Disputes over property ownership abound and piling cases in various courts are proof enough. So, the government’s draft Land Titling Bill is in the right direction. The Bill proposes to create a land titling authority, which would create, update, maintain, control, disseminate and adjudicate titles. Revolutionary initiatives, such as creation of a unique property identification number, title insurance mechanism, registering of disputes, valuation and self assessment mechanism and land titling tribunal, are a few highlights of the proposed Bill.
The purpose of getting this Bill cleared is to reduce, if not eliminate, the anomalies in land titles, which shall benefit the buyers as well as the sellers.
It has been proposed that the title documents would now include the intrinsic characteristics of properties such as mortgage, charges, liens and transaction history. Homebuyers, who are vulnerable to manipulations in title deeds at the hands of unscrupulous developers, would have a mechanism at their disposal to check the health and reliability of the titles.
Additional features, such as provision of valuation for properties and regular updates thereof, would make it easy for the owners to keep a tab on their worth at any given time. The Bill proposes a central property valuation division which would maintain a register of property valuation that would be regularly updated. Such information will also be placed in the public domain and shall enable auto-calculation of stamp duty, registration fee and other levies. The system shall also provide that title holders seek valuations upon request.
It also provides for legal services and title guarantee and proposes to set up a title guarantee fund. The proposal keeps the option open for title guarantee through private parties and insurers. People may take advantage of such guarantees and indemnifications for dependable transaction deeds.
In case of a dispute arising out of the titling system, it proposes a tribunal with equivalent powers of a civil court to adjudicate the disputes. The tribunal shall hear appeals against the orders of the land titling authority and adjudicate claims preferred for payments of compensation out of the title guarantee fund. This will clearly bring down the burden of such claims and disputes from civil courts.
While the benefits of a clear land title system are for all to enjoy, the Bill also proposes to confer some responsibilities on people as well. It proposes to make it compulsory for people to declare any changes in their titles. They have to provide compulsory intimation of civil suits or appeals or revisions, equitable mortgages, statutory charges, pending action, power of attorney, grant of succession and transaction. Penalties are prescribed for wilful concealment of information or deliberate furnishing of false information to the proposed land titling authority.
The implementation of the Bill will be a huge challenge for the government as well. Creation of the land titling authority, the tribunal, the survey system, the legal services and valuation cell, too, will be an uphill task. Regular updates of features, such as valuation, will require an infrastructure, which at present does not exist.
In a nutshell, if the intent and conviction to make it work is to be relied upon, this Bill can make a huge difference to the people, the government and the judiciary alike.
Gulam Zia is national director (research and advisory services), Knight Frank India.
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