It’s Time To Think Urban

Ever wondered why we do not have an equivalent of ‘Bhoomi’
for urban properties. The answer is: non-existence of a system that maintains
records of rights or ownership of such properties. Most of the cities in our
country do not have a system of maintenance of records of rights in respect of
urban properties and land, even though a robust system exists in respect of
rural agricultural land.

After development authorities such as Delhi Development
Authority (DDA) were set up in cities, large chunk of agricultural land was
acquired for development of residential, commercial, and industrial areas, which
were leased out to people. The details of lease and change of lessee were
maintained by the development authorities. However, the introduction of the
system of conversion of such land from lease hold to free hold has absolved the
development authorities from the updating of records relating to ownership of
such properties. At the same time no mechanism has been put in place to take
care of maintenance of record of right for freehold properties on account of
sale or inheritance. Today, for such properties it is only the sale deed
registered in a sub-registrar office, which is used for claiming ownership where
all past transactions are recorded. Legally this record or payment of property
tax cannot be taken as the record of right. Existence of unauthorized colonies
complicates the matter further.

It needs no emphasis that a system for creation and
maintenance of records of right in respect of urban properties is required
urgently for smooth transfer of ownership on account of sale and inheritance and
to enable owners to use such property as collateral. It will also reduce number
of court cases and civil suits filed to claim ownership in large number of cases
on account of absence of system for issuing record of right.

Preparation of land records involves survey of land or
property for preparation of map and settlement to fix the ownership of such
properties clearly demarcated and located on a map. This process becomes more
complex in case of cities and towns if one intends to use conventional system of
cadastral survey. Can technology enable us to do this work more efficiently,
quickly without any error? The answer is yes. Use of GIS map and database on
property tax or utilities could be the starting point. Unfortunately the
settlement part will have to be done manually using data of multiple agencies
such as property tax department, sub-registrar office, and electricity utility.

In Western countries this process was easier as only
conversion of paper based data and map from existing registers was involved. In
case of Indian cities and towns, except those of Maharashtra, the settlement
part will also be involved. The simplicity of process of settlement will be the
key to success, as many residents of unauthorized colonies may not have any
record to prove ownership of land or the building.

Preparation of digital records can start first in those areas
where properties were developed by development authorities like DDA or by
colonizers like DLF with whom details like the area map and records of original
ownership, community land, and government land will be available. The difficulty
will arise in case of properties developed on agricultural land, which has not
been regularized or on land acquired for development authorities, but illegally
occupied by people.

Putting in place a legal framework is required first.
Maharashtra Land Revenue Code and the system of the maintenance of land records
of urban areas of Mumbai and other cities of Maharashtra, can be used as a model
by other states with incorporation of technology for speedy creation of urban
land records and their maintenance. Like in Maharasthra, the maintenance of land
records, whether urban or rural, should be looked after by one agency to ensure
that no piece of land is left unattended after conversion of land from
agricultural to non-agricultural purposes.

Technology has to be used for preparation of error-free
records, which are also tamper-proof. Also use of technology will enable us to
get the map and database created faster. Availability of high resolution GIS map
whether prepared from aerial map or cadastral map will make the process faster.
For example, in case of Delhi, GIS Map on the scale of 1:1000 is available,
which has been prepared from aerial photographs.

What is required next is to confirm the boundaries in the map
with those existing on the ground and then do the settlement process to create
the database using existing database on property tax from municipal authorities
and sale deed data from sub-registrar. Application program will also be required
to run mutation linked with registration of sale deed. In other words this
database will be used by all related agencies. This will also enable people to
have proper record of right leading to reduction in size of sale deed document
and court cases.

Ministry of Rural Development is funding the complete
digitization of rural land records. The exercise, which has passed through the
pilot stage, is now being replicated in large number of States. Similar effort
is required to be made, in respect of urban land by making it another mission
mode project under NeGP. The more delay we make messier the situation is going
to be.

Prakash Kumar, The author is secretary
IT & administrative reforms department, Government of NCT of Delhi. The
views expressed are his own and does not reflect that of the Government or any
government policy

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