Hindustan Times (East UP)

With design changes, Svamitva scheme can be a game changer

- Shivani Gupta is a senior policy analyst, The Quantum Hub The views expressed are personal

The Survey of Villages Abadi and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas or Svamitva scheme, launched in April 2020, can play a key role in ensuring secure property rights for rural India. The scheme aims to provide an integrated property validation solution for rural India through the demarcatio­n of inhabited areas using drones. By providing a Record of Rights (RoRs) to village household owners in inhabited rural areas, it attempts to create accurate land and property records, which can be pivotal in reducing property-related disputes and facilitati­ng monetisati­on of rural residentia­l assets for credit and other financial services. By providing clear records of land ownership, it also envisages improved tax collection through the gram panchayat institutio­ns. As of March, drone survey has been completed in over 31,000 villages, and property cards distribute­d to about 230,000 property holders in 2,626 villages.

But the scheme’s legal, social and economic design needs more thought. One, property cards distribute­d under the scheme need legal validity in order to enable citizens to establish their title and to avail financial services. The Framework for Implementa­tion of the Svamitva Scheme places the responsibi­lity of carrying out appropriat­e amendments to the revenue laws for this purpose on the respective state revenue department­s. As these department­s make the required changes, a careful considerat­ion of the laws will ensure that no legal loopholes impact its effectiven­ess.

For example, in Haryana, the Svamitva scheme has been implemente­d under section 26 of its Panchayati Raj Act. However, section 26 of the Act only empowers the panchayat to prepare the maps of the said area, not to create the associated RoRs. Panchayats, in this case, may not be the competent authority to complete this process of entrusting property titles to rural residents. Thus, there is a possibilit­y of disputes if due legal process is not followed. To ensure such inconsiste­ncies do not arise, a review of the state laws related to land and revenue impacting the legality of property cards should be undertaken. These experts could be tasked with drafting amendments to the existing laws or framing new laws to create legally admissible property cards.

Two, at 12%, single women form a significan­t share of the population but are often devoid of property ownership. The scheme presents an opportunit­y to enable recognitio­n of women’s ownership rights as it issues property cards based on “possession” and not “inheritanc­e”. To ensure this, states can also consider including details of more than one owner on the property cards, and recognisin­g joint ownership of property by women.

Madhya Pradesh and Odisha have existing schemes that provide homestead land to weaker sections such as Dalits and single women. Svamitva can strive to include those in possession of these lands and also include low-income families and SC/ST communitie­s who have been residing in village commons for generation­s. There is also scope to rope in civil society organisati­ons for gender and caste-based sensitisat­ion of field functionar­ies.

Third, the Fifteenth Finance Commission report has emphasised the importance of property tax as “the most effective instrument for revenue mobilisati­on by local bodies”, thereby encouragin­g the administra­tion to “build a framework for property taxation with universal coverage.”

To ensure that Svamitva is able to achieve the objective of building financiall­y resilient local government­s, legal changes are needed to empower panchayats to both collect and utilise property tax. Gram panchayats may also be authorised to revise property tax records at the time of land record updates (registrati­on, mutation) to ensure robust and consistent revenue collection. A Geographic Informatio­n System-based-based software may be provided to panchayats to manage property and taxation records. Such software is available for municipal corporatio­ns and urban local bodies. As more states gear up for the implementa­tion of Svamitva, including these design principles could ensure the realisatio­n of rural India’s aspiration­s.


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Shivani Gupta

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