Macroeconomics

Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme: Assessing impact in Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra

  • Blog Post Date06 August, 2018
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Sudha Narayanan

Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research

sudha@igidr.ac.in

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Prerna Prabhakar

National Council of Applied Economic Research

pprabhakar@ncaer.org

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Gausia Shaikh

Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research

gausiagshaikh@gmail.com

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Diya Uday

Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research

diyaudaypatkar@gmail.com

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Bhargavi Zaveri

Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research

bhargavizaveri@gmail.com

Government of India launched the National Land Records Modernisation Programme in 2008, with the aim of establishing a system of titles to ensure conclusive proof of land ownership. The programme was revamped in 2014, with its inclusion in the Digital India initiative. This article presents findings from an impact assessment of the programme in Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra, and draws implications for policy formulation pertaining to land records management.



Impact assessment of Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme: Evidence from Himachal Pradesh

Prerna Prabhakar

The economic advancement of a country is determined by the extent of capital generation and the quality of institutions that support this capital creation. According to Hernando de Soto, a famous Peruvian economist, the existing difference in the capacities of developing and developed countries in generating capital can be largely attributed to a significant amount of “dead capital” in the former, ensuing from missing institutional support to convert this dead capital into live capital. In his book ‘Mystery of capital’, in 2000, de Soto estimated the amount of dead capital due to ill-defined property rights in the developing world at about US$9.3 trillion which is a major impediment to the ease of doing business in these countries. Given the situation of unclear property rights and missing land records in India, the country is likely a major contributor to this figure of dead capital.

An effective system of land records and well-established property rights facilitate capital generation in the economy through two possible ways – first, enhanced access to collateralisation - led credit channels, and second, bolstering investment activities in the economy (given the role of property registration indicator in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) index). Although India made a steep jump from 130 to 100 in the EoDB ranking, the sub-component of property registration slipped from 138 to 154, indicating the potential for creating improved environment for business by removing in the land market.

Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme

The significance of land records has been recognised by the Indian government since long and steps in this direction were initiated in the late 1980s with programmes like Strengthening of Revenue Administration and Updating of Land Records (SRA&ULR), and Computerisation of Land Records (CLR). Despite these initiatives, the situation of land rights and titling remained dismal. This is reflected in a survey conducted by Daksh, a civil society organisation, in 2015-2016, as per which two-thirds of the civil cases in districts courts pertain to land/property issues. In its continuous efforts to tackle this issue, Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development, merged CLR and SRA&ULR and launched NLRMP in 2008, with the ultimate aim to achieve a system of titles which ensures conclusive proof of the ownership of land. NLRMP was revamped in 2014 as the Digital India – Land Records Modernisation programme (DILRMP), with its inclusion in the Digital India initiative of the Government of India. Although it began as a centrally sponsored scheme (joint central and state government funding), from 2016-17, the programme evolved into a centre sector scheme (involving 100% central government funding for all components). The main objective of DILRMP is to provide a system of updated land records; automated and automatic mutation1; integration of textual2 and spatial records3; interconnectivity between revenue and registration4; and finally the replacement of the present deeds, registration, and presumptive titling system with conclusive titling5 offering a guarantee to the title-holder.

Pilot impact assessment in Himachal Pradesh

Since this programme has been in operation for a decade, its evaluation was deemed necessary. It was in this context that that a pilot impact assessment for the DILRMP was undertaken by three institutions for three Indian states - National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) for Himachal Pradesh (HP), National Institute of Public Finance and Policy (NIPFP) for Rajasthan, and Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR) for Maharashtra. The states were selected based on diversity across them in terms of geography and land administration system. In addition, NCAER prepared a synthesis report, comparing the assessment findings across the studies and providing policy suggestions for making DILRMP more effective.

The impact assessment was structured in three broad components – state-level computerisation of land records assessment; Real-time mirror (RTM) check to compare the on-ground situation with the land records information; and focus-group Discussions (FGDs) and state consultation wherein the findings from the two stages were discussed with revenue officials to arrive at policy recommendations to improve land record management. This article focuses on the impact assessment for HP by NCAER. Prior to the assessment of physical status of land record digitisation under DILRMP, the study team examined the financial performance of DILRMP in HP. The figures pertaining to funds sanctioned by the Centre to HP and the expenditure by HP showed a huge positive gap, implying a large extent of underutilisation of funds under DILRMP. This can be attributed to the fact that the impact assessment pertained to the performance status until March 2016, when the scheme was centrally sponsored. This might have led states to claim more funds for the components that had relatively larger share of central government funding, irrespective of their requirement, leading to fund underutilisation. Even after the restructuring to a centre sector scheme, the concerns of underutilisation are expected to remain due to possible differences in funding norms under the scheme and monetary requirements of states for land record modernisation.

Status of land records digitisation

For the first stage of the impact assessment that focused on state-level computerisation status, the relevant data was collected from the DILRMP website and was verified with the Directorate of Land Records, HP, for the period until 31 March 2016. HP exhibited substantial progress with regard to the Record of Rights (RoRs) computerisation, with 97.7% of RoRs digitised. Its strength lies in the availability of legally signed RoRs; all digitised RoRs have a digital signature of the revenue official.

For Cadastral Maps (CMs), although at the time of this data collection, 17.9% were digitised and available online, at the time of the verification of this claim in 2017, the number of tehsils6 exhibiting CM digitisation had gone up from 24 (in 2016) to 43 (in 2017), resulting in 94% consistency at the time of sample verification. The best way of digitising CMs is geo-referencing7 using modern survey techniques, but this is still in a nascent stage in HP; such techniques have been adopted in only 19 villages.

As far as the digitisation of registration step is concerned, it has been partial in case of HP, as the registration process is managed on standalone computers with internet connectivity. There is no server-based digitisation for document submission, verification, attestation, etc. Only the circle rates that help in computing the stamp duty for a property are available online.

The key feature of conclusive titling is the interconnectivity across the land records departments and databases. An analysis of a possible digitisation of connectivity in HP revealed that there is enormous effort needed in this direction. The desired level of integration between RoRs and registration can be attained through a process of instant and online mutation, which is missing in HP. The extent to which this linkage is digitised is reflected in two instances – title search at the beginning of the registration process and an instant notification sent to the RoR when a registration takes place. As for the integration between CMs and RoRs, although all the digitised CMs are linked to the digitised RoRs, as the digitised CMs do not have the legal sanctity, this integration does not hold much meaning.

The impact assessment team noticed a widespread role of the Citizen Service Centres (CSCs) to deliver RoR copies, which is facilitated by the availability of RoR copies with digital signatures.

Real-time mirror check

The second major component of this assessment involved land parcel surveys to perform a RTM check: comparison of the on-ground situation with the land records, with an objective to examine the accuracy of land records data. The RTM check was carried out for two tehsils in HP – rural Shimla and Baddi. Within each of these tehsils, 50 land parcels were selected based on systematic random sampling8 to carry out a survey with respect to five broad categories – ownership, possession, land use, land area, and encumbrances (Table 1). The analysis exhibited huge variation between on-ground situation and the land records information in all categories. The ownership variation was largely driven by cases of sale and succession not being recorded, while variation in land use was mainly on account of shift from agricultural land use to non-agriculture use. For encumbrances, it was observed that only mortgages were entered in records, and important information on land acquisition proceedings, revenue court cases, and land use restrictions were missing from the RoRs. The depicted land area variation flagged concerns around spatial land records accuracy. For land area, the consistency between CMs and on-ground was also assessed and the variation was less as compared to the discrepancy that RoR and on-ground land area displayed. This can be taken as a lesson for the re-survey possibilities, using digitised CMs for superimposition on the satellite imagery.

Table 1. RTM check in HP: % variation between ground situation and land records

Category

Shimla (rural)

Baddi

Ownership

34%

6%

Possession

38%

60%

Land Use

34%

32

Land Area (>5% variation between RoR and on ground area)

78%

52%

Source: NCAER’s Land Parcel Survey in HP.

Conclusion and policy suggestions

The impact assessment exercise provides two important pieces of information – HP is making efforts to computerise land records; however, the records are not accurate and do not match ground realities. This reflects missing and insufficient guidelines/instructions to update the land records and hence presents a need for the increased responsibility of the land record departments to ensure real-time updation of records. Real-time updation will ensure accuracy of the land records, which is of prime importance to avoid legal battles and to formalise land and housing markets – a process that is expected to have positive ramifications for market transactions and values. In this light, this observation/finding of limited real-time updation is critical for policymaking, so that changes may be introduced in the digitisation programme that ensure accurate databases for land records.

These findings – broadly pertaining to stark differences between land records and on-ground situation – were discussed with the state’s revenue officials. These deliberations facilitated and guided the documentation of a set of policy recommendations to attain the desired land records system in India.

Overall, it is suggested that changes at the state and central level are necessary to achieve a system of comprehensive and accurate land records. The state should focus on formulating an action plan to make land record improvement a priority of the Revenue Department wherein the focus should be on procedural changes and technological linkages. The Centre needs to incentivise states to prepare and implement such action plans. The underlying focus from both the ends – Centre and state – should be the accuracy, comprehensiveness, and extent of updated records. Mere digitisation is not the solution to the problem pertaining to land records. Deriving from the financial progress analysis of DILRMP, it is not difficult to infer that states are managing the land record management largely outside the ambit of the central government scheme. To include states within the cover of the scheme, its design should entail more flexibility in terms of spending of sanctioned funds such that they can utilised as per requirements. These fundamental changes are deemed necessary to ensure efficacy of DILRMP.

Notes:

  1. Mutation of a property refers to the change in the textual record (Record of Right (RoR)) as a consequence of a transaction over a piece of property and its registration.
  2. Textual revenue records are contained in RoR and provide information about the various aspects of land, for instance ownership, possession, revenue matters, land disputes, etc.
  3. Spatial land record is provided by a Cadastral Map (CM) which is a legal map for recording ownership of property along with the description of the boundaries.
  4. Land/property registration implies documenting changes in ownership and transactions with respect to the concerned property.
  5. Conclusive titling implies conferring clear and secure ownership titles, in contrast to the current system of presumptive titling in India wherein the ownership titles do not possess legal sanctity. Under the existing system, ownership of a property is gauged by the record of past registration/transaction pertaining to the property in question.
  6. Tehsil (also known as taluka) is an administration centre in an area of land in a city or town that denotes a sub-district
  7. Geo-referencing refers to the phenomenon where the internal coordinate system of a map or aerial photo image can be linked to a ground system of geographic coordinates.
  8. The five villages were selected through systematic random sampling, wherein the first village was to be selected at random and thereafter every third village was to be picked. From these five selected villages, the selection of 50 land parcels was also based on systematic random sampling such that for each village, the share of its sampled land parcels in the 50 land parcels would be equal to the share of its land parcels in the total land parcels across the five villages.

Mapping digitised records to reality: The case of Maharashtra

Sudha Narayanan, Gausia Shaikh, Diya Uday, Bhargavi Zaveri

The World Bank's EoDB (Ease of Doing Business) 2018 rankings estimate that it takes 53 days to register (including updating revenue records) a property transaction in Mumbai, and that the costs of registration aggregate to 7.6% of the property value. The corresponding numbers in cities in OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries are 22.3 days and 4.2% of the property value. The rankings, which evaluate India's land administration systems on parameters such as the quality of infrastructure for maintaining land records, transparency of information, and land dispute resolution, place India in the bottom quartile. In short, as per these rankings, critical infrastructure for the land market in India is at best, poor and at worst, non-existent. The central and state governments have rolled out large-scale programmes for digitising the land record administration across India. Different states are at different stages of digitisation.

In a recent report, we record the findings of a field study in Maharashtra, which aimed at understanding the status of digitisation of land records in the state under the aegis of the centrally funded Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP). In this study, we assessed (a) the extent to which land record administration had been digitised; (b) the efficiency of service delivery of accurate land title records to citizens; and (c) the accuracy of the digitised records. Our findings in the report on (a) and (b) are summarised here. An effort at digitising land records is successful if, the digitised land records accurately mirror the on-ground reality. In this article, we summarise the findings of our study on the accuracy of the digitised records, that is, the extent to which the digitised land records in Maharashtra reflected the on-ground reality.

Methodology

We studied 100 land parcels spread across five villages and two tehsils. The selection methodology is explained below:

First, we selected two sample tehsils, namely, Mulshi and Palghar, for this leg of the study. These tehsilsare mainly peri-urban locations with relatively high land transaction intensity and some prevalence of land litigation.

Given our focus on the DILRMP, the sample tehsils are those where the programme had been implemented, in part, if not in full. While both Mulshi and Palghar fit these criteria broadly, they also differ in significant ways. Mulshi has been the focus of intensive effort by the state government, designated as a model tehsil where 12 villages were selected for pilot implementation of the entire bouquet of interventions relating to digitisation. In contrast, Palghar tehsil represents a somewhat typical tehsil in terms of implementation attention.

Within these two tehsils, we first randomly selected five villages from the roster of census villages. Within each village, the goal was to pick 10 parcels that were not located in abadi1, industrial areas, forest, or wastelands. The parcels would be at least 0.3 hectares in size in rural areas, and at least 500 square metres in urban or peri-urban areas. Our goal was to ensure that some of these parcels were transacted in the past two years.

In reality, not all the villages we picked had transaction intensity desirable for the project. We, therefore, selected five villages each in Mulshi and Palghar, which, according to the Tehsildar’s office, had seen a lot of transactions in the past 12 months. Where we did not get enough parcels per village, we included more villages. Often, parcels of the desired size were not available. Nor was it the case that the owners of all the parcels we picked were willing respondents. This meant that the final selection of parcels for the survey departed from our original ‘stratified random sampling’ methodology. Given that the purpose of the survey is to garner insights into the implementation of the land record modernisation programme, the sample parcels offer adequate material, with the above caveats.

What did we corroborate?

For all the parcels in the sample, we recorded information about the parcel from the revenue records (that is, 7/12 extracts or Record of Rights) on the following five aspects: (1) ownership (2) possession (3) encumbrances (4) area, and (5) land use. We then went to the parcel to corroborate the information so recorded.

Four of these five parameters were verified on the ground via personal interviews through a structured questionnaire and local inquiries. The verification of the fifth parameter, namely area, was done by measuring the parcel using e-Trex GPS devices as well as ETS (Electronic Total Station) by trained staff. The e-Trex involves a perimeter walk around the parcel; the ETS uses laser technology to mark corners of the polygon representing the parcel.

For those parcels which had been transacted in the last five years, we also surveyed the respondents about their experience with interfacing with the department, and their own perceptions of the current system and how citizen experience can be improved. We supplemented individual respondent surveys with focused group discussions (FGDs) in the premises of the sub-registrars in both Mulshi and Palghar.

What did our sample look like?

Our individual respondent sample is described below:

Table 1. Characteristics of respondents’ sample

Percentage of respondents who

Are females

24

Are the owners themselves

92

Are the relatives of the parcel owners

4

Acquired (purchased/inherited) in the past three years

62

Percentage of samples which

Are agricultural land

93

Are encumbered

28

Have multiple owners

61

We conducted FGDs with a fairly wide variety of stakeholders, including:

  • Residents: Residents of both Mulshi and Palghartehsils were interviewed to gain a practical understanding of how processes work in the relevant Tehsil, inefficiencies in these processes, and the effect of digitisation, in their interaction with various sections of the revenue and land administration.
  • Revenue officers: Revenue officers were interviewed to understand the status, good practices, and deficiencies in the system, before and after digitisation initiatives.
  • Other stakeholders: In addition to the above cohorts, we also interviewed lawyers, brokers and agents, and land surveyors. While lawyers were asked specific questions with respect to the effect of digitisation on legal processes associated with land transactions, the questions to brokers and agents focused on the efficiency of land transaction processes, before and after digitisation. The questions to surveyors focused on the efficiency, accuracy, and hardships involved in measurement, re-survey, and drawing up of maps.

Findings

Table 2 summarises our findings on the extent of corroboration between land records and ground reality. The first row indicates the total number of land parcels studied. The subsequent rows indicate the number of parcels for which the land records reflected the ground reality.

Table 2. Concordance between land records and ground reality

Attribute

Mulshi

Palghar

All

Total number of parcels

50

52

102

Ownership

49

52

101

Possession

48

48

96

Encumbrance

27

17

54

Land use classification

 

 

 

Agricultural land in both RoR (Record of Right) and on-ground

44

47

91

Agricultural land in RoR but non-agricultural or mixed on-ground

2

1

3

Non-agricultural land in both RoR and on-ground

2

2

4

Non-agricultural uses but agricultural in RoR

1

2

3

Table 2 shows that with respect to ownership, there is a high degree of concordance between the information in the land records and the on-ground reality. In all except one case, we were able to identify an owner who was mentioned in the revenue records, and in 92% of the cases, we interviewed the owner. As with ownership, for the sample parcels, the land records, by and large, accurately reflected the actual possession. In general, with respect to shared ownership, except for parcels which have been sub-divided by an order of a revenue authority, possession of specific areas is not reflected in the revenue records.

We did not find the same level of concordance as regards encumbrances. The encumbrances reflected in the land records did not match the parcel-holder's response of the encumbrance on the land parcel. The revenue records only reflected encumbrances associated with loans. We also saw a general reluctance to share financial information (28% of the respondents did not respond to encumbrance-related questions, 1% of them explicitly stated they did not want to share this information, and around 8% did not seem aware of any encumbrance).

Overall, 95% of the land conformed to the land classification and use as reflected in the revenue records. Only six parcels were not – three were designated as agricultural land in the revenue records, but were either non-agricultural or mixed use in reality, and three others were deemed non-agricultural in the revenue records but were being cultivated in reality.

We found significant discrepancies in the area recorded in the 7/12 and our measurement of the actual land parcel. Although the ETS is deemed to have greater accuracy than the handheld GPS device, for both measures, about half of all the sample parcels showed a deviation of more than 20% of the area mentioned in the revenue records. Table 3 summarises our findings on the extent of concordance between the parcel area recorded in the revenue records and the actual area. As with Table 2, the first row indicates the total number of parcels surveyed and the subsequent rows indicate the percentage of deviation from the area recorded in the revenue records.

Table 3. Concordance between recorded and actual area of land parcels

Margin of difference with handheld device

Number of parcels

50

50

100

within 1%

1

2

3

within 3%

8

6

14

within 5%

12

9

21

within 10%

21

11

32

within 20%

28

21

49

Margin of difference with ETS device

within 1%

8

2

10

within 3%

12

5

17

within 5%

18

7

25

within 10%

20

14

34

within 20%

27

25

52

Discussion

Our study shows that while the digitised records fairly accurately reflect the ownership of land parcels, they are not so accurate with respect to recording encumbrances and area of land parcels. There are several reasons for the latter inaccuracy. For instance, we find that while banks and other credit institutions diligently inform the revenue records office of the creation of an encumbrance, the details of satisfaction are not communicated as regularly. Also, the revenue records reflect the loan amount for which the land parcel is encumbered. The repayment of instalments of the loan are not communicated to the land records offices, which is one of the reasons for the discrepancy between the details of encumbrances recorded in the land revenue records and in reality.

The area-related discrepancies are driven predominantly by the lack of awareness of the parcel owners of the true extent of the parcel. There were several cases where the white stone markers typically installed on the ground to demarcate boundaries, were missing. In other cases, where the parcel was a part of a larger parcel earlier, the owner mentally treated the larger parcel as the relevant one. Demarcation was not done in most cases – with multiple owners, those who were cultivators used mutual understanding of the area to cultivate their piece of the larger parcel. The same understanding seemed to prevail between neighbours in most cases. Most did not feel the need to measure and demarcate the plot. Unless there was an impending sale, it seemed that demarcation and subdivision was routinely avoided. In essence, this issue emerges as a deep concern. Several people also brought up the issue of measurement. In Mulshi, where re-surveying and measurement often led to conflicts because the measure did not match the records, they resolved it informally amongst themselves.

Way forward

Our parcel-level household survey indicates that the discrepancies between digitised records and reality pertain to the parcel area. Currently, while the settlement and survey office is in the process of conducting re-surveys in parts of Maharashtra, the re-survey exercise is time consuming and difficult, owing to a variety of factors such as constraints on survey equipment and personnel, and disputed land. This requires scalable solutions relating to regular surveys and re-surveys of land. The government should consider technological as well as outsourcing solutions, such as those adopted for surveying land in parts of Africa, for their suitability and adaptability in Maharashtra.

An additional feature we notice is that there is no incentive for creditors to update details of encumbrances in the revenue records, and borrowers generally do not update the details of the encumbrances on their land owing to a variety of reasons such as the difficulty of accessing the land records offices. This problem can be resolved more easily by incentivising borrowers to update the details of their encumbrances at the revenue records offices. For example, the ability to intimate the satisfaction of a loan electronically may deliver quicker outcomes on this front.

August 2018 will mark 10 years since the launch of the NLRMP. In this article, we have mapped the progress, noted the challenges, and proposed possible solutions for the effective implementation of the DILRMP in the state of Maharashtra. There is, however, one important issue that is often overlooked. Be it the smooth functioning of the land market or the removal of information asymmetry in the market, apart from efficient systems, both require public awareness. The best systems are likely to fail if the end-user is unaware or unable to use them. During our field visits, we found that most people either did not know about the digitisation initiative, did not possess the technological equipment required for using the systems, or believed that they were not capable of using the systems. This dilutes the outcomes of the DILRMP. Since developing economies tend to emphasise league rankings, the lack of awareness also adversely affects India's EoDB rankings, which are primarily perception surveys. Public awareness and education about the digitised systems would enhance the utility of the digitisation exercise.

The article on impact evaluation in Maharashtra has previously appeared on Ajay Shah’s blog and Bloomberg Quint.

Notes:

  1. A populated area or land reserved for development of habitation in a village, town or city.

Further Reading

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