Sonmoni Borah IAS Interview

Interview: Mr. Sonmoni Borah, IAS, JS, DoLR, Ministry of Rural Development

“A digital ecosystem will boost scalability, inclusivity, community involvement, reliability, correctness, and updates while retaining cost and time effectiveness,” notes Mr. Sonmoni Borah in this interview for AGI’s Newsletter on Digital Agriculture.

Please tell us about the land administration system in India and how The Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP) and its initiatives lend to ease of land governance in our country.

Historically, India inherited different land systems and different practices of land records management system with asymmetrical practices, un-surveyed records, and measurement units in the States.  Some States in the North-eastern Region have land systems based on customary laws and even have land governing systems administered by traditional village chiefs.

This widespread asymmetric standardization and record-keeping have caused issues such as multiplicity, inconsistency, inaccuracy, or even a complete lack of data, which trickled down to other sectors of governance, planning, and development. Therefore, the diversity in land governance and land records system required a major programmatic intervention to ensure computerization and digitization to make the system transparent and robust for delivery of various schematic benefits of the Government Schemes and Programmes.

The oldest cadastral maps in India are more than 100 years old and were first created using a distinct spatial reference frame. For cross-checks and resurvey operations, the current physical reference sites or survey monuments that represent the previous spatial reference frames used for preparing the maps are difficult to locate as it was as old as the cadastral maps were prepared. The previous survey records and auxiliary traverse records are also not easily accessible. This makes it difficult to geo-reference existing records without resurveying.

The Government of India strongly felt the need for comprehensive land records modernization in the country to solve these challenges. This was possible only with the help of a unified, reliable, and real-time land records information and management system, which we have established with the flagship Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP) as a Central Sector Scheme from 2016 with 100 % financial support to States/ UTs in the permissible components and activities. 

With the help of cutting-edge hybrid survey methodologies, including the use of High-Resolution Satellite Images (HRSI) followed by Ground Truthing / Survey using Differential GPS (DGPS) and Electronic Total Station (ETS), the DILRMP has started converting old land records into a new digital format with geo-referencing.

As we celebrate Azaadi Ka Amrit Kaal, substantial progress has been achieved under the different components of the scheme e.g., computerization of record of rights (RoR) has been completed in 620,363 villages (94.45 %) out of a total of 6,56,792 villages, out of 5,255 Sub-Registrar Offices in the country, 4,905 (93.34 %) have been computerized and out of 16,664,385 Maps / FMBs in the country, 11,738,345 Maps /FMBs (68.26%) have been digitized.

We can connect the entire country, except one or two States and all of the land records are now almost entirely digital and accessible on a single platform. So, we’re aiming to integrate all of India’s land records database onto a single platform uniformly.

What opportunities is the DILRMP initiative opening for different stakeholders?

The Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India, has envisaged the Digital India Land Records Programme (DILRMP) as a significant system and reform endeavor for India’s land administration and governance. The program was revamped as part of the “Digital India” flagship initiative by the Government of India, to capitalize on the similarities found in the field of land records across States/UTs for state-specific yet comprehensive solutions.

The major components of DILRMP include:

  • Computerization of land records
  • Digitization of Cadastral Maps/ FMBs and their linkage with RoR
  • Computerization of registration
  • Survey/resurvey and updating of the survey and settlement records
  • Modern record rooms and/or land management centers at the Tehsil level
  • Training & capacity building, IEC, and Evaluation Studies
  • Consent-based Linkage of Aadhaar with Record of Rights
  • Computerization of Revenue Courts

Further, Department has also taken several innovative initiatives to empower citizens, facilitate ease of living for the people, and Ease of Doing Business for the prospectors.  These initiatives inter alia include:

(i) Integrated Land Information Management System (ILIMS) to integrate the information related to land including linkage with banks to facilitate credit facilities to land owners.

(ii) E-Registration or the National Generic Document Registration System (NGDRS) that provides an option to the prospectors to submit documents online for registration and take online appointment which ultimately results in reducing the compliance burden on account of reduced time, cost, processes, and physical visits, etc, apart from taking benefit and advantage of other inbuilt modules in the system.

(iii) Similarly, Bhu-Aadhar or Unique Land Parcel Identification Number (ULPIN) was conceptualized and is now being adopted by 24  States /UTs.  In this system, a 14-digit – Alpha-numeric unique ID is assigned a land parcel based on the vertices of the coordinate of the land parcel.  The system is of International Standards and meets Electronic Commerce Code Management Association (ECCMA) and Open Geo-Spatial Consortium (OGC) standards.

(iv) Another initiative of the Department in the pipeline is to facilitate States /UTs to have land records in all 22 languages mentioned in the Constitution of India to remove the linguistic barrier. This is being done in association with C-DAC and pilot field tests are underway in 8 States/ UT and ready to be rolled out now; and

(v) Inter-linking of the e-Court System of the Civil Courts with land record database and registration has also taken off in collaboration with the Department of Justice, e-Court Committee of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, State Governments, and NIC.

Remote sensing, satellite imagery, surveying and mapping, positioning technology, hybrid aerial photography with ground truthing, and GIS are all used in the DILRMP. The result is precise, up-to-date data, which will play a significant role in reducing land conflicts, increasing accountability and transparency in land governance, improving survey and resurvey accuracy, saving cost and time, and streamlining workflows.

To sum up, it may be concluded that all the activities of the Department under the broad aegis of DILRMP are directed towards Aatmanirbhar Bharat through enhancing Citizen- centric activities and empowerment, transparency, creating engagement and awareness, making information available online on a real-time basis, ease of living of the people, and Ease of Doing Business for the entrepreneurs.

Several stages of the DILRMP have already been completed in various States and Union Territories. Looking at these completed projects, what are the major implementation challenges remaining to be addressed from a technological perspective?

One must accept the complexity of the situation in the country when it comes to land records, registries, and revenue administration. The complete picture has to be studied, including related technicalities, current institutional arrangements, potential policy outcomes, and—most crucially—stakeholder responsibility.

Since DILRMP involves a lot of technicalities, particularly in survey/resurvey and numerous stakeholders, it has already been challenging to effectively translate execution plans into concrete ground operations. The multi-pronged DILRMP implementation requires the timely addition of critical resources, such as the people or material resources crucial to the execution.

Given that India is home to 1.4 billion people, this is the world’s largest modernization and digitization of land records program and government effort. Despite the mammoth challenges, the Central Government through DILRMP and the active support of States/ UTs have already produced almost 12 million digitized cadastral maps and about 310 million records of rights.

Currently, an attempt is to have geo-coordinates of each land parcel. For India, the geo-referencing of the land parcel and assigning Bhu-Aaadhar or ULPIN will be a game-changer not only in land administration but also a mega solution in governance itself. The whole government approach and these initiatives will ensure minimum Government and maximum Governance.

How are interconnectivity and transparent data sharing between grassroots functionaries being ensured through the Integrated Land Information Management System (ILIMS) and the National Generic Document Registration System (NGDRS)?

The National Generic Document Registration System (NGDRS) or E-Registration was introduced as a pilot initiative under the DILRMP to have a uniform registration system and property management in the country and to promote ease of doing business in the country. Under this system, property registration services are being made accessible online throughout the nation.

The E-Registration through the NGDRS system has helped to streamline the entire process, from stamp duty payment to online appointment scheduling at the sub-registrar office. For all types of transactions, including the sale, purchase, and transfer of land, other deeds, and documents, the NGDRS represents a significant transition from the current manual registration system to an online system.

The approach is also encouraging offices located in remote locations to adopt technology, digitize documents, and reduce manual involvement to decrease inaccuracies in land records.

People will directly benefit from the NGDRS through a reduction in land and property disputes, check on fraudulent transactions, SMS and email-enabled alerts related to property transactions, and external system integrations like e-Sign, e-KYC, PAN verification, payment gateways, and so on.

Thanks to its interoperability, the NGDRS is also instrumental in the creation of an Integrated Land Information Management System (ILIMS). The ILIMS project intends to improve real-time land information, optimize resources, and support policy and planning. Information on land parcel ownership, land usage, taxation, geographic boundary, property valuation, encumbrances, etc. is all included in the ILIMS. State-specific needs may also be added to the ILIMS by various States if they see fit and as long as they are relevant.

How is the Unique Land Parcel Identification Number (ULPIN) bringing standardization to land statistics and accounting in the country?

The main goal of the ULPIN or Bhu-Aadhar project is to create a unique ID for each land parcel and update current land records based on the mirror concept, where cadastral records reflect the ground reality. The 14-digit Unique Land Parcel Identification Number (ULPIN), which is based on the geo-reference coordinates of vertices of an international standard and complies with ECCMA and OGC standards is a unique ID for each land parcel.

ULPIN is referred to as the ” Aadhaar for land” or “Bhu-Aaadhar” since it can be used to instantly identify each parcel of property that has been surveyed. The direct benefits include stopping land fraud, particularly in rural India’s hinterlands where land records are out-of-date and sometimes challenged. Citizens can instantly access historical land records through a small window. Such standardization will also simplify the process of buying land.

It is easier to ensure the uniqueness of land-related transactions and land records and link property transactions digitally. Besides, communication over land titles has become simpler between ministries, investment companies, and all users. Once a parcel of land acquires its ULPIN, officials have access to the information pertaining to it, allowing them to obtain correct data for planning, development, and citizen services.

Put simply, the ULPIN is bringing effective integration and interoperability across departments through standardization at the data and application level.

Would you please throw some light on the MATRIBHOOMI portal? How it can be used as a solution for mega-governance?

The MATRIBHOOMI portal will act as a single repository for all cadastral maps and land parcel data as well as a single reliable source for the cadastral base layer. It is envisaged to offer citizen-centric services as part of an Integrated National Geo-portal of India for Governance.

For all cadastral maps gathered via APIs and stored by various States in their own data centers, the portal will also serve as a National Archive and Atlas of Land Records. State-level data can be updated on a real-time basis on the portal with information on ownership changes, court orders, sales and purchases, and inheritances via means of APIs, this portal will be the mirror of databases of land records that are available in various States/UTs. From the geo-portal, the base layer can be utilized for overlaying, integrating, or providing as a service in other applications for value-added services to various Ministries/ Departments/ State Governments/ UT Governments/ other stakeholders. This is set to transform land administration in the country on the concept of the whole of the Government approach and principles of “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance”.

In your opinion, what are the key pillars of efficient and effective land information management in India? What should be the contribution of Government and industry respectively to this vision?

Efficient and effective land information management in India is the key to sustainable development and harnessing the potential of the economy for the government and all sectors and stakeholders including the individual owner of the land. Likewise, it is the backbone for targeted citizen services for the inhabitants, making it very critical to evaluate what we need to do right.

A digital ecosystem will boost scalability, inclusivity, community involvement and citizen engagement, reliability, correctness, and updates while retaining cost and time effectiveness. For this, we need decision-makers, business owners, researchers, and field personnel to collaborate over a single, stable ecosystem, that can be continuously improved upon making the citizens self-reliant.

I believe we have already come a long way in creating that, with the DILRMP and its sub-initiatives. Today, both inside and outside of government, we recognize that technology is essential to good governance, as are the innovations it supports. Since the GoI has already delivered the Geospatial Guidelines, I hope that academia, industry, and other stakeholders will work together to popularize and further innovate on the technology.

The Government and industry must collaborate for on-ground implementation of surveys/resurveys and planned augmentation of infrastructure like the CORS network for better, faster outcomes. Stakeholders at different levels, including the Centre, State, and private organizations, need to be trained in Geospatial technology capabilities. Again, the industry and industry bodies working in the geospatial field have a key role to play here.

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