally, reach a stage where the citizens can have unequivocal access to guaranteed property titles.

Author: Pawan Sachdeva Practice Head – Land Governance, TerraCIS Technologies Limited

Pawan Sachdeva is responsible for driving the business growth and strategic direction of the land governance business unit at ITL. Since his joining in 2011, he has been instrumental in the land governance business growth from 4 references, to currently around 12 references. A Post Graduate in Business Administration from Symbiosis, and almost 15 years of experience in IT/ GIS industry.

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