Don’t Jump the Gun on Land Record Digitisation

IN October last year, Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha launched a landmark initiative known as Aapki Zameen Aapki Nigrani. This is a centrally sponsored programme of the Government of India known as Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme(DILRMP).

This programme is aimed at achieving ease of access to land records through a digital platform which is set to ensure more transparency in the Revenue Department, a department otherwise marred with corruption for several decades. The introduction of  DILRMP is expected to reduce property disputes and ensure conclusive titles to immovable properties in Jammu & Kashmir. The Government claims that the digitilisation process will be followed by a survey, resurvey and updation of all survey and settlement records, integration of property registration with land records and cadastral maps to ensure the authenticity of record.

Computerisation and digitisation of land records, a major component of this scheme, has already started in full swing since last month with Patwaris uploading land revenue records onto a digital network. This land revenue record digitization is going on in all 20 districts which comprises 6912 villages. The Revenue Department claims that more than 50% of the records have already been digitized in around 4000 villages. However, land owners across J&K are worried about wrong insertions that were made in the land revenue land during the last settlement that took place more than 10 years back.

What is Land Settlement?

Land Settlement or Bandobast is a comprehensive term that covers all aspects of land survey & measurement, preparation of revenue records and assessment of land revenue. In 1889, the Dogra Ruler of Kashmir, Pratap Singh, appointed British Officer Sir Walter Lawrence as first Settlement Commissioner of the erstwhile state.  The officer served in Indian Civil Service and was also a member of the British Council of India those days. Before Sir Lawrence, in 1887, Mr Vintage was asked to undertake the settlement process of some villages but the Government decided to get a full  time settlement commissioner.  Sir Walter Lawrence was given full powers to conduct the settlement process and he faced lots of challenges in the beginning and local Patwaris were said to have been involved in that by instigating the villagers.

Sir Lawrence tried his best to make people understand the settlement of their land records considering its measurement,location,irrigation facilities. A dedicated Settlement Department was set up which restored the confidence of people for that massive land record activity that lasted for 5 years (1889 to 1994). The paddy called Shali was taken as land revenue and the maximum portion of this crop was allowed to be retained by cultivators. This helped the settlement department to take up the settlement process without any problems. The peasants who were earlier reluctant to cooperate started cooperating with revenue department officials. The cultivators who were previously reluctant to cultivate the waste land started filling fresh applications for allotment. The occupancy cultivators (qabza daar) were given protection under law. By the end of 1894, the entire process was completed.

As per the data available with Financial Commissioner Revenue J&K, following steps are involved in preparation of such record of rights or revision of record of rights:

Updation of Jamabandi by incorporating all mutations attested since the last Jamabandi. The Patwari has to draw up or enter mutations of all changes reflected into Girdawarijn  and obtains orders on such mutations from Mutating Officer and made requisite entry into Jamabandi & update Sajra Nasab Malikan (Owners).

  1. Define or delineate Hadbast of village along with surrounding patwaries, establish proper marks of identification at each point.
  2. Demarcate & identify all sarkar, shamilat and common lands to determine any encroachment or accesses made on such land.
  3. Prepare chumanda (Rough Sketch) and Khatooni by Pencil called Kham Khatooni by visiting each field.
  4. Start measurement or Survey from the North –West corner of the village.
  5. After completion of measurement/ Survey, compare Kham Khatooni with updated Jamabandi and confirm Khatooni.
  6. After confirmation of Khatooni it has to be announced by Tehsildar or Naib Tehsildar entry wise in presence of village community and arrested after making requisite changes, if   any. 
  7. Draw-up Record of Right on the basis of Khatooni so prepared
  8. Deposit the Record of Rights in Settlement Record Room after final attestation by Settlement Officer. Obtain a copy of Part-e-Patwar of the R.O.R. from the Settlement record  room. 

 Land Passbooks that Never Came

We are  aware of bank passbooks, which is a small booklet given to account holders after opening an account in any bank. The Revenue department was also supposed to provide passbooks to the landowners so as to keep them aware about the amount of land they own, its location, its title, survey/khasra number etc. Section 16 of J&K Land Revenue (amended) Act of 1996 which is a protected legislation under J&K Reorganization Act 2019 calls upon Revenue officers, particularly the Deputy Commissioners (DCs), to ensure preparation of passbooks for every landholder of the district. The relevant section reads:

“The Deputy Commissioner of the District shall cause to be prepared a passbook of every land holder in his District containing records of rights, agricultural holding, transfer of rights, ration cards, subsidies, liabilities etc. in revenue estate to enable the land holder makes it use for credit facilities and for other matters connected therewith or incidental thereto”

The idea of making these passbooks was to ensure transparency and accountability in maintaining land records which is marred by corruption and mismanagement. Incorporating these provisions in J&K Land Revenue Act through an amendment in 1996 was to provide for an efficacious and fool-proof mechanism in maintaining land record. This was also to ensure that there is no illegal entry or alienation in these records by the officials of the revenue department. Through these passbooks landowners or farmers could have availed credit facilities from banks as well, which is a provision in the law itself.

More than 26 years have passed yet these passbooks have not been issued to the beneficiaries. This clearly indicates that successive Governments have endorsed and patronised a fallacious, erroneous and a defective system which creates a space for scandalous and corrupt persons to step in and get the entries of choice recorded in the revenue records. Furthermore, non-implementation of this legal provision of the law has also encouraged and influenced land-grabs and illegal encroachments by land mafia in active collaboration with officers of Revenue department especially on the state land, Kahcharai, Shalimat and wetlands across Jammu & Kashmir. Now, as the land revenue record is being digitised, the benecifies can get digital land record passbooks but the Govt needs to ensure that correct and factual information is uploaded on these digital land records.

Don’t be Hasty

Even as the digitization of land revenue records is a welcome step, there have been some serious errors committed by Revenue officials during the last settlement. This faulty land record insertion has been committed across Jammu & Kashmir in all districts and has not been rectified till date. Unfortunately, the same faulty information being uploaded on the online portal is only going to worsen the issue. In a bid to complete the digitisation process and bag the 100% title, the Deputy Commissioners must not lose sight of the true spirit of the exercise. The Government needs to look into this issue urgently and halt the digitisation process, if need be. Errors of the previous settlements need to be corrected first. Once this is done, then only should the land records be uploaded on the digital network.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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