Conclusive land titling system in India and its challenges – Explained pointwise

At present in India, ownership of land is determined by registered sale deeds, property tax receipts, and survey documents. In this system, the buyer is responsible for proving ownership of the land.

Recently the NITI Aayog proposed to change this system by implementation of Conclusive Land Titling system. NITI Aayog also framed a Model Bill on Conclusive Land Titling for this purpose. But the states are reluctant to implement it. Thus, in this article, we will analyse this new proposed model and the issues associated with it.

What is a Conclusive Land Titling system?

It is a type of land titling method followed in countries such as Australia, England, Canada, etc.

In this land titling method, the State (the government) will provide a guarantee on land titles. The government will also include provisions for compensation in case of any dispute of land title between two parties.

How it is different from the present one?

India at present follows the Presumptive land titling method. The difference between the two is mentioned in the following table:

Presumptive Land Titling systemConclusive Land Titling system
In the current system,  ownership is granted based on a record of the property transaction between the buyer and the seller (registered sales deed). The buyer is not entitled to the previous ownership records of the property. Hence, this system is called a presumptive oneIn a conclusive titling system, the government provides guaranteed titles. These land records designate actual ownership.
It means the registration of land is actually a registration of transactions, such as sale deeds, records of inheritance, mortgage, and lease. So, anyone can dispute the transactions with the titleholder.The title is granted by the government. So, if there is a dispute, then the claimant has to settle disputes with the government, not the titleholder.
If the disputed claimant proves the land as his property, then he will be the new titleholder and the previous titleholder will lose his/her ownership.Further, according to agricultural economist T. Haque, the government may provide compensation to claimants in case of disputes. But the titleholder is not in any danger of losing ownership
These are not the government-guaranteed title to the property. These are only a record of the transfer of property.These are the guaranteed title to the property.

Development towards Conclusive Land Titling in India:

  1. Currently, land records systems in the country represent the Zamindari and Ryotwari models.
  2. The importance of updating land records was emphasized long back in the First Five-year Plan (1951). But the land records saw little improvement.
  3. In 1989, the D.C Wadhwa committee (single-member committee) studied the land records and released a report titled “Guaranteeing Title to Land”. In that, it mentioned the importance of conclusive titles to the people.
  4. Digital India Land Record Modernization Programme was launched in India, in 2008 with the objective of digitization of land records. This also highlighted the importance of moving away from the current Presumptive land titling to Conclusive land titling.
  5. In 2011, the government drafted a Model Land Titling Bill 2011. The bill asked the state government to move towards Conclusive titling. But only Rajasthan and Maharashtra enacted the law and took a few steps.
  6. In 2020, the NITI Aayog released the model Bill on Conclusive Land Titling. This was sent to the States and Union Territories for getting their feedback. However, many States failed to send their feedback. Following which the Centre recently warned that the model bill would be concluded.

How the Model Bill aims to implement Conclusive Land Titling in India?

The draft model bill aims to achieve Conclusive land titling in the following ways:

  1. The Model Bill provides for setting up of Land Authorities in each State. These authorities will be responsible to appoint a Title Registration Officer (TRO).
  2. TRO’s will prepare and publish a draft list of land titles based on existing records and documents.
  3. Based on the draft list, potential claimants interested in the property will have to file their claims or objections within a fixed time period.
  4. Once disputes are received, the TRO will verify all the relevant documents and refer the case to a Land Dispute Resolution Officer (LDRO) for resolution.
    Note: The disputes currently pending in courts cannot be resolved in this way.
  5. Once, the disputes are resolved, the Land Authority will publish a Record of Titles.
  6. If there are any ambiguities in Record of Titles or regarding the decisions of the TRO and the LDRO, it can be challenged before Land Titling Appellate Tribunals within 3 years.
  7. After, three-years, entries in the Record of Titles will be considered conclusive proof of ownership. Further, appeals can only be taken up in High Courts.

What is the need to shift towards Conclusive Land Titling?

Shifting from Presumptive land titling to Conclusive Land Titling has the following advantages.

  1. A Conclusive land titling system will significantly reduce land-related litigation. A World Bank study from 2007 states that land-related disputes account for two-thirds of all pending court cases in the country.
    This is because, in the current system, people have to maintain the entire chain of transaction records (sale deeds, records of inheritance, mortgage, and lease).
  2. To increase the investment in many sectors: Currently, long pending court cases diminish the prospects for investment in many sectors of the economy. In Conclusive titling, the businesses will be guaranteed and investments will be secured. This can avoid large delays and inefficiency in infrastructure projects.
  3. To improve the revenue of the local body and the government Urban local bodies depend heavily on property taxes. Property tax can be levied properly only if there is clear ownership data available.
  4. Conclusive Land Titling provides better security to farmers. Unclear titles make it difficult to prove land ownership. The land is used as collateral by farmers for accessing formal credit.
  5. Improper records result in Benami transactions. These transactions are used for the investment of black money in the country.

What are the difficulties?

The introduction of a Conclusive Land Titling system can be feasible with proper land records. But, there are many challenges associated with the land records in India. They are,

  1. Land is a State subject in India. The individual States are responsible for the proper implementation of land records. In the absence of a uniform system, existing land records are maintained in different scripts and languages in different States.
  2. Land records are not updated for decades, especially in rural and semi-urban areas. Conclusive land titles can create more problems if the land records are not updated.
  3. In India, the majority of the land records are in the name of the grandparents of the current owner, with no proof of inheritance.
  4. Apart from that,  forgery, cases of fraud, and misconduct surrounding land ownership are also there in India. This increases the ownership disputes reaching courts and overburden the judicial mechanism.

If the government wants to introduce the conclusive land titling, then it not only needs to solve all the pending cases but also needs to solve the cases currently unreported and unidentified .

Suggestions:

India needs to move towards proper land records, then only we can shift towards a Conclusive Land Titling system. The government can follow suggestions like,

  1. Implementing the recommendation of the Committee on State Agrarian Relation in 2007. The committee recommended,
    • A comprehensive village-level survey with community involvement is required to solve the land-related problems.
    • Providing adequate skill training to the local government employees.
    • Further, it suggested that the government should use technologies such as GIS, GPS, and satellite imagery to update land records.
  2. Further, the government needs to integrate the cadastral maps (Comprehensive land maps) with textual data of land. This can be performed during the sale, inheritance, purchase, gift, mortgage, and tenancy of a property. This will ensure complete information with relation to land is available and updated.
  3. Apart from that, the government also needs to amend laws across the Centre and States to ensure uniformity in land records.

In conclusion, the introduction of a Conclusive Land Titling system is an ambitious step. However, to avoid further complexities the practical difficulties involved in its implementation has to be taken care of.

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