The delay in digitising the country's manually-managed deed registration system is raising questions about the objective of the government to make the system corruption-free. The present system is age-old, very slow and cumbersome. It continues to breed scopes for bribery and graft at every level.
The digitisation project for land registration was taken up to make the citizens free from hassles and harassment by removing irregularities in the registration process as well as modernising and simplifying the service delivery system.
Digitisation of the system is most crucial for the country for the fact that land registration is the government's second largest revenue source after the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
In most countries, people get all land-related services, including that for land records and registrations, from a single office. But in Bangladesh, three offices provide the services, causing hassles to people. The present method of land recording in land management and registration offices follows the age-old system of hand-written documents.
These land record and registration offices are filled with tattered and handwritten paper documents and registers. Many of those being almost 100-year old are damaged either due to humidity or half-eaten by booklice, wood worms, termites, mice and cockroaches. The absence of an updated database is the major reason behind land disputes. A central database is needed for having a comprehensive link to all land-related organisations under a single network.
In fact, the government undertook a plan to resolve the problems of land management through digital system. To this end, three projects were taken. These are: Strengthening governance management project (Component- B: Digital Land Management System), Digital land record, survey and maintenance project, and National land zoning project.
As part of digitising the country's land management, some 6.5 million bhumi khatians (records of land rights) were scanned and indexed into a computerised system. Under the Digital Land Management project that ended recently, the scanning and indexing of 18,500 map-sheets have also been completed.
But the digitisation of the land registration has hit snags. Though unbelievable, it's true that the work on the project is moving at a snail's pace. A local consortium of three IT (information technology) firms, according to reports, was awarded the responsibility of developing software which is the major task of the project for automation. The software was developed in time. Yet for unknown reasons, the government abandoned its software use. No explanation was given so far to this effect.
What is surprising is that even though the hardware required for using the software was readily available, it was purchased, and the government halted the entire process by inviting fresh tender for the project. Reports say the law and justice ministry is now evaluating the proposals of the tender bidders.
Although the authorities are saying that efforts are being taken to revive the project, but the reality is that everybody doubts the earnestness of the public service provider to ensure transparency in land registration process. As such, the sufferings of the service recipients continue to mount.
The Inspector General of Registration (IGR) does not know the actual status of the project, according to reports. He could only say that the concerned ministry was dealing with the matter. However, he appears confident that the land registration system would be digitised and that it will be done soon.
The government was supposed to provide the required funds for complete implementation of the project. Initially, the Directorate General of Registration (DGR) started implementing it with its own funds. It did it reportedly to get the required government funds before replication of the system across the country. But the required fund, amounting to around Tk 2.0 billion, was also given by the government, though after repeated requests.
Allegations have it that a vested quarter in the service providing chain is behind the delay in land registration digitisation. Fear of losing extra earnings and jobs by a section of people, involved with the century-old land registration system, is attributed to be the reason behind the delay.
Many say fund shortage should not be a problem to implement the process of digitisation for a public-entity like DGR, which collects billions of taka as revenue every year. The total cost of the project covering the whole country is around Tk 1.93 billion. Such amount of money could be mobilised with DGR's earnings of just a few days.
There is no denying the fact that the land registration offices across the country are the most corruption-ridden service delivery points. This should not be allowed continue for long for the welfare of the country.
The delay in launching a full-fledged IT-based land registration system will continue to promote bribery, other forms of corruption and harassment of the service recipients. Successful implementation of the project will reduce the scopes of unethical practices in land registration to a great extent.
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