By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - India's Rajasthan state is setting up an independent authority to verify and guarantee land titles in its cities, a move seen by experts as speeding up property transactions, freeing up the courts and boosting urbanization in the state.
An authority that will survey, verify and guarantee property titles will be operational shortly, a planning official said.
Its creation comes after the northwestern state passed the Rajasthan Urban Land (Certification of Titles) Bill in April - becoming the first state in the country to do so.
Under the new law, property owners in urban areas that are governed by municipal or state authorities can ask the new certification authority to verify ownership for a nominal fee.
After examining the chain of ownership and checking owners' documents against state records, the authority will issue a guaranteed title, a process expected to reduce litigation.
"There is always a fear when buying a property that there may be problems with the ownership, that the titles aren't clear," said Pradeep Kapoor, a chief town planner for the state.
"The certification makes the title foolproof, and gives a government guarantee to the seller as well as the buyer, which will make transactions faster, fetch a better value for the property and help avoid costly court procedures," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Jaipur, the state capital.
The bill, which may be replicated in other states, will help provide secure tenure in a country where tussles over ownership can delay property deals and lead to lengthy court battles.
Matters related to land and property make up about two-thirds of all civil cases in India, according to a recent study by Bengaluru-based legal advocacy group Daksh.
The legislation is also aimed at bringing some order into India's rapid, largely unplanned urbanization, experts say.
The country's urban population is set to rise by more than 400 million - more than the entire U.S. population - to 814 million by 2050 - a pace that planners struggle to keep up with.
The absence of a guaranteed system of title certification "has impeded economic growth, development, social justice and judicial efficiency", Swati Ramanathan, urban planner and co-founder of social enterprise Jana Group, wrote in a recent blog.
The current titling system is one of "presumed ownership", which neither verifies that the seller - or buyer - is the indisputable owner, nor guarantees that the property is free from disputes or pending court cases, Ramanathan said.
Insecure land rights leave the urban poor particularly vulnerable as they are often unaware of the rights they do have, cannot afford lawyers and live in fear of being evicted.
Clarifying and strengthening land rights could increase India's gross domestic product (GDP) by as much as 476 billion rupees ($7 billion), according to land advocacy group Landesa."Guaranteed title forms the bedrock upon which are built all land-related policies ... Without guaranteed title, it is akin to constructing buildings with no foundation," Ramanathan said.
($1 = 66.837 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Rina Chandran, editing by Jo Griffin. 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 news.trust.org to see more stories.)