ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Policy Shifts in Land Records Management

The National Land Records Modernisation Programme’s objectives cannot be understood in isolation from the broader policies of economic and governance reform. The shifts in the policy objectives of computerisation and updating of land records must be seen in the light of the “rightward drift in Indian politics” of the Indian state and its virtual abandonment of the state-led land reform measures. The possibility of radical land reforms appears remote as the policy objective is to provide secure land title and property rights for facilitating the growth of the land market.

The author sincerely thanks Niraja Gopal Jayal and the EPW editorial team for their helpful comments on the article. Views are personal.

Contrary to the popular belief that land records maintained during the colonial period are a reliable means to understanding agrarian relations in India, Dietmar Rothermund argues that such records were conspicuous by their absence. The Record of Rights (RoRs) were never correctly set out and were meant to accommodate the wealthy and powerful sections in Indian society (Rothermund 1969: 364-65). Land rights were recorded only with an eye on the collection of land revenue and the security of land titles was purely incidental in nature. The revenue records were not treated as records of title. The convenience of maintaining the RoRs for their presumptive rather than conclusive value was apparent to the British authorities. The courts established by them relied thus on oral evidence rather than on records of presumptive value. The presumptive records could be adapted to dealing with exceptional cases. The presumptive value of the records could also be left to the courts to decide when it came to conclusive proofs through other evidence (ibid: 452).

An attempt is made here to analyse the policy of land records management of the Indian state with reference to the shifts in the policy objectives of computerisation or modernisation of land records in the context of the changing political economy. The most important common feature of land records in India is their presumptive nature which means that entries in the RoRs are presumed to be correct unless the contrary is proved. According to the One-Man Committee on Record of Rights in Land (1989) in many parts of the country, the land records exist in the name of a person(s) who is no more or the land has been transferred without quick consequential mutation in the record. The records of rights in India continue to be presumptive and fiscal in nature as long as the owner of the piece of land continues to pay land revenue. He or she is presumed to be the proprietor or prima facie title holder of the land until the contrary is proved. This means that the entries made in the record of rights are not final and are open to challenge in a court of law. The state or government or its officials are not liable against any claim for an entry made in any record or register that is maintained by government or to have any entry omitted or amended or added due to presumptive nature of land records (Wadhwa 2002: 4702).

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