Sep 20, 2008

India - Reforming property registration

Property registration in India involves a minimum of six procedures and takes 62 days and costs 7.7 per cent of the property value, says the World Bank 2008 report on “Doing Business in India.” Transparency International India’s study estimates that people, especially the poor, pay Rs.1,234 million a year as bribe to access land-related records and services. It is not surprising that India is ranked 112 among the 178 countries surveyed for efficiency in property transactions. The process of property registration is cumbersome and tedious, and the land records are fragmented, outdated and least transparent. In the past, land records were organised primarily for the purpose of land tax and when tax regime changed they lost sustained attention. These records still remain a part of the revenue department and there is no real time integration with the registration department that oversees property transactions. To add to the woes, the land survey and town survey maps are also not periodically reviewed and corrected. This situation has led to increased land disputes, burgeoning legal and transaction costs, and the buyer being left without a guaranteed title to the property.

The Union Ministry of Rural Development recently announced that computerisation of land records will be hastened and a new system that guaranteed title to the registered property will be put in place. Computerisation of land records commenced in 1991 but has not progressed well in many States. Speeding up the process is certainly the first step and, to its credit, the Centre has allotted substantial funds for this task. However, the State governments need to match this effort since land is a State subject. The reform is not just about technology upgradation. At the core of the exercise should be a thorough overhaul of the system so that it facilitates efficient registration and better land reforms. Currently, the registration system offers no further assurance or guarantee to the title beyond what the seller claims. By integrating various records and verifying them, the reforms are expected to guarantee the title of the property. This is not an easy task. Experience elsewhere has shown that it will be wise to avoid boundary verifications of property and the attendant disputes. Suggestions have been made that the system should remain focussed on title verification and record integration. Apart from technological solutions, it requires well trained staff, who will enable a quick and efficient use of records and delivery of services.

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