In­dia plans over­haul of colo­nial-era land ti­tles

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

In­dia is con­sid­er­ing up­dat­ing its colo­nial-era land records with a sys­tem that cuts fraud and pro­tects the poor as mount­ing wran­gles over land crimp eco­nomic growth, an of­fi­cial said.

But the over­haul could take decades to come good, he added, de­spite a grow­ing thirst for land deals in fast-grow­ing In­dia. “Ev­ery trans­ac­tion is im­per­fect, and the onus of es­tab­lish­ing own­er­ship is on the buyer,” said S Chock­alingam, di­rec­tor of land records in west­ern Ma­ha­rash­tra state.

Chock­alingam also has in­flu­ence on a na­tional level, as he ad­vises the govern­ment pol­icy think­tank Niti Aayog on land mat­ters. In an in­ter­view with the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion, Chock­alingam said a sys­tem to guar­an­tee land ti­tles should pro­tect buy­ers from fraud and avoid the sort of lengthy court bat­tles that fre­quently hold up de­vel­op­ment plans.

Land records in most In­dian states date back to the colo­nial era. Most land hold­ings have un­cer­tain own­er­ship, so fraud is ram­pant and dis­putes over ti­tles of­ten end up in court.

Pro­tracted le­gal bat­tles can de­lay prop­erty deals, dis­cour­age in­vestors and raise the cost of land. It also hurts the poor, women and mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties who may lack the re­sources or the skills needed to en­gage in such fights. “Right now, it’s only a pre­sump­tive ti­tle and you can­not be 100 per­cent sure of dis­putes and claims re­lated to it. The in­ten­tion is to es­tab­lish own­er­ship and pro­vide a con­clu­sive ti­tle,” he said.

Mat­ters re­lated to land and prop­erty make up about two-thirds of all civil cases in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased last year. States will study land records, sur­vey maps, trans­ac­tions and court records to de­ter­mine the own­er­ship chain and lit­i­ga­tion his­tory of ev­ery prop­erty that is reg­is­tered with the land ti­tling cen­tre, Chock­alingam said. This can be done for new and ex­ist­ing prop­er­ties, he said Chock­alingam. Land records in In­dia are grad­u­ally be­ing dig­i­tized, and sev­eral states are tak­ing steps to speed up land trans­ac­tions and is­sue ti­tle deeds.

Ra­jasthan state last year said it would set up an in­de­pen­dent au­thor­ity to ver­ify and guar­an­tee land ti­tles in its cities, as de­mand for real es­tate rises on the back of rapid ur­ban­iza­tion.

A na­tion­wide bio­met­ric data­base, which has de­tails of most of In­dia’s 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple, will also help re­duce fraud and opac­ity in land deals, which are now re­quired to be linked to the unique iden­tity num­ber of the buyer and the seller. Dis­tor­tion to land mar­kets is one of the main bar­ri­ers to faster growth, ac­count­ing for 1.3 per­cent of lost gross do­mes­tic prod­uct growth in In­dia ev­ery year, ac­cord­ing to the McKin­sey Global In­sti­tute, the re­search arm of the global con­sult­ing firm.

“There are many great chal­lenges to guar­an­tee­ing land ti­tles, and world­wide, it has taken coun­tries many years to do it,” said Chock­alingam. “But we want to take the first step; maybe in 20-30 years, we can guar­an­tee all ti­tles.” —Reuters

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