Why Government Will Have To Work Fast To Improve The Land Records System?

by Meraj Zargar

Land occupants and spot possessors of land may be unable to avail of various types of bank loans for the construction of houses and children’s education and other government schemes unless the faults in the updating system are quickly rectified.

Golden fields: Parts of Kashmir are looking like golden as the farmers are busy harvesting paddy. KL Image: Bilal Bahadur

For the first time in 1540, Sher Shah Suri introduced a system to maintain land records in India. At that time, it was an efficient and effective system. Suri’s land record system was later adopted by the British in 1848 after necessary reforms and amendments.

This Patwar system still survives in the subcontinent, including Jammu and Kashmir. With an increase in population, the ground conditions have completely changed. The number of account holders was in the hundreds and now there are millions of account holders having to be recorded at this point in time. So the updating of records is getting complicated day by day, and the important basic worker who keeps this record, the Patwari, is also losing his stature and position in dealing with these complications.

Apart from the Land Records System introduced by the British almost two hundred years ago, a Commissioner orCollectorate System (which is still in vogue in the subcontinent) was also established to run the legislative and administrative affairs.

Under this system, where the British government got more and more economic privileges and benefits, the people also got ownership rights through these reforms. The landholders got the data of land ownership along with important and valuable details related to enumeration, personal details of owners, description of crops, means of irrigation, taxation, and important record of field measurements and cadastral maps of the land.

After understanding and realizing the positive side of the present-day requirements and the impact of modern-day technology in every sphere of life, the old and outdated systems have either been replaced or the process has completely been innovated, all over the world. The Patwar or Land System prevailing in the Indian subcontinent in this age of modern technology is being described as very obsolete, inaccessible, weakly dispersed and ineffective. According to international research conducted in 2013, 90 per cent of the people related to this system want to reform the rules and principles related to ownership management and regulation in data, surveys and mode of registration. Also, technically speaking, reforms are inevitable in a very old system consisting of century-old maps and land records. The World Bank’s 2006 report also described the Patwar System in India and Pakistan as very outdated, inaccessible, poorly dispersed and ineffective.

One of the biggest reforms in the Land Records System is the process of computerization or digitization of land records or Patwar records. Around 63 per cent of the world’s 200 economies have computerized land records and, internationally 60.50 per cent land related documents are computerized.

For centuries, the system of land records was written on pages of paper and then registered. Although this registration system was effective, but, the development and rapidly changing ground conditions demanded that this system should be abandoned and a new and efficient system introduced. A long-standing Patwar system or land system is losing its utility, influence and credibility due to which opportunities for exploitation and corruption are being provided. The alternative is the need for an active, efficient, modern, secure, accessible and reliable system, which could meet the demands of the time and also provide efficient and transparent access to land records.

Settlement Operations

Settlement Operation in Jammu and Kashmir through ETS was closed after the establishment of new administrative units in 2014. In the last eight years, about 80 per cent of the land records of the erstwhile state would have been brought under operation, but the Government under the National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP) outsourced the contract to an Indian private company RAMTECH to digitize land records.

A 1904 photograph showing a traditional setting of a village including the thatch-roofed house, the symbols of their economy and the family.

RAMTECH has scanned millions of copies of old records and also digitized records of two districts of Jammu and Srinagar. In another important government order in the middle of 2022, the task of digitizing land records was entrusted to the Revenue Department and at the basic level, the highly technical and important task was given to Patwari without any training and necessary accessories and equipment. A contingent of only about 3000 Patwaris was entrusted with the extremely difficult task of digitization of records throughout the Kashmir and Jammu provinces on an emergency basis. Besides, the government engaged teachers, computer operators and some other employees for this work and today almost all the records have been digitized. But, the story does not end there.

Issues Involved

Land records are the basis of living on this land and the records of a smaller or a larger piece of land belonging to any smaller or a bigger landholder are highly important. While the digitization of land records is a great initiative in the absence of some important and basic facilities to the Patwar fraternity, almost all the records of Jammu and Kashmir have been digitized.

The landholders have got the impression that land modernization and digitization have made their land secure and their land records easier to access, but, that is not the case. The important and fundamental functionary of the Revenue Department, the Patwari, with his little stature and position, has diligently, industriously and assiduously digitized the existing and available records. But there could be issues involved.

Let us try to cover some of the technical loopholes so that the landholders can be aware and the higher-ups at the government level can take this matter in a positive manner and take steps to make the records of the land more accessible, reliable, transparent and accurate.

  1. In the available and existing records, the record of the land covered under the Agrarian Reforms Act is still there in spite of the nullification and closure of the said Act. Hundreds of entries of Section-4 and Section-12 are still in the records and the same land has been alienated without rectifying the records and the record is either in the name of the State or in the name of the previous owners.
  2. Orders for expunging of State Land, Shamilat Sec-4 entries have been issued and the matter of State Land is subjudice with the Hon’ble High Court. Thousands of landholders have bought and sold the said land and residential houses, markets, shopping complexes, orchards and other constructions are standing on the land. Thousands of innocent and illiterate landholders still presume that they have the rights and title over such land.
  3. The entries of thousands of kanals of land are recorded in the name of tenants through mutations like Sehat-e-Indraj Girdawari and Sehat-e-Kaasht. Thousands of kanals of land are in the name of the current land occupiers, but as per the records they are not the owners and are having only possession. Obviously, as a result of buying and selling thousands of kanals of such land without the possessor having any rights or title, the land record is completely contradictory as per record and possession.
  4. There are also hundreds of entries in the land records where we find words like Muzare Mouroos, Muzare Gair Maroos, Muzare Mehfooz, Muzare Gair Mehfooz, Murtahin etc. And, the current possessor on spot has no rights or title over such land, and in many cases such lands have also been alienated to second or third party.
  1. After the completion of agrarian reforms and the transfer of some other land, there are hundreds of owners in the ownership column of land records who have no land on the spot, and similarly, there are hundreds of owners who have less land shown in ownership column but have more land on spot than in record, which in both the cases means that there could be complete hurdles in transferring/alienating such parcels of land.
  1. As most of the landlords and the government know that the Cadastral maps of many villages have become damaged, unserviceable and impracticable and in hundreds of cases, a good number of Survey numbers have not been determined correctly on the spot, resulting in wrong entries in records.
  1. Hundreds of mutations could not be incorporated during the digitization process because of the hurried and hasty orders for digitization. Similarly, post-digitization of the records, hundreds of the attested mutations have not been incorporated.

As a result of the aforementioned technical issues, the current record whether it is manual, scanned or digitized, is not accurate to a great extent, and a landholder will not have complete information on the Apni Zameen Apni Nigrani portal, due to which the already infamous Patwari will face a brunt again.

Aerial view of Malkha grave yard in Down Town, Srinagar. KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Post digitization, whatever passbooks are being issued to the landholders, a good number of landowners will not have complete and accurate land data and records entered therein. Farmers, and land-holders eligible for Pradhan Mantri Kisan Yojna and other subsidy-based schemes, which have land in possession but are not recorded in the records due to the aforementioned technical deficiencies, will get nothing. Such technical issues also bar the land possessors from seeking permission for the construction of commercial and residential structures, and for the establishment of industrial or other business units.

Similarly, land occupants and spot possessors who are not owners due to the above-mentioned technical issues are unable to avail of various types of bank loans for the construction of houses and children’s education and other government schemes. Besides, thousands of farmers and landholders will have an unnecessary delay, and trouble and will face enticement in various courts and other offices.

Expansions in System

The Centuries-old Halqa and Girdawar Circle system prevailing in the revenue department is also becoming obsolete and irrelevant with the progress of time. With the increase in human population and tremendous increase in government work, new administrative units were established on the recommendations of the Mushtaq Ganai Commission, Bloria Commission and other commissions. The establishment of new districts, Tehsils, Nayabats consisting of a few villages was also done but, the Patwar Halqas and Girdawar Circles were kept as they are, while the change should have happened at the lower and basic level.

A small village has two or three Anganwadi centres, several government schools and other offices, and surprisingly, a Patwari is entrusted with the responsibility of more than one Halqa consisting of 10 or 8 villages in most cases, and it is almost impossible to do justice to the ever-increasing pressure of government work and intermittent record writing and updating. There is a dire need for the constitution of new Patwar Halqas and Girdawar Circles, so that the farmers and landholders get the required services within a short period of time and hassle-free.

Meraj Zargar

In such a situation, the government should achieve an exemplary milestone by addressing the key issues of the department and removing the technical flaws in Land Records and the modern programme of preserving land records to make them available to every landholder.

Further, steps should be taken for a new Settlement Operation, for which the government has already devised a plan. But, this will require time, human machinery, advanced equipment and complete training. For this purpose, it is absolutely necessary that a good number of Patwaris should be recruited, because a small contingent of three thousand Patwaris in the whole of the erstwhile State is by no means sufficient for a permanent and new Settlement operation.

(Author is Patwari for the last 20 years. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Kashmir Life.)

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