4 years ago

Digital land management on the cards

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The government has approved a Tk 3.37billion project recently in order to prepare a digital database for ensuring a transparent land management system in the country.

Presided over by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) endorsed the land digitisation project. Speaking on the occasion, the Prime Minister stressed the need for bringing the countrywide sub-registrar offices under the digital system to further ease land registration process and thus reduce sufferings of the service-seekers.

Speaking on the occasion, Planning Minister M AMannan said a digital land database will be prepared under the project, and every plot will be characterised by its nature.

Once the project is properly implemented, the number of land-related disputes and other incidents will be reduced significantly along with the decrease in the influence of middlemen, he said.

The Ministry of Land will implement the mouza- and plot-based national digital land-zoning project by June 2024 entirely with the government fund. The project will cover some 56,348 mouzas under 4,562 unions of 493 upazilas in all the 64 districts of the country.

Satellite images will be used for this digital land-zoning, while mouza maps will also be digitalized.

According to the project proposal, it will ensure collection, scanning, digitization, database creation, editing plot checking, geo-referencing mouza map, matching of mouza map, and field checking of some 1,38,412 sheets of maps.

Aimed at eradicating widespread corruption in the land management, another similar project was taken up back in 2012. Work on the project remains halted for more than a year for unknown reasons and afterwards, it was abandoned.

In the earlier event, the software of the project was readied by the land ministry. But hardware could not be installed. The digitisation of the country's land records and registration was about to start. But suddenly, the Inspector General of Registration (IGR) office cancelled the project abruptly.

Such developments had created enough doubt among service recipients and anti-graft activists about transparency of the service provider in the country's manually-managed deed registration system. Delay in the process of ensuring good governance in the land sector will obviously encourage continued bribery, extortion and other forms of corruption in the government's second largest revenue source after the National Board of Revenue (NBR).

On its part, the IGR claimed that they had started implementing the pilot project from 2012 at their own expenses. As they did not get required funds worth Tk 2.0 billion even after repeated requests, they were forced to halt the project work.

However, the IGR office wanted at least one year's time to take final decision on the project. But in reality, the office took several years to accomplish this task. Such wastage of time has prolonged the digitisation of the land management.

In fact, a vested quarter in the service-providing chain, being fearful about losing extra earnings and jobs, is being blamed for the delay. Many feel shortage of funds, as being claimed by the IGR, is just a lame excuse.

The IGR office collects revenue worth about Tk 100 billion every year. The total project covering the whole of Bangladesh costs around Tk 2.0 billion. The required fund can easily be mobilised from its own earnings. It may be mentioned here that the IGR is the second highest revenue earner for the country after the National Board of Revenue (NBR).

Earlier, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) suggested initiation of the project with Tk 0.5 billion IGR fund, which is basically generated through the service charge that the service holders need to pay before receiving the registration service. The MoF also assured paying the remaining funds and released a part of it, to the tune of Tk 100 million in two phases in the 2014-2015 fiscal year. This could easily be used to complete the pilot project. Without doing so, the IGR sent back the funds to the ministry concerned. 

The software has been developed having a major feature of delivering original deeds within a day as people need to wait for several years and spend additional amounts of money to avail the original one. The deed-writers will keep their jobs continuing and the record copiers will scan those before printing those out. A copy of the original deed will instantly be handed over to the owner, another copy will be sent to the office of Assistant Commissioner (AC) of Land automatically while the final one will be stored in the central server.

On the protracted delay in land digitisation, the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) said delays in project implementation are nothing new or unusual, but the way this particular initiative has been subjected to procrastination can give rise to question whether an influential section of relevant officials is genuinely committed to the cause of digitisation of this vital service sector consistent with the government pledge of Digital Bangladesh.

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 follow 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 having a comprehensive link to all land-related organisations under a single network.

At an another meeting held recently, the Prime Minister said the country's land needs to be used judiciously and its management system should be maintained in a planned way considering Bangladesh's geographical area and huge population.

For any kind of development initiative and making investment in the country the matter of land comes first. As such, there is a need for planned use of land and land management, as many local and foreign entrepreneurs are willing to invest in the country nowadays.

However, the 'dilly-dallying' practice of the IGR office on the issue of land digitisation is otherwise raising many questions. Such office can hardly claim to have the capacity to fully utilise the allotted funds during the stipulated time. In fact, there is no time to waste.

In the circumstances, the relevant authorities should not give in to such delaying trick. Rather, it does need to implement the project that has already been done in order to save money and precious time.         

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