New Delhi: India’s aim to speedily upgrade and modernize land records will be discussed at a meeting of state revenue ministers called by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh next week in the capital.
The 20 September meeting will also discuss the issue of missing records of around 2.4 million acres—amounting to almost half of all land donated under the Bhoodan (land donation) movement launched in 1951 in which rich land owners were persuaded to voluntarily donate land to the landless.
In the six decades since, records show 4.8 million acres was donated, Ramesh said, but only 50% of it has been distributed. “What happened to the (remaining) land? Nobody knows...there is no record.”
Land acquisition is a thorny issue in India, where local protests over fears of dispossession have stalled industrial development in many regions across the country.
The “worst culprits” in distributing Bhoodan land were Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, officials in the rural development ministry said on condition of anonymity.
“Land records is a very serious issue in India and revenue administration has generally taken a back seat,” Ramesh said. “That is why we have called the meetings of the state revenue ministers.”
The agenda for the meeting includes modernization of land records, digitization of land maps and computerization of offices dealing with land records and revenue. State governments are expected to make presentations on what they have done to modernize records as land is a state subject.
Ramesh said the problem was among the reasons behind India’s Maoist insurgency. “In areas affected by insurgency, the biggest issue is land issue,” the minister said. “We are starting a para-legal unit in our ministry, which will help the tribals in filing cases where they have been dispossessed of land.”
A draft land acquisition legislation prepared by the rural development ministry is now being discussed by a group of ministers after disagreements on it within the cabinet.
In a statement to Parliament last month, Ramesh said, “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.”
Ramesh also said the government was aggressively moving towards conclusive titles. “But, before we do that, we need to date our land records,” he said. “We need to make them online and we must ensure that survey of the land records is up-to-date.”