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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Digitization of land records will fast-track infra projects and fight poverty
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Digitization of land records will fast-track infra projects and fight poverty

Digitized land records should boost infrastructure development as the Gati Shakti platform makes use of this data, while title clarity serving as collateral for credit could give the poor a better chance to escape poverty.

With the government trying to nudge the private sector to invest in infrastructure projects, it is imperative that land titles are properly recorded.Premium
With the government trying to nudge the private sector to invest in infrastructure projects, it is imperative that land titles are properly recorded.

In a landmark development, the digital land records of 13 major states and four Union territories (UTs) have been loaded onto the government’s platform for coordinating infrastructure building between central ministries, states and UTs under the PM Gati Shakti National Master Plan. With this, data from only six states—Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Nagaland and Meghalaya—and the UT of Lakshadweep remain to be digitally integrated. Once complete, Gati Shakti will save time and costs on project implementation, as it provides easy data access to stakeholders. Announced in 2021, Gati Shakti is an ambitious scheme to ensure multi-modal connectivity across the country. It covers everything from roads to railways and aviation to agriculture, with various ministries and departments in the loop. The idea is to “break departmental silos and institutionalize holistic planning for stakeholders across major infrastructure projects," in the government’s words.

Execution of new projects requires clarity on the ownership and value of land, both of which are difficult in the absence of clear land titles. Structures built on land with unclear ownership records can potentially be challenged, making infra investments risky. With the government trying to nudge the private sector to invest in such projects, it is imperative that land titles are properly recorded. Logistics and the related field of transport have emerged as key sectors in reducing regional disparities and helping ensure that uneven development is not perpetuated. But the importance of converting land records into digital form goes far beyond ease of project implementation. Lack of proper land records—and hence the inability to establish legal ownership—is often a reason not just for poverty, but also corruption in the real estate sector, with all its related ills. Land and housing are usually the only assets of the poor, and not being able to prove their ownership exposes them to exploitation by powerful vested interests and makes it harder for them to escape poverty. Noted Peruvian economist Hernando De Soto, author of The Mystery of Capital, argues that the poor in developing countries are denied access to formal credit not because they lack assets, but because they mostly don’t have proper papers for property, preventing its use as collateral for loans.

Unclear land titles, related costs on account of title disputes and litigation, and a lack of transparency in property deals all add up to make our real estate market inefficient. Today, revenue from property tax, potentially a rich source of revenue for state governments, contributes very little to their exchequers. This sad state of affairs should become history once the Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme under the government’s department of land resources is completed. As part of this initiative, a 14-digit unique land parcel ID number is to be allotted to every land parcel based on geo-coordinates. This is expected to bring transparency in property dealings, apart from reducing the country’s huge pendency of court cases involving land disputes. But this will not be enough. Document registration in India is still governed by the Registration Act of 1908, a colonial-era law that relies on physical documents. Advances in technology, our success in digitization and the widespread adoption of Aadhaar should make it possible to replace this physical mode of registration with an efficient digital one. The digitization of land records is a necessary but not sufficient condition for this.

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Published: 15 Dec 2023, 08:00 AM IST
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