• 10 December 2007
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Bhoomi Empowers Rural Karnataka

Forty-year-old Gangu Muthaiyya, a landless laborer and member of a marginalized community, lives some 25 km from Bangalore in a small village called Ganapatti Hadli. Eight years ago he was allotted 1.27 acres of land by the Government of Karnataka for which he paid a bribe of Rs 650 to the Village Accountant (VA or the village revenue official). But even after that his name was not entered into the land record system. Some three months back, Muthaiyya came to a Bhoomi center and applied for a mutation over the counter. Surprised because he didnt expect it, within a month Gangu got the mutation order. When he came to consult a doctor in the city he dropped by at the Bhoomi counter where, in only five minutes and at a cost of Rs 15, he received the corrected copy of the Record of Right Tenancy and Cultivation (RTC). He was very happy when he saw his name registered as the legal owner on the RTC.

The other side of the story: Khamitkar is a VA in Gangen Hallie in rural Karnataka. He joined in 1972, and has acted as a VA for almost 28 years. Recently, the computerized RTC started to be issued from his taluka office. Though he did not have any knowledge of computers, he felt that the new system was good. Yet, he claims that his workload has increased. He also says that villagers do not pay land revenues to him as they now pay it directly to the center to get the RTC. Earlier he used to settle the land revenues before issuing RTC. He is also upset because earlier, whenever he visited the villagers, they would carry his bag on their heads and invite him for lunch or dinner. Now, since the introduction of Bhoomi, they dont even notice his presence in their village. The times are changing. Things will now change, he says.

Times indeed have changed, especially across the Karnataka hinterland, thanks to Bhoomi, the e-Governance project that has effected a revolutionary change in the states rural land governance system. The numbers associated with Bhoomi are impressive. Conceived in 1999 and formally launched in February 2001, the project involved digitization of 20 mn land records belonging to 6.7 mn farmers. It involved setting up of kiosks across 203 locations in 177 talukas leading to meticulous digitization of 20 mn manual records. Since each record had 45 fields, 70 mn fields had to be looked at. Further, 10,000 village accountants and 2,000 officials put in 20,000 man months to complete this project.

Bhoomi has been termed as the most successful experiment, where 20 mn land records belonging to 6.7 mn farmers were digitized. Six years down the line, the project is still being considered as the only one, since no other state has been able to implement it systematically.

Little wonder then that Bhoomi is considered as one of the most successful e-Governance projects, which has effected a revolutionary change in the rural land governance system.

Historically Speaking
Prior to Bhoomi, the Government of Karnataka had launched a scheme of computerization of land records in 1991. The Gulbarga district was the pilot chosen from among 24 districts, and by 1996 the project was extended to cover all districts of the state. Though funds were sanctioned for digitizing the land records data, there was not enough clarity about their validation and subsequent updations. Due to varying reasons, ranging from apathy to bureaucracy, the project failed in its objective.

Bhoomi was born out of this failure. In 1999, a new project was envisageddigitizing of 20 mn odd land records belonging to 6.7 mn landowners in 177 talukas of Karnataka. But implementing this project in 177 locations was a daunting challenge due to the poor quality of the manually maintained records, and the task of entering this enormous data. Thats when the National Informatics Center designed the Bhoomi Software.

The project was implemented at the cost of Rs 20 crore, jointly by the Government of India and the Karnataka state government, and officially launched on February 2001.

Success didnt Come Easy
The road to success is often littered with obstacles, and that was very true for project Bhoomi. The biggest challenge to the project, according to Rajeev Chawla (then secretary, e-Governance, and commissioner of the survey, settlement and land records department, Government of Karnataka) who spearheaded the project, When the project was at its inception, village officials were cynical. They thought it was an impossibility. However, we had the confidence that we would be able to deliver the goods, allaying a very pessimistic atmosphere.

But the success of the project was so huge that Bhoomi is now declared as the national model of replication in all states by the Ministry of IT, Government of India, and an additional fund of Rs 300 mn is being provided for the same. The number of transactions under Bhoomi have increased manifold, and currently about 14 mn land records are distributed and 1.6 mn mutations are done through the Bhoomi system every year.

Bhoomi showed that perseverance ensures success

Rajeev Chawla, commissioner, Survey, Settlement and Land Records, Government of Karnataka

What do you have to say about the initiative shown by the state of Karnataka?
Today, Karnataka is undoubtedly the numero uno in e-readiness. The successful implementation of the project is definitely a feather in the cap of the Karnataka Government. I dont remember any state which didnt visit Karnataka to see the projectBhoomis successful implementation proved the strength of the state. Now all government departments have joined hands to computerize their operations.
What were the initial hiccups?
The size of the data was too large, and handling it was a challenging task. At a time when the Central Government itself didnt know what computerization of land records meant it took a lot of effort to convince people from the bureaucracy and the politicians. Initially, there was passive resistance from village accountants as they were perturbed by the idea of digitizing such huge number of records. They were also cynical and indifferent, as they had seen the failure of the earlier attempts. However, gradually, the resistance diminished as the knowledge about the new system created excitement.
At a time when IT was just about making its presence felt, how was the concept of fingerprint biometric authentication received?
Fingerprint biometric authentication is undoubtedly another highlight of the project. However, the complexity was such that even the IT experts were apprehensive about its integration with the project. It took us three months to figure out its nuances before it was successfully integrated.
What was the extent of support received from the union and state governments or the politicians?
The then chief minister of Karnataka, SM Krishna, extended full support to the project. In fact, when Late Pramod Mahajan was the Union Minister of IT, the ministry issued general guidelines for replication of the project in all the states of India.

Winning Features
The features that make Bhoomi unique among the many e-Governance projects are plenty. Foremost is the way it has touched millions of farmers in rural Karnataka. With Bhoomi, farmers can get their records in less than 2 minutes, as against 3-30 days in the old system. They are also protected from harassment and extortion. The system is secure and uses a latest biometric authentication system for updating records. The time taken for mutation has been curtailed from some 200 days to 35.

The system also encourages transparency. Farmers have access to official status reports on mutation requests, which enable them to know at which stage their request is. They can then question the authorities on pending requestsat the same time ensuring that the mutation is done within the prescribed time.

There is also a commercial angle to the project. Since the kiosks are connected online to various banks, farmers can get their farm credit within 5 days as against a month taken in the previous arrangement, hence banks can easily plan for farm credit related activities. The project has also decreased litigation and settlement time; due to secure digitized copies, courts are able to settle various land disputes in a quicker and just manner.

All in all, Bhoomi stands out for the sheer number of lives it has touched. Some 20 mn land records have been digitized from 203 project locations in some 27,000 villages. As stated earlier, 6.7 mn farmers have been benefited, like Muthaiyya from the village Ganapatti Hadli. These farmers have been empowered and touched by the wonders of technology. Village accountants like Khamitkar can only rue and reminisce about the good old days, when corruption and red-tape ruled supreme and the villagers bowed and cowered in front of them. But for Bhoomi, someone like Khamitkar would still be having lunch at a villagers abode and fleecing him. Bhoomi has not only digitized land records, it has given power to the masses.

H Chethana Gadiyar

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