Billed as a one-stop solution for land transactions, the Dharani portal continues to be fraught with teething problems, raising concern among landowners.
Almost two years since its launch, complaints have not stopped pouring in, and haunting the officials concerned. The complaints include patta lands in possession of land owners being put in the prohibited list, removal of names in the enjoyment column and replacing them with those of pattadars, mismatch between extent of lands in records, and actual extent of land available on ground and absence of provision for registering lands in the name of multiple owners. Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao launched the portal on October 29, 2020.
The portal envisaged safe, hassle-free land transactions in a transparent manner. One of the main objectives was to eliminate discretionary powers of the officials at different levels. The prime aim — to ensure that registrations are not confined to the offices of sub-registrars — has been achieved as land transactions are now allowed in all 574 mandal offices as against the 141 offices of the sub-registrars that were carrying out transactions earlier.
There are complaints about missing survey numbers as also on lands being registered in the name of others without the knowledge of actual owners. A case pertaining to an eight-acre land parcel owned by an NRI which has been registered in the name of others amply explains the situation. Ownership of the land parcel located in Tummalur village of Maheshwaram mandal has been changed without the knowledge of the owner, who has all relevant documents. The issue has reached the High Court for resolution.
The portal, however, has no provisions for rectifying such lapses. As a result, land owners, especially from lower and middle classes, are made to run from pillar to post to get the errors rectified. A major concern among land owners is said to be the manner in which officials are asking them to prove their credentials for rectification of errors in the records.
The government’s reported decision to make khasra pahani (a record of rights) as the basis for finalising land ownership is believed to be one of the main reasons behind patta lands being placed in the prohibited list. Another major issue is the record pertaining to assignment lands wherein different governments had assigned lands to the poor without giving actual possession to the assignees.
This resulted in mismatch of the actual extent of land in records and the actual land available on ground, causing hitches in transactions on the portal. Experts are of the view that the reported decision to do away with manual update of pahanis as in the case of the Jamabandi system of the past has ensured that records in some places have been uploaded on the portal without field inspection of the extent of actual land available.
Digitisation of land records has been on the horizon for more than three decades now with the introduction of computerised land records in the mid 1980s as the then Central government feared that continuance of manual records would leave room for tampering. The issue came to focus after former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took over the reins in 2004 with the introduction of National Land Record Management Programme envisaging digitisation of records as a first step towards title guarantee. The Narendra Modi-led government carried on the programme in the name of Digital India Land Records Management Programme with the target of issuing title guarantee and unique land parcel identification number and geo-quadrants to every land parcel by 2024. Bhudaar, on the lines of Aadhaar, has been contemplated to make land records fool-proof.
The Telangana Chief Minister also announced his resolve to digitise land records to make them tamper-proof and had accordingly brought in a spree of reforms in land administration. The programme was envisaged as clarity in title records would attract investments, but the programme was hit by mismatch in the extent of land on field and that in records. The government launched the ambitious land record updation programme in 2017 and completed it in a few months amid apprehensions of mistakes creeping into land records, thanks to the haste with which the programme was carried out.
Land record updation was taken up by the State government for identifying eligible beneficiaries under Rythu Bandhu scheme, a unique farmers’ investment support scheme the same year. But the exercise did not progress further in the direction of addressing the mismatch relating to land information.
“The government claims that 99% records are perfect. But field verification has proved there are problems on account of the data that has been entered into the records,” land laws expert and NALSAR adjunct professor M. Sunil Kumar says.
‘No legal back-up’
He recalls that several States like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh had opted for digitisation of land records and ensured a mechanism to rectify errors. “Telangana does not have such provisions. Though the collectors are tasked with rectifying the errors, there is no speaking order issued in this direction, and that means there is no legal back-up for the exercise,” he said, adding that there is no module incorporated in Dharani to rectify the errors resulting in change in title deeds without the knowledge of land owners.
Experts are of the view that the lacunae in Dharani could not be rectified except for a comprehensive resurvey of lands and giving them geo-quadrants thereafter. Maintaining manual land records is another area that should be looked into as these will serve as reference points for rectifying the errors that creep into the digitised records. They want manual records to be created at least once and those could be stored in the archives as reference points as and when need arises.
Karnataka, which was one of the first States to take up digitisation of land records more than two decades ago, has reportedly taken up distribution of manual records at the doorstep of land owners. The exercise was mainly aimed at rural residents where the trust is mostly on manual records as access to digital records would be difficult.
Cleaning of records
Another suggestion being mooted is the need to take up cleaning of records at the village level itself so that problems pertaining to boundaries and other issues could be identified on the spot. Youth from the same village could be trained in verification process so that problematic areas are identified. A person empowered by the government could then check the problem and find a solution then and there itself.
“Overall, litigations have increased with the introduction of Dharani, which has made access to information and correction of mistakes a difficult process,” Mr. Sunil Kumar says.