The Budget 2022 has introduced key reforms in land records management that highlights the adoption of an unique land identification number that in turn will be linked to the National Generic Document Registration System (NGDRS) that aims to adopt a pan-India uniform process for registration of deeds and documents. It will be interesting to see how this top-down land records management 2.0 reforms fits within the constitutional and federal framework of the country and addresses the issues of land administration in India.
Land records management constitutes an important factor to achieve the prospects of growth and economic development, especially in the context of unbridled urbanization, growing population, and rural-urban migration. Management of land records is also critical for effective dispute resolution, to remove the discrepancies in the land records information and also for sustainable land-use planning. In this context, the Budget 2022 has explicitly laid down the adoption of ‘Unique Land Parcel Identification Number’ (ULPIN) to facilitate IT-based management of records. Through this digital initiative, every parcel of land will be given a unique 14 digit identification number. This unique identification number is referred to as “the Aadhar for land” that aims to prevent the issues of land administration in India. In the standing committee report submitted to the Ministry of Rural Development in 2021, it has been mentioned that linking Aadhar with land records through ULPIN would cost Rs. 3 per record while Aadhar seeding and authentication of landowner Aadhar data would cost Rs. 5 each.
The land records management 2.0 reforms is the next step in the digitization process that was launched in 2008 through the Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP). The basic objective of the DILRMP initiative was to shift from the present day presumptive system to conclusive system of land titling.
In our Constitution, ‘land’ as a subject figures as Entry 18 of the State list which includes right in and over land, the landlord and tenant relationship, the prerogative of the state with regard to assessment and collection of land revenue, maintenance of land records, survey of land for ensuring revenue administration, maintenance of Record of Rights and transfer and prevention of agricultural land figures at Entry 45 of the State list. As land is a state subject, the systematic land record management is the prerogative of the respective state governments. The information that is contained in the Record of Rights differs from state to state and sometimes there is variation even within a state with respect to the land record information.
Each state follows its own distinct system of land administration, for instance, there are some states like Himachal Pradesh who does not distinguish between rural and urban lands whereas states like Karnataka and Gujarat follow a unique system of urban property ownership cards.
The disparity in the land record information can be traced back to the history and genealogy of land revenue administration in India that followed its own system of land revenue and management of land records. Land management can be traced back to the ancient literary text of ‘Arthashastra’ that gave a detailed account of the land revenue administration in the Mauryan period and subsequently to the Mughal period and British India that gave rise to systematic management of land records. Notwithstanding the 565 princely states that followed their own distinct form of land revenue administration. Though subsequent efforts have been taken by the Government of India for digitization of land records through Computerisation of Land Records (CLR, 1987) and Strengthening of Revenue Administration and Updating of Land Records (SRA&ULR, 1988) that was integrated as the Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme in 2008, but the fact still remains that digitization programmes have not been able to provide a unified system for managing land records.
Land records still remain in a dilapidated state due to poor coordination between different departments (revenue, survey & settlement and registration). There are also concerns over land fragmentation that is happening on the grounds but the same has not been reflected in the land records data. Disparity over textual versus spatial data and its anomaly with actual on ground situation are also issues that needs urgent attention. Land disputes are of significant concern and it is estimates that about 66 per cent of civil cases in India are related to land/property disputes. Moreover, approx. 25 per cent of cases decided by the Supreme Court are related to land disputes.
The reforms introduced in the Budget 2022 for land records modernization came in the form of a top-down approach that doesn’t take into account the federal and constitutional structure. It is therefore significant to first address the issues and concerns of land administration in India before passing the buck for a new array of reforms.