Telangana: Transparency in land records, a key reform

Telangana Rights in Land and Pattadar Pass Books Act, 2020 intends to break secrecy of records

By   |  Prof Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu  |  Published: 12th Sep 2020  12:08 amUpdated: 12th Sep 2020  12:09 am
Prof Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu

You purchase the property, but the revenue officer decides the title and tells you where your property is. This was the Raj going on in whole of our country and especially in Telangana. The revenue officers rule the roost, not your choice.

Registration Department consists of glorified ‘gumastas’ (clerks) who record a transaction in a register (that is how the name came). They give a stamped paper documenting ‘A’ transferring a property to ‘B’. Their seal will not seal the disputes. They do not guarantee or assure the genuineness of the title. But they are regarded like the most honourable magistrate certifying your transaction. One cannot understand why the sub-registrar should sit on a high pedestal while buyers and sellers should fold hands and stand or sit at a lower level as if they stood before a court of law. Are we civilised? Is it not British Raj over masses – both literate and illiterate?

Unless the buyer produces a properly registered deed, he cannot exploit the value of the property, nor generate any loan on it. A government department that is expected to facilitate, regularly exploits. People fear the Revenue and Registration departments as twin dangers to their hard-earned money. Both are very honourable departments, at origin, that underwent metamorphosis into awfully dishonest which could be easily manipulated. Not only the law (Registration Act 1908), the mindset also is 112-year-old. Fortunately, they need not wear white wigs like British judges. One common reason that made these two departments reap huge profits every day is the secrecy of records and absolute lack of transparency.

The Telangana Rights in Land and Pattadar Pass Books Act, 2020 intends to break this secrecy and remove the power of these two departments that made them corrupt to the core. Section 3 says: “(1) The Record of Rights in all lands in every village of the State shall be prepared and maintained digitally in a centralised storage with particulars, (a) The names of all persons who are pattadars of lands; (b) survey numbers and extents of each pattadar; (c) such other particulars as may be prescribed”.

Accessible portal

Chief Minister K Chandrashekhar Rao, the architect of this Bill, assured the Legislative House on September 9 to make this land records portal called ‘Dharani’ accessible to world at large. With the advent of Dharani, the secrecy of details of open land, which could be seen by all, will go, and transparency ushers in. All depends on ‘Dharani’.

There were strong speculations that Revenue Department would be totally removed or replaced or reformed. The Bill of 2020 removed the lower rung employees — village revenue officers — from land-related duties but doubled the functions of MROs or tahsildars. The Revenue and Registration duties are merged at the level of MRO, as the tahsildar himself must perform the task of registering.

Is it not merger of two corrupt powers? Answer is, the power has not increased, but duties certainly have doubled. Registrar has to simply allot slot to parties to transfer property, when they arrive at that slot, register it online and update the changes on Dharani portal followed by mutation of records and issuance of a document to that extent besides delivering the registered deeds.

Another major assurance of the CM is that the Dharani and registration data is so programmed that non-transferable lands like government lands, assigned plots etc will not be accepted for registration. The earlier transactions on the property also get reflected the moment the property is identified, which prevents double and deceptive registrations.

The law does not assure the genuineness of the title but ensures non-registration of unregistrable properties like Taj Mahal or Charminar or railway stations of Delhi or Secunderabad. All depends on‘Dharani’, which is expected to synchronise the big data of entire properties in Telangana after digitisation.

When the property is not being sold or purchased but inherited from deceased, the role of tahsildar or registrar is again totally diminished. Now, with this new law, tahsildar must simply issue fresh passbooks or title deeds to the heirs of the deceased, provided they submit a joint agreement of all members of family, i.e., dividing and allocating shares among heirs. If they cannot come together or fail to arrive at joint settlement, registrar has nothing to do, except to wait for the verdict in civil dispute.

Non-agricultural lands, properties

Similar provisions are being made for non-agricultural lands and properties like plots, flats, houses etc at three levels – Gram Panchayat, Municipality and Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. At all these levels the officers must update the details after the registered transaction and issue mutation instantly. Four legislations are necessitated to amend Panchayati Raj, Municipality and Greater Hyderabad enactments. The fifth one is a brief legislation to abolish village revenue officers ensuring alternative employment to them in other departments along with the offers of resignation or VRS.

Another major reform proposed in this Bill is that the Revenue Department not only grants title deed to new owners of agricultural land, but also sits over judgment about the validity of that title in a revenue court, which works at MRO, RDO and Additional Collector level. After hierarchy of these three revenue courts hear the disputes, the case can also go to regular courts. It is estimated that 66 per cent of civil disputes pending before the courts are about land records and controversies.

This not only burdens the judicial system but also causes huge expenditure to governments and to the parties to litigation. If a transparent system is introduced, the burden of judiciary could be substantially reduced. Abolition of three tier revenue courts is a big change. The Bill contemplates some fasttrack tribunals to decide pending cases filed under earlier land records law, which is being replaced now.

The reforms can succeed when a comprehensive survey of land records is done along with a transparent internet data base where the land rights related details are made available and accessible to all from anywhere.

-Prof Madabhushi Sridhar Acharyulu, Former Central Information Commissioner and Dean, School of Law, Bennett University

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