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Digitization of Land Records: A Long-Awaited Reform

Author: Apoorv Shukla


Maintenance of land records has been a cumbersome task for the government for a very long time. Irregularities and lack of transparency in the land records have plagued the land sector for decades. As a solution to this problem, the digitization of land records was being considered by the government.[1] However, due to apparent challenges to this initiative, it could not take place earlier. Now, the phenomenon of digitization is growing at a very rapid pace in India. The Digital India initiative has acted as a catalyst to accelerate the rate of digitization in the country.[2] It involves the digitization of land records in its ambit as well.[3] The government of India has decided to complete its ambitious goal of complete digitization of the land records by 2021.[4] The Beginning

Earlier, the land records were maintained manually through paper records. The maintenance of actual land records had become a tedious task. This had led to various property-related disputes, litigation and controversial scams. Determination of land ownership remains one of the significant challenges which resulted in long-drawn prosecutions.[5] To address these issues, the government came up with the plan of digitizing the land records. The efforts to digitise the land records had begun in 1988-89. However, the task remained unfulfilled due to the difficulty in the compilation of the bulk of land records.[6] Post-2000 efforts


In 2008, the Central government came up with the initiative of National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP).[7] The aim was to modernize management of land records, reduce the number of land disputes, increase transparency in the maintenance of land records, and introduce the conclusive titling system in place of a presumptive one.[8] Under the current provisions of Registration Act, 1908, the ownership of the property is not guaranteed by the government.[9] The property title conferred on the owners are presumptive. It means that while the property transactions are registered, the past transactions or ownership of the property are not probed into, leaving the ownership title open to challenge. Whereas, a conclusive title would have been an incontestable proof of ownership.[10]

In December 2015, NLRMP was formally inducted under the umbrella of the Digital India initiative and was renamed as Digital India Land Records Modernization Program (DILRMP).[11] Since then, India has witnessed a substantial amount of land records getting digitized. By December 13, 2019, land records have been computerized in about ninety per cent of Indian villages.[12] Benefits

Digitization of land records would entail an extended range of benefits. It would tackle many problems which have been in existence for a long time. Digitization would promote and enable transparency in land record management. Consequently, this would allow the agencies to regulate one of the significant problems i.e. evasion of the property tax. Digitization of land records would make it difficult for the perpetrators to evade the property tax without getting traced.

Another issue which makes accessibility of land records difficult is the involvement of multiple agencies in various stages of a transaction involving land. Land records comprise of textual and spatial records along with transaction details.[13] Different departments manage each of these records. This forces people to approach various departments to get complete information regarding land records. Digitization would enable compilation of data at one place providing a single window to handle all land records. This would further eliminate the problem of lack of coordination among the various departments regarding the streamlining of land records.[14]

Digitizing the land records would allow the authorities to grant online occupancy certificates. Moreover, they would be able to approve the plans online.[15] Digitization would empower the government to implement policies of industrialization in lesser time. It would pace up the process of land acquisition and the planning of smart cities.[16]

Buyers would be at a considerable advantage because it would allow them to check the status of the property and conduct due diligence exercises with respect to the property in question. They would be able to check if the property is under any litigation. In case of purchasing a property constructed by a developer, the buyers would be able to check if all the regulations have been adhered to during the construction. It would allow them to cross verify the price of the land with the market price.

Earlier, unclear and outdated land records used to leave scope for benami transactions to take place. The Standing Committee on Finance (2015) observed that the digitization of land records would allow the agencies to preempt and prevent the generation of black money through benami transactions. The observation was made by the committee while examining the Benami Transactions Prohibition (Amendment) Bill, 2015.[17] Challenges

Though the initiative of digitizing the land records would work as a vital remedy for various deep-rooted problems in the sectors of real estate and land management. However, it may pose some challenges as well. Maintenance of accuracy and correctness of the land records may act as a massive obstacle in the process. As the exercise may require regular and sincere efforts from the government, the lack of any kind of regulations for the new methods proposed like e-stamping and digital signatures may add to the problems. In addition to that, digitization of land records poses a threat of further marginalization of the poor communities due to their lack of access to internet infrastructure. Suggestions

To maintain the efficacy of the online land records mechanism, it is imperative upon the authorities to conduct regular surveys of the lands. Continual reviews would ensure the elimination of discrepancies and irregularities in the land records. It would help in avoiding the confusion in the status of the property – whether the property is owned privately or by the government. Digitization would not be able to bear fruits unless a firm grounding of ancillary factors like surveying is provided to it.

Moreover, the existing errors which get transferred from paper records should be keenly dealt with. Online approval of plans and granting of certificates would require processes like e-stamping and digital signatures. Statutory backing for such new operations should be created for smooth disposal of work. Elaborate and comprehensive protocols should be established to address problems regarding the mismatch of data between different sets of records.[18]

About seventy per cent of the land in the developing world is undocumented.[19] Digitization may increase the problems of marginalized communities by imposing an obligation upon them to prove their ownership. In such situations, the government needs to relax its rules for the marginalized people. It should provide them with assistance if they face difficulty in proving their ownership.

It is feared that digitization may lead to further marginalization of poor communities and further empowerment of those who are already empowered.[20] As access to the internet is a privilege which everyone does not enjoy. To address this issue, there is a need to provide easy access to the computerized land records to those who do not have any such access. The government offices which keep such records should help marginalized people in accessing the digital land records by arranging facilities for them. Concluding Remarks


Digitization of land records is a critical reform which the governments had been trying to implement for many years. It can cure a lot of problems existing in the concerned sector for decades. It holds the potential to reduce a substantial amount of burden from the shoulders of the judiciary. As about two-thirds of all civil cases in Indian courts are related to disputes regarding land and property.[21] There are few challenges which may occur while revamping the mechanism. However, they can be overcome with the help of relevant government measures and policies. Digitization of land records would prove to be a momentous step towards the overall development of the land sector.


[The author is a third-year student enrolled in the five-year B.A. LL.B. program at the National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata.]



Notes and References

[1] See Land Records and Titles in India, June 13, 2020, available at https://www.prsindia.org/policy/discussion-papers/land-records-and-titles-india#_ednref37 (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [2] Economic Times, A refreshed ‘Digital India’ programme will play critical role in the pursuit of $5 trillion economy, June 13, 2020, available at https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/small-biz/startups/newsbuzz/a-refreshed-digital-india-programme-will-play-critical-role-in-the-pursuit-of-5-trillion-economy/articleshow/70067053.cms?from=mdr (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [3] Ministry of Rural Development, Department of Land Resources, Programme Details, June 13, 2020, available at https://dolr.gov.in/programme-schemes/dilrmp/digital-india-land-record-modernization-programme (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [4] Livemint, Govt nearly doubles budget for digitisation of land records, June 13, 2020, available at https://www.livemint.com/Politics/do9qSSB3siI5VAkM4Pxe4H/Govt-nearly-doubles-budget-for-digitisation-of-land-records.html (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [5] P. Ravindra Pai, Digitization of land records, June 13, 2020, available at https://realty.economictimes.indiatimes.com/realty-check/digitization-of-land-records/2966#:~:text=Digitization%20of%20land%20records%20was,the%20scope%20of%20land%20disputes. (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [6] Land Records and Titles in India, June 13, 2020, available at https://www.prsindia.org/policy/discussion-papers/land-records-and-titles-india#_ednref37 (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [7] Caravan Magazine, Promise: Digitisation of government records will be a top priority, June 13, 2020, available at https://caravanmagazine.in/modimeter/open-governement-and-accountable-administration/government-records (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [8] Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP), June 13, 2020, available at https://landrevenue.assam.gov.in/schemes/detail/digital-india-land-records-modernization-programme-dilrmp (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [9] Indian Express, State moves first to clear land title mess, July 3, 2020, available at https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/state-moves-first-to-clear-land-title-mess/#:~:text=A%20conclusive%20title%20is%20an,proof%20of%20ownership%20of%20property.&text=The%20title%20remains%20merely%20%E2%80%9Cpresumptive,property's%20ownership%20and%20past%20history (Last visited on July 3, 2020). [10] Id. [11] Land Records Modernisation: Technology Transitions, June 13, 2020, available at http://iihs.co.in/knowledge-gateway/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/5.-Technology-Transitions.pdf (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [12] Business Line, Land records in 90% of Indian villages have been computerised, June 13, 2020, available at https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/economy/land-records-in-90-of-indian-villages-have-been-computerised/article30335779.ece# (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [13] Land Records and Titles in India, June 13, 2020, available at https://www.prsindia.org/policy/discussion-papers/land-records-and-titles-india#_ednref37 (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [14] Id. [15] The Economic Times, Digitization of land records, June 13, 2020, available at https://realty.economictimes.indiatimes.com/realty-check/digitization-of-land-records/2966#:~:text=Digitization%20of%20land%20records%20was,the%20scope%20of%20land%20disputes (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [16] Id. [17] Land Records and Titles in India, June 13, 2020, available at https://www.prsindia.org/policy/discussion-papers/land-records-and-titles-india#_ednref37 (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [18] Land Records Modernisation: Technology Transitions, June 13, 2020, available at http://iihs.co.in/knowledge-gateway/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/5.-Technology-Transitions.pdf (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [19] Reuters, India’s poor risk loss of privacy, land in drive to digitize records, June 13, 2020, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-landrights-tech-trfn/indias-poor-risk-loss-of-privacy-land-in-drive-to-digitize-records-idUSKBN20W11U (Last visited on June 13, 2020). [20] Id. [21] Reuters, Millions of cases stuck in Indian courts show need for ‘urgent’ land reform - advocacy, July 8, 2020, available at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-india-landrights-court/millions-of-cases-stuck-in-indian-courts-show-need-for-urgent-land-reform-advocacy-idUSKCN10J1GJ (Last visited on July 8, 2020).

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