India’s first Land Records and Services Index is a way to gauge States’ relative performance and help improve services on the ground
The National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) recently released India’s first Land Records and Services Index (N-LRSI), 2020, based on data collected over 2019-20 on two aspects of the supply of records — the extent of digitisation of land records and its quality. The first component, which aims to assess whether a State has made all its records digitally available to citizens, looks at three dimensions — the text (also called the record of rights), the official map associated with a land record (also called cadastral maps) and the property registration process. The second component of the index aims to assess if the data is comprehensive and reliable. Whether ownership details are updated as soon as a sale occurs; the extent of joint ownership; type of land use; size of the plot on the record and on the map and if encumbrances are being recorded (other claims on the property such as mortgages and court cases). All these elements are closely connected to property disputes and to the ease with which transactions can be completed, legally recorded and accessed. Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu are the five best-performing States on the index.
One of the unique features of the N-LRSI, 2020 is its ability to assess the relative performance of States on various components and sub-components of the index. There is no State/UT that emerges victorious on all the parameters of the index as they are at different stages of progress with regard to the extent of digitisation of records and the registration process. For improved land record management, laggard States should extract lessons from the better-performing ones on various parameters, which can possibly drive change in State-level policies. While for textual record digitisation, Dadra Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh and Goa appeared to be leading, Lakshadweep, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh topped the list for spatial record digitisation. For the registration component, Maharashtra emerged as the leader, while Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh were front runners due to quality records.
The findings will enable States to make efforts in the direction of creating more comprehensive and accurate records, by adopting the initiatives that successful States have made. In addition, the index brings out certain areas where no State/UT has taken any initiative. Effective integration across departments is one such area. The N-LRSI analysis has brought out the poor synergy across land record departments — revenue department as the custodian of textual records, the survey and settlement department managing the spatial records and the registration department. The N-LRSI design entails a sub-component of updating of ownership (within Quality of Records component), which gauges the extent of integration between registration and textual records — swiftness of the process of updating ownership as the result of registration of a transaction, the phenomenon which is commonly known as mutation. The information obtained from all the State/UT sources in this regard revealed that no State/UT has the provision for mutation on the same day as the registration. Moreover, there are only seven States/UTs that have the second-best alternative wherein a note indicating the registration appears in the textual record copy. The study also brought out the weak linkage that exists between the revenue department and survey and settlement department. This creates a huge divergence between the land area reported by the textual and spatial record, enhancing the chances of legal disputes over the definition of boundaries and extent of a land plot. With such poor inter-departmental synergy, aspiring for updated and accurate records will always be a distant goal and States/UTs should strive to undertake necessary actions to have the appropriate systems in place.
With varied recommendations for land record management, the N-LRSI, 2020 holds immense significance for a number of related factors. It is likely to be a helpful tool to assess the quality of key Government services like PM-Kisan, that are dependent on land record details. The efforts by States to improve land record digitisation and quality are expected to increase the chances of accurate identification of PM-Kisan beneficiaries and enhance the scheme’s effectiveness.
The index can be a signalling factor for investors, as a clear title is one of the prerequisites for land acquisition that a firm envisions for setting up an industrial unit. An improved quality of land records, with accurate information that mirrors the ground reality, is expected to provide the necessary push to the underdeveloped mortgage market in India. As per the Committee on Household Finance, 2017 mortgages account for only 23 per cent of total liabilities in India. One of the primary reasons for this dismal situation is the inferior quality of land records, which are often not updated, indicating a high possibility of disputes. Without clear titles, it is not possible for banks to give out loans against the land/property. For instance, if the record does not get updated to reflect the subdivision of property, it cannot be used by the on-ground owner to request for a bank loan. With serious challenges of availability and use of data and information confronting the land policy and governance, the index promises to offer a pivotal solution to improve the existing situation.
(The writer is Associate Fellow, NCAER)