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Friday, April 25, 2014

Sunday, July 6, 2008
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Column - Habibullah N Karim

Bangabhaban on sale! Do you wanna buy?

There is an old joke that anyone can sell you the Bangabhaban! How come? Well, in the old days (read just 5 years ago or earlier) the seller of a property did not quite need to prove ownership, to be able to sell! No matter how stupendous that sounds, the government blissfully allowed the imperfect system to continue for more than 50 years, since the colonial rulers left in 1947.

The completely insular systems of land sale registration, ownership title amendments (called 'mutation'), and land records keeping are so archaic that they really have no parallels in the modern world. Although the land sale registration procedures to verify ownership claims have been changed somewhat to be a bit more methodical, the fake sale deed registrations have gone on unabated notwithstanding since 2006.

Today if you want to buy a piece of land or property you have to first register the sale deed at the registry office, which is administered by the Inspector General of Registration, an office that is accountable to the Law Ministry. This establishment has no direct access or relationship with the office of land administration, which falls under the district administrations run by the deputy commissioners accountable to the

Establishment Ministry.

After registration of the land sale deed you have to go to the office of the Assistant Commissioner (AC) Land for mutation of the land-ownership record to insert your name in place of the previous owner. This is where you will also need to pay your annual land taxes and collect duplicate carbon receipts (DCR).

However, when it comes to immutable land records, charting the ownership changes since time immemorial (not quite) along with land survey records, the responsibility falls under the directorate of land records (DLR), which is accountable to the Land Ministry.

The DLR, from time to time, conducts countrywide land surveys to verify and update ownership changes and land delimitation changes mainly due to fragmentations, land-use changes, river-course changes or other topographic changes.

The Cadastral Survey (CS) of 1887-1940 is considered the Holy Grail of all land records, which was followed by the Revised Settlement (RS) survey of 1960-2000, State Acquisition (SA) survey of 1962-1969, and Zonal Settlement Surveys of 1986-date. The output that you need from the DLR is a record showing the plot number and your share of ownership (100% if you own singly), also known as 'parcha'.

Why am I bothering with this tutorial on the idiosyncrasies of our land ownership and maintenance system? Well, you get the picture, land sale registration, land revenue administration and land records management are like three recalcitrant goats on a single leash, the three want to move in three different directions without a care for the others. If you are holding the leash you don't know which way to go and most likely will run amok in no time!

Taking advantage of this complex system is a whole phalanx of crooks and 'no-gooders' who have made it their vocation to forge papers through duplicitous means and prey on millions of unsuspecting landowners. According to sources in the administration and judiciary, up to 80 percent of all litigations can be traced to land ownership disputes. The enormous hassle this entails and the staggering loss of national productivity and income on account of this is unbelievably huge.

With such overwhelming evidence staring us in the eye, why are we not taking care of this anomaly? For lack of political will for one and for our general lack of penchant for change, any change, good or bad.

While we have been keeping our head buried in the sand on this issue for long, many international organisations kept prompting the government to look at other countries which have developed greatly simplified and highly efficient land administration systems.

Six years ago, an Asian Development Bank funded project of the government came up with a plan to bring the three entities related to land sale registration, revenue administration and records management under a unified system called the certificate of land ownership (CLO).

Similar systems are already in place in western countries such as Canada and Australia and in regional countries such as Thailand and India, places where land-ownership is so simple and straight-forward that you buy and sell land like share certificates in the stock market. Unfortunately due to a lack of commitment from the top on such much needed restructuring in our administrative system, such measures went unheeded, despite untold sufferings of the general masses.

In this backdrop, I was pleasantly surprised when I received an invitation from the DLR office last week to attend a brain-storming session on how the DLR can upload their computerised land records on the web for the benefit of the citizens. The fact that the DLR on their own are looking at ways to become more citizen-centric and make their precious records available for free to the public, speaks volumes for the service-centric attitude that hopefully will permeate throughout the whole state administration in no time.

The writer is a software entrepreneur and can be reached at hnkarim@gmail.com.

In the previous column written by Habibullah N Karim, the term 'knowledge society' was mistakenly referred to as 'knowledgeable society'.

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