Land Reforms

Why does India need Conclusive Land Titling?


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Conclusive Land Titling

Mains level : Land records management in India


Land ownership in India

  • In India, land ownership is determined through various records such as sale deeds that are registered, property tax documents, government survey records, etc.
  • Land ownership is broadly defined by access to a land title.  Land Title is a document that determines the ownership of land or immovable property.
  • Having a clear land title protects the rights of the titleholder against other claims made by anyone else to the property.

What is the news?

  • In 2020, even as laws for farm reform and labour code reform were being enacted, the government’s think tank, NITI Aayog, took steps to initiate land reforms.
  • A Model Bill on Conclusive Land Titling was sent to States and Union Territories last June seeking their comments.
  • In September, after many States failed to send in their feedback, the Centre warned that their agreement would be presumed.

What is Conclusive Land Titling?

  • In a conclusive titling system, the government provides guaranteed titles and compensation in case of any ownership disputes.
  • Achieving this will require shifting to a system of registered property titles (as opposed to sale deeds) as the primary evidence of ownership, and having clear and updated land records.

How does the current system work?

  • India currently follows a system of presumptive land titling.
  • This means that land records are maintained, with information on possession, which is determined through details of past transactions.
  • Ownership, then, is established on the basis of current possession. Registration of land is actually a registration of transactions, such as sale deeds, records of inheritance, mortgage and lease.
  • Holding registration papers does not actually involve the government or the legal framework guaranteeing the ownership title of the land.

What will change in the new system?

  • On the other hand, under a conclusive land titling system, land records designate actual ownership.
  • The title is granted by the government, which takes the responsibility for accuracy.
  • Once a title is granted, any other claimant will have to settle disputes with the government, not the titleholder.

Why is conclusive land titling needed?

  • The main advantage is that a conclusive system will drastically lower litigation related to land.
  • According to a 2007 World Bank study on ‘Land Policies for growth and poverty reduction’, land-related disputes accounted for two-thirds of all pending court cases in India.
  • A NITI Aayog study on strengthening arbitration estimated that disputes on land or real estate take an average time of 20 years in the courts to be resolved.

A move for EODB

  • Right now, because land titles are based on transactions, people have to keep the entire chain of transaction records, and a dispute on any link in that chain causes ambiguity in ownership.
  • Once conclusive titling is in place, investors who want to purchase land for business activities will be able to do so without facing the constant risk that their owners may be questioned and their entire investment may go to waste.
  • Land disputes and unclear titling also create hurdles for infrastructure development and housing construction, leading to costly delays and inefficiency.

Multiple benefits

  • In cities, urban local bodies depend on property taxes that can be levied properly only if there is clear ownership data available.
  • In rural areas, the need is even more acute. Access to agricultural credit is dependent on the ability to use the land as collateral.
  • Without being able to prove their ownership of land and access formal credit from banks, small and marginal farmers are often left at the mercy of unscrupulous moneylenders.

What does the model Bill propose?

  • The Bill circulated by the NITI Aayog in 2020 calls for Land Authorities to be set up by each State government, which will appoint a Title Registration Officer (TRO),
  • TRO will prepare and publish a draft list of land titles based on existing records and documents.
  • This will be considered a valid notice to all potential claimants interested in the property, who will have to file their claims or objections within a set period of time.
  • If disputing claims are received, the TRO will verify all the relevant documents and refer the case to a Land Dispute Resolution Officer (LDRO) for resolution.

Major hurdles

  • The biggest challenge is that land records have not been updated for decades, especially in rural and semi-urban areas.
  • Land records are often in the name of the grandparents of the current owner, with no proof of inheritance.
  • Unless they are based on updated records, conclusive land titles could create even more problems.
  • Comprehensive village-level surveys with community involvement are a necessary precursor to the land titling process.
  • Relying on current records or even satellite imagery will not provide the same accuracy as actual, on-the-ground, local surveys.

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