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News & opinion

12 APR 2018

Why India needs to adopt international land measurement standards

Land is a controversial subject in India, especially land ownership. It is very easy to challenge land ownership in India’s courts, which has resulted in many lengthy disputes. According to Niti Aayog, from the National Institution for Transforming India, land disputes in India currently take, on average, twenty years to resolve, and that's simply too long.

India does not have a system to provide conclusive land titles or maintain land records. In India, land ownership is established through a registered sale deed, property tax receipts and survey documents. What is of significance here is that registration of land in India refers to registration of the land transaction and not the land title itself. The registration is only a record of the transfer of property and does not offer government guarantee of land ownership.

Poor maintenance

Land records in the country tend to be poorly maintained. A typical land record would include a property map, sale deed etc and it is maintained across different departments at the district or village level. Data across departments is never updated and the departments work in silos. While the Government of India launched the Digital Land Records Modernization Programme in 2008 to modernise management of land records and lower the rate of land related disputes, the pace of its implementation has been rather slow.

It is perhaps time for India to look at adopting globally recognised standards, such as International Land Measurement Standards (ILMS), which standardise land tenure and ownership rights. Land tenure and ownership is a challenge in all developing economies and not just India. According to the World Bank, 70% of land and property in the developing world is unregistered and is outside formal markets, while in Africa 90% of residential and commercial property is without title and land and property transactions are listed high on the global corruption index. This means that the legitimate owners "rights" over that land are not recognised in a formal system of land administration.

Corruption and ownership

Transparency International, a global civil society organisation fighting against corruption, has highlighted the fact that land transfer offers scope for corruption. An opaque land administration system can lead to corruption, which is evident in many developing countries. A study in India estimates that US$700 million of bribes are paid annually by users of the country’s land administration services. Transparency in land record is important to ensure fair allocation of land and to protect land tenure rights. Lack of transparency can result in land disputes and sometimes even social unrest.

Not surprisingly, the issue of land governance figures prominently in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015 and within the New Urban Agenda global initiative. The first of these SDG goals includes an ambitious target for all men and women to have equal rights to ownership and control over land and other forms of property by 2030.

If land tenure and value is not formally recorded or known, land and property can be misappropriated:

  • personal economic opportunities are restricted
  • land acquisition for infrastructure development is impeded by disputes and unfair compensation
  • would-be investors face significant financial, legal and reputational risks
  • governments cannot raise money through property taxation.

Ensuring transparency and fairness

While ILMS is one part of a global solution to standardising land tenure and ownership, it could be the key to helping India move to a transparent, fair and secure land transfer system. It will set a standard for classifying, defining, measuring, analysing, presenting and reporting land information, which can be applied at regional, state, national or international level. In practice, ILMS can be adopted by governments putting in place functioning LIS (Land Information Search) or on a transaction driven basis.

RICS is among a coalition of over 30 not-for-profit organisations working to bring about consistency in land and property transaction reporting standards worldwide. The ILMS Coalition works with other important land initiatives, such as the Open Geospatial Consortium working group on land administration, the UN-Habitat Global Land Tool Network initiative on the valuation of informal land and settlements, the USAID-Thomson Reuters 'Land Matters' initiative and the UK Department for International Development’s project Land: Enhancing Governance for Economic Development.

Read more: International Land Measurement Standard to bring security of tenure to millions

The final ILMS standard will be presented at our third annual World Built Environment Forum Summit (WBEF) to be held on 23-24 April 2018 in London, followed by a full launch at the FIG Congress in Istanbul in May.