By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India will nearly double the budget and extend the deadline for a program to digitize land records as states struggle to survey land and property, large chunks of which have not been mapped in a century, a senior official said.
The national land record modernization program, launched in 2008, was aimed at surveying lands, upgrading records and establishing ownership. Scheduled to be completed in 2016 with a budget of 56 billion rupees ($841 million), the project will now conclude in 2021 at a projected cost of 110 billion rupees.
"It is a long process, as some of these lands have not been surveyed in a long time, some for 30 years, some for 100 years," said K.K. Phull, a consultant with the department of land records in New Delhi.
"Many states lack the means to survey lands, and for nearly all states this has not been a top priority so far, hence the delays," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The process includes mapping of land with aerial surveys, satellite imagery, drones, as well as physical markers. Existing land records are also verified and put online and linked to landowners.
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The program aims to provide clear titles of ownership that should result in government officials being able to monitor land more easily, speedier transactions, fewer disputes over ownership and less corruption in administration, Phull said.
Matters related to land and property make up about two thirds of all civil cases in the country, according to a recent study by Daksh, a legal advocacy group based in Bengaluru.
India has introduced several land laws in the past decade to give more rights to farmers and indigenous people. But the complex web of legislation has not always helped the most vulnerable, with the lack of clear title deeds also a challenge.
One of the main goals of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Digital India campaign launched last year was the digitization of land records.
States including Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh have completed the process to digitize land records, Phull said. Others including Andhra Pradesh, Telengana, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra are scheduled to be done in a few months, he said.
In the western state of Maharashtra, about 270 million documents are being digitized, with surveys under way in several districts, a spokesman for the land records department said.
The move to extend the deadline and increase the budget for the program is awaiting the Cabinet's approval, Phull said.
"Our attitude toward land records is to forget about them until there is a dispute or an emergency," Phull said.
"Digitizing land records can have far-reaching benefits for the country. It is important we complete it on a priority basis," he said.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)