Conclusive Land Titling
1st Mar, 2021
Niti Aayog, the country’s planning body has crafted a new model bill in which states will guarantee the accuracy of ‘land titles’ and provide compensation in case of disputes.
- The Union Government wants to reform the country’s land markets through a fundamental legal and procedural shift in how land titles are awarded.
- 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 Titlingwas 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.
Land conflicts in India
- The World Bank estimates about two-thirds of pending case in courts are related to land.
- Land Conflict Watch, a group of researchers, estimates that roughly 800 disputes in India impact 7.3 million people and threaten more than $200 billion in investments across an area bigger than the country of Israel.
- 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.
What is the current procedure?
- 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.
- Land titles were now awarded, under the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, and Civil Procedure Code, 1908, on the basis of documentation and possession of the property.
- Any dispute was fought in a civil court.
- 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.
The conclusive land titling system
- 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 title holder.
- Further, under conclusive land titling, the government may provide compensation to claimants in case of disputes, but the title holder is not in any danger of losing ownership.
What is the proposed process?
- Setting up of land authority: Under the proposal, each state is to set up a land authority that will have a title registration officer (TRO) who will prepare a title record based on document-based claims from the presumptive owners and any claimants.
- Draft list of presumptive ownership: The authority will then publish a draft list of the presumptive ownership of every plot (on which it has received applications) and invite claims within a given deadline from anyone else with an interest in the property.
- Dispute resolution: The TRO will be free to mention any number of people as owners of a particular plot if satisfied with their documents. If the official cannot come to a decision, he or she might refer the case to the land dispute resolution officer (LDRO), appointed under the land authority.
- Record of titles: A “record of titles” will then be notified. Over the next three years, “land titling appellate tribunals”, made up of retired or serving district judges, will hear disputes arising out of the orders passed by the TRO and the LDRO.
- Conclusive title: Once three years have passed since the notification, the title will be deemed conclusive, open to challenge only through writ petitions in the higher courts.
- Plots already enmeshed in court cases will remain outside the ambit of the conclusive titling process, which an official said would provide an incentive to a dubious claimant to quickly lodge a legal case before the proposal is enacted.
How Land conflicts are hindering India’s growth?
- Black market for land transaction: While the Digital India Land Records Modernization Program dashboard shows that land records in 90.1% of villages have been computerized, many records haven’t been properly updated -- forcing investors to deal with multiple parties to acquire land and often face requests for bribery.
- Issue in taxation: In cities, urban local bodies depend on property taxes that can be levied properly only if there is clear ownership data available. Ambiguity in ownership also deprives the government of taxes.
- Debt burden in rural areas: In rural areas, access to agricultural credit is dependent on the ability to use 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, entrenching themselves in a mountain of debt.
- Stalled investments: Land conflicts have also stalled investments across cement, steel, mining and power sectors.
- Clogged judiciary: Land disputes account for the largest set of cases in Indian courts- 25 percent of all cases decided by the Supreme Court involved land disputes. The average pendencyof a land acquisition dispute case, from its creation to its resolution by the Supreme Court, is 20 years.
Judicial causes for pendency
- Once a land dispute goes to court, serious judicial incapacity leads to pendency of cases because of three reasons:
- India’s low judge-to-people ratio
- lack of financial, technical, and infrastructural capacity necessary to resolve disputes quickly, particularly at the judiciary’s lowest levels
- poor enforcement of court decisions by the government, and limited judicial capacity to follow up on such enforcement
What hurdles will be faced in the process?
- 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.
Due to increasing population pressure on land, and the corresponding demand for land to fuel the development engine, the scale and scope of land conflict today has assumed gigantic proportions, stalling development projects and threatening livelihoods and investments. Since land is central to India’s developmental trajectory, finding a solution to land conflict should be the foremost priority of the Government.
In this regard, equitable and efficient intergenerational management of land is necessary not just for India’s economic development, but also for its political and social stability.