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NEW DELHI : Madhya Pradesh retained the top spot, while West Bengal jumped four positions to come No. 2 in the second edition of the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) Land Record Services Index (N-LRSI) released on Thursday.

The national average improved by 16.2% between the two rounds, showing considerable progress across states in digitizing records and the registration processes.

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N-LRSI was formulated in 2019 with the broad objective of gauging the extent of digitization of land records and the registration process and assessing the improvement in the quality of the record as a result of digitization.

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Land record digitization has gained prominence with Prime Minister Narendra Modi launching the Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improved Technology in Village Areas (SVAMITVA) scheme last April. The scheme seeks to confer land titles in so far unmapped and inhabited parts of rural India.

The major impediments to investment and poverty reduction in both rural as well as urban India include constraints to the acquisition and holding of land and transactions in land and property.

India’s spectacular jump in the overall ranking in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index from the 142nd position in 2014 to 63rd in 2020 was in marked contrast to the dismal show in the ease of registering property, where India’s ranking improved only marginally from 166 in 2019 to 154 in 2020.

However, there are substantial differences in the results achieved by different states in terms of improving processes for those transacting in land.

In the latest survey, despite significant improvement and recording a score of more than 70 points, Odisha and Maharashtra dropped to third and fourth places, respectively, while Tamil Nadu retained fifth place. Out of 32 states and Union territories (UTs) ranked, only Assam and Lakshadweep Islands have shown a decline in points since last year. As many as 27 states and UTs have shown at least some improvement in their scores and three have been able to maintain them.

The most significant jump in percentage terms has been for Bihar at 125%, helping the state to jump from the 23rd to 8th spot in the latest ranking.

Land-related disputes in India account for 60-70% of all civil litigation. About 25% of all cases decided by the Supreme Court involve land disputes, of which 30% concern disputes relating to land acquisition, according to the NCAER. A large number of land parcels are subject to legal disputes and unclear titles make tenures insecure for the poor and vulnerable people, thus creating a sense of insecurity in the business climate, discouraging new investment, and posing a challenge to governance. The pendency of several million cases relating to land disputes in courts is partly because of the lack of comprehensive and up-to-date land records.

The focus must shift from mere digitization to the creation of more accurate and comprehensive land record databases, which also provide ease of fair, transparent and efficient land transactions with good price discovery for both sellers and buyers, NCAER director general Shekhar Shah said.

“Future work on the N-LRSI will need to engage with and incorporate these developments in adjusting its components and the weights assigned to them. This will serve to keep the N-LRSI relevant and enhance its attractiveness as a marker of progress in India’s journey to more secure property rights and better functioning land markets," he added.

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