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Electronic Public Register of Land in India – Need of the Hour

By: Aditya Deolekar

Charles Darwin once famously said that “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change”.

This quote holds good even to the present day where the human species has adapted to the monumental change brought in by the tide of digital revolution. Every part of our lives has been digitized today, from how we shop and entertain ourselves to the way we manage our health and access information.

It therefore came as no surprise when some countries took the initiative of digitizing their land records with a view to create an electronic public register of real estate (“EPRoR”). The primary objective was to make the records more accessible to prospective purchasers of such property. The move certainly inspired several other countries to head in that direction, albeit with varying levels of speed.

India’s tryst with digitization of land records began in 1988 when it initiated the Computerisation of Land Records (“CLR”) scheme.

Need for EPRoR in India

A clear land title forms the backbone of any real estate transaction as it enables transfer of good title. Most of the land records in India were through village maps marking boundaries and/or paper records that included names of all occupants. Most of these records were either partially updated or not updated at all for over a century. The situation was aggravated by the fact that the bureaucracy involved made it difficult for the common man to access these records. All these factors not only led to an alarming increase in litigation but also property scams.

There was also the risk of the physical land records being destroyed by termite infestation, flooding, rains, fire, theft, etc. The overhead cost involved in storing physical documents was another major factor.

In the circumstances, albeit belatedly, the Government of India felt the need for creation of EPRoR and the CLR was initiated. In the longer run, EPRoR would enable the states to create a single window mechanism to handle land records that would not only allow buyers to easily check the authenticity of the property but also aid developers with online approvals of plans and occupancy certificates.

Progress so far

The CLR initiative today functions under the auspices of the Digital India Land Record Modernization Programme (“DILRMP”). Even though there is no central repository for land records in the country, most of the states have a state level repository for land records in digital form. The impact of DILRMP has been such that most of the revenue records, commonly called record of rights (RORs), Cadastral Maps (CMs) and Property Cards (PCs) are digitized and are available on these state level repositories for lands falling within their territorial boundaries. It is pertinent to note that Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have completely computerized their village property records.

In a study on the implementation of the DILRMP in Maharashtra released by Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (“IGIDP”) last year, it was revealed that out of 358 Tehsils, 357 Tehsils have digitized the RORs and stored them on state level servers and 100% of the CMs have been scanned.

While all this indicates that the process of digitization of land records has gained substantial momentum in the recent past, there is much ground still left to cover.

Further Reform

It would be prudent for the government to consider the setting up of a comprehensive central land records repository. The setting up of reliable backend infrastructure will be critical to the creation of such repository.

Conclusion

According to India Brand Equity Foundation, the Indian real estate market is expected to touch USD 180 billion by 2020. The housing sector alone contributes five to six per cent to the country’s GDP. Needless to say, the digitization of land records will play a pivotal role in enhancing this contribution by India’s real estate sector.

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