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Securing property rights through digitization  

Published: August 30, 2019 22:11:44 | Updated: September 01, 2019 22:06:59


The news that the government has taken up projects of Tk 27.47 billion to digitize land records and services cannot be more comforting to hear. The update was disclosed by the top bureaucrat of the Ministry of Land at a function in Rangpur last Sunday. As claimed, land-related services will be brought to the people's doorsteps in a 'hassle-free manner' after the completion of the projects. As part of the projects, automation of land-related database will be achieved through one initiative, while land-survey will be completed by the other. Besides the government's own funding, the USAID and the UNDP are also there as partners.

In fact, over the last two decades various attempts have been made for e-governance, land digitisation being always in the frame of things. It is only now that a clear-cut picture is evolving; and whatever may have happened to the previous piecemeal initiatives, in terms of results, the latest projects should bring high hopes for fulfilment of a long-held dream. It no doubt brings in a sigh of relief for a vexing problem that came as a legacy of the colonial days. First, it will secure property rights. And then there are economists who taught us that there is a link between more secure property rights and higher economic growth.

The land administration chain is complex, though not remote from people involving divisional commissioners, deputy commissioners, additional deputy commissioners (revenue), revenue deputy collectors, upazila nirbahi officers (UNO), assistant commissioners (Land), kanoongos and union assistant land officers formerly known as tehsildars. The last one is about a 5000-strong force with an equal number of assistants. They oversee grass-root documentation as well as service-provision. Besides them, registrars, under the Ministry of Law, are also in the field. Nevertheless, the laborious and time-intensive records system always prove inefficient and costly. Besides, land-related problems are at the root of most court cases. That again is time-consuming and costly. It has been aptly pointed out that the prevalent system coupled with the predisposition of officials to delay or block the process push people towards informal arrangements. While a typical land transaction costs over a thousand taka and a wait for up to forty-five days, under a digitisation system, the figures would be Tk 80 and fifteen days respectively. There would be, as they say, fewer legal transactions and fewer bribes. Calculations have put the total direct benefit to nearly five hundred million takas annually. One taka spent would bring direct benefit worth three takas. Basing on estimates of property right impacts on GDP growth, experts predict that land digitisation would bring benefits of more than Tk 160 billion over the next 15 years, and possibly more than Tk 1.3 trillion by 2070. This means indirect benefits of Tk 616 for every taka spent over the long range.

One of the funniest of all issues found out by researchers and knowledgeable people is that there is "more land owned than actual land that exists". Any primary school student with simple tools of elementary arithmetic would find it unacceptable. Nonetheless, people have been living with it for years. Digitisation would be a right step in the direction to lay the truth bare. The denigration that has accrued to land administration including that of the registration department is proverbial. Land administration is not bereft of decent and efficient people but as one TIB report found out not many years ago, people's notion about it is indeed low. If digitisation can relieve the burden of this calumny to a large extent, besides securing property rights, that will be worth the money spent.  We wish the projects undertaken for digitisation complete success.

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