Abolishing VRO system in Telangana was inevitable: BR Meena

Relevance of the village revenue officer post had become questionable amid technological advancement and increased level of awareness among people, says BR Meena

By   |  BR Meena  |  Published: 11th Sep 2020  12:06 amUpdated: 11th Sep 2020  12:32 am
Landmark reforms initiated by the State government in revenue administration has come as a relief to the farming community across Telangana.

Telangana government introduced Bills in the Assembly seeking to abolish village revenue officer (VRO) system and another Bill on bringing out new law related to Record of Rights for agricultural lands. Let’s examine these Bills.

The VRO system was in existence since inception of the Revenue Department. Revenue Department was the only setup existing earlier and dealing with many aspects like policing, agriculture and irrigation. The village level officer was the watchdog of the government dealing with all matters in a village and reporting to tahsildar or ‘girdavar’. He/she was responsible for upkeep of village accounts, including land holdings, pattadar, cultivator, sources of Irrigation, irrigated lands, dry lands, distribution of seeds and fertilizers, community lands and properties, livestock, survey and boundary stones, pathways, cart-tracks, roads etc. He was also responsible for removal of encroachments from community and government lands.

Over a period of time, many departments were formed and a large number of activities which were attended to by the village officer were taken over by functionaries of other departments leaving general administrative work and crop booking etc for the department. It was felt necessary that there should be restructuring and realignment of roles of various functionaries on the field.

In the present day scenario of technological advancement in fields of information technology, agriculture, telecommunications, transportation, marketing and overall development in all sectors of economy coupled with increased level of awareness among people, the job of village officer has become blurred to the extent that relevance of the post has become questionable. In this background, it was perhaps inevitable to do away with this layer of land administration. There may be some teething problems which may arise in the transitional phase. But I am sure the government is well prepared to handle them.

Law related to Record of Rights

The government had taken up cleaning of land records a few years ago. The work was done with all sincerity by the revenue machinery. Officials worked tirelessly to complete this work. The revenue records were not updated for many years despite a series of initiatives taken up by the government in the past. But this time the Chief Minister was very keen to carry out cleaning of records of entries in revenue accounts, update the entries and put them in public domain. The CM held a series of meetings and interactions at various levels with stakeholders and as a result officials had full clarity of the initiatives and delivered the results within a very short period.

A revolutionary feature of this initiative was ‘DHARANI’ website holding the account of land records. It made details of lands available to public online. The government programme of cash transfer acre-wise to help the farmers further improved the purity of the records. Now, we can say that records of agricultural lands are by and large clean. Henceforth, government should ensure that there is no window for creeping of impurity in the records again as the situation keeps changing due to inheritance, transfer, sale deeds. These aspects have to be attended to instantly and effectively. No time lag should be permitted.

The proposed law makes it very clear that the updating of land records is ongoing process and it cannot be halted. The Bill makes it very clear that the tahsildar shall make the changes then and there online on the appointed date and time in the presence of owners/farmers duly carrying out necessary verifications of documents and records. This gives immense confidence to the farmers and land owners. Further the government intends, by this legislation, to give the duties of registrar to tahsildar as far as agricultural lands are concerned. Many States in the county have this arrangement where tahsildar is the registrar too.

The Bill brings out clarity in the registration work of tahsildar including resultant mutation. This arrangement will make registration of documents related to agricultural lands more accurate and will eliminate mischief in land registration. Since the tahsildar is custodian of land records and he is the registration authority, he cannot plead ignorance of facts. Before effecting registration he will have to verify the connected land records and then do the registration.

The proposed legislation provides very stringent punishments for erring officials, particularly tahsildars. The punishments of dismissal or removal from service along with criminal actions will work as deterrent against any type of fraud, mischief, forgery etc. These provisions will give enhance confidence of public in the government and its machinery. The provisions of tribunals are a welcome move by the government. There are many States in the country which have land tribunals and appellate tribunals.

All the cases under revenue laws are adjudicated by these tribunals. They function as quasi-judicial entity. Operation and functioning of Tribunals is very people friendly. There are large number of revenue cases pending at various levels i.e. Tahsildar, RDO, Collector/Joint Collector, Chief Commissioner of land Administration etc. As of now these the revenue cases are not getting adequate attention as the officials have many other time bound administrative and executive duties. The tribunals will take over the adjudication work from the executive machinery. Tribunals will deal with these cases on full time basis. This will bring speedy disposal of revenue cases. On the other side the executive machinery will have more time for administrative and executive works.

The Bill provides responsibility of the interested parties. It will be their responsibility to bring out any modifications and updating in the land records to the knowledge of Tahsildar through the website. It is right time that farmers and land owners become sensitive towards their responsibilities. Over all the attempts made by the government through these two bills for legislation are in right direction. They will be able to bring more transparency, simplification, clarity, precision, accountability, responsibility. Hopefully the misery of land owners will reduce.

Challenges ahead

After enactment of the laws, the biggest challenge will be smooth and effective implementation and enforcement of the various provisions of the laws. It is going to be bigger task to see that the law is implemented in totality. There should not be any time lag in enforcement. Educating the revenue officials about the provisions of law should be taken up immediately. Training classes should be conducted for Tahsildars and other revenue officials. All The officials must know the law thoroughly, particularly the penal provisions.

Public awareness is a big task for the government. Unless public knows about the law, implementation suffers badly, specially when people at large are connected with it. Government should take it on a campaign mode to educate the public about the legal provisions. The Government should establish the tribunals as quickly as possible. Necessary logistical and support systems required for kick start implementation of the law should be put in place immediately. For effective and seamless operationalisation of the software, required hardware should be put in place. In other words, the machinery must be put in full preparedness to implement the laws as per the expectations of public and government.

BR Meena, IAS (Retd.)
Former Special Chief Secretary,
Revenue Department
Government of Telangana

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