New Delhi: The ministry of rural development has proposed that the registration of real estate leases, even those lasting less than a year, be made compulsory in an effort to improve transparency and modernize land records in the country. It also wants to use Aadhaar numbers to check the identity of the people registering the land.
The proposed amendments to the Registration Act of 1908 have been suggested by the ministry’s Department of Land Records (DoLR). They are aimed at plugging losses to the state exchequer due to the transfer of land bypassing registration, a common practice across India. The proposed changes make it compulsory for all manner of agreements relating to land or property to be registered if they are to be considered as evidence in a court of law.
The proposals, suggested by an expert panel, are still in a preliminary stage, a government official said. He added that the ministry was unlikely to present the suggestions in the form of amendments to the 1908 Bill in the current monsoon session of Parliament.
On Thursday, while replying to a question in the Lok Sabha, rural development minister Jairam Ramesh pointed out that the land survey records in different parts of the country are still archaic.
“India is one of the few countries in the world where the record of rights on land is presumptive; it is not conclusive unlike many other countries. We are presumed to be owners of land unless proved otherwise. That is why we have lots of disputes and lots of problems in land acquisition,” the minister said.
Ramesh also said the government was aggressively moving toward conclusive titles. “But, before we do that, we need to date our land records. We need to make them online and we must ensure that survey of the land records is up-to-date.”
The minister was talking about the ongoing attempts to modernize land records and make them available online to avoid fraudulent transactions and claims.
DoLR’s recommendations, reviewed by Mint, said the 1908 law is a “significant piece of procedural legislation”. The expert panel noted that the law rested on three principles—a registered document always invalidating an unregistered one, a registered mortgage deed having precedence over an unregistered mortgage deed and the prevention of commission of fraudulent transactions in the form of sale or gift by requiring the registration of such transactions. “As a result, all manner of agreements relating to land or property need to be registered if they are to be considered as evidence in a court of law,” the committee noted.
The complexities of land acquisition are among the deterrents to investments in India, especially in infrastructure. A new Bill to replace the archaic land acquisition Bill is pending in Parliament and is expected to be taken up in the ongoing monsoon session.
In its explanatory remarks, the panel said it had advocated the redefinition and registration of leases as the provision had been exploited repeatedly, particularly in land disputes. “Autonomy is given to states to specify floor amount for such registration,” the panel said. The 1908 Act does not require leases for a period of less than a year to be registered.
To ensure all registrations are open to scrutiny, the panel has recommended the amendment of Section 18 of the 1908 law that will ensure registrations are “made open and available to inspection by the public at all times”.
Another section of the 1908 law that the panel has proposed to amend is Section 28, which states that if a person has immovable properties in more than one state, he can get documents related to their transfer registered in any of those states. Since there is no provision as yet for active computerization of land records, the expert panel suggested that registration officers be empowered to use the Unique Identification Authority of India’s Aadhaar numbers “to check ad verify the identity of the persons appearing for the registration of the property”.
The changes are expected to encourage and facilitate the creation of a database, with a new provision being made to allow applications online. To ensure gender equality, the panel has also recommended compulsory registration of adoption of daughters. So far, under the 1908 law, only the registration of adopted sons was required.
The absence of a comprehensive law has allowed many loopholes in land registration and documentation, which has led to many unrecorded transactions as well as false claims of possession. While the last land survey in Bihar was held in 1907, in Andhra Pradesh it was in 1931 and in Uttar Pradesh in 1957. Ramesh said the central government has been funding the states for modernization of land records. Under the Constitution, land is a state subject. The Centre has launched a land record modernization exercise in 267 districts and the process is expected to be completed by 2017.