Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Digitization of Old Records is Not Land Reforms: Sethumadhavan


Digitization of Old Records is Not Land Reforms: Sethumadhavan

Sethumadhavan, a retired Revenue Officer and President of Island Forum for Development, Justice and Protection of Environment, A&N Islands' is a stalwart in revenue matters concerning land rules and regulations. Speaking to LOA, he was surprised by the move of the Administration in setting the land records right in a reverse process, which cannot do any justice. "Any survey without recognizing the boundaries will not have any locus standi," he said.

By Zubair Ahmed

Why do you think that the survey process initiated by the Administration to set the records right will not work?
The first settlement in ANI took place in South Andaman Island. But the persons settled here and their successors do not have proper land records. The law of the land insists to prepare fresh land records every 30 years. The land record presently maintained by the revenue department is prepared in the year 1962. Except some cases, the field boundaries that were surveyed and depicted in the records does not agree with that of the ground due to frequent developments such as construction of road, change in the course of nallahs, dispossession etc. There are accumulated mistakes continuing since 1929. What the Administration is doing is just copying the old records and digitizing it. The records are erratic. The new Regulation came into effect in 1966, about 45 years back. So far no survey stones are planted in the field boundaries as per the specifications laid in the regulations. How can it be possible to prepare land records on the basis of physical possession of each tenant?
The Administration needs to first recognize the boundaries of each plot and plant survey stones on each plot as per the provisions laid in the regulations. Simple digitization of old records cannot be called land reforms. Excess land has to be identified and process initiated to regularize it based on merit.

Why is the situation so worse?
I can recount an incident that happened with me. In Mayabunder, apart from Karen Settlement, there are villages where local convict settlements were created. Pokhadera, Danapur and Rampur are the villages where agricultural land was allotted by Forest Department without any survey. Later, when the villages were transferred as Revenue villages, Forest Department transferred the rent records to Revenue Department. In 1960, when a survey was initiated, it was found that most of the tenants had large tracts of excess land under possession. Persons with 5 acres had 10 acres in possession and they were not even aware about it. The issue was raised in the Chief Commissioner's Advisory Committee. In 1966, while preparing new records, an order was passed to regularize the excess land of the Pre-61 settlers.  Cases were prepared and submitted to Deputy Commissioner's office. In a fire accident in DC office, all case files were destroyed. The issue was kept in abeyance.
In 1978, when the issue of land allotment was raised again, Govt of India issued an order that those without land should be allotted upto 1 ha for agricultural purposes, 350 sq mtr for house site in rural area and 200 sq mtr for house site in urban area. However, the cases of Pre-61 cases remained out of the ambit of this order as all of them possessed land. Their cases once again remained pending.
In 1986, I was the Tehsildar in Mayabunder and the there was indirect pressure from all quarters to include the Pre-61 cases with Pre-78 cases. But, it was not possible as it was an illegal act. These cases could not be considered under the guidelines. If an order was issued by Government of India, the issue could have been settled. But, nobody was interested. It could have been taken up under Section 2-12 of the Regulation. However, the Administration did not do it. I did try to open their eyes towards the pathetic situation. The issue is still pending to date. The records of the villagers do not agree with the ground reality.

The Administration had taken up the issue of regularization of excess land of Pre-42 settlers? What do you think about it?
First of all, Pre-42 settlers are not based in Port Blair only. The whole exercise was eyewash. Only seven villages up to Junglighat were taken up and the selected persons were given fresh licenses. The list of cases of regularization made an interesting reading. There were several cases where the area regularized was in single digit. The smallest area was just two square meters.
These cases were pending ever since the land was allotted to the tenants during the last century. During the first survey conducted in 1961 after independence, over a thousand tenants were found to be in occupation of in excess of their allotment. Ever since, the matter was pending regularization though the land of later migrants were regularized without any fuss.
There are so many Pre-42 settlers in the rural villages. Why is Administration not settling the cases?

Do you think, Survey Settlement Wing under the Deputy Commissioner is capable of carrying out this massive exercise?
The Deputy Commissioner handles more than 20 subjects. It is impossible to carry out such a massive exercise by the Deputy Commissioner. What I suggest is to separate the Survey Settlement Wing from DC and place them under a senior IAS officer who is appointed as Settlement Commissioner for the whole Union Territory of ANI from All India Cadre to control and supervise the Revenue Survey Operation so that the fund allocated to Revenue Survey and Settlement will not be misused.
The Survey Settlement Operation is a continuous process and the staff attached to it such as surveyors, head surveyors, Asst Land Record Officers come under the Settlement Wings of the Revenue Administration and mainly for the construction of land records while the other Revenue staff like Patwari, Revenue Inspector etc are only for maintenance of land records supplied to them during the term of settlement.

The Administration has outsourced the survey and digitization of land records to a private firm.
First of all, the body or firm conducting survey should be a quasi-judiciary body. And, when the land records are in contradiction with the ground reality, how are they going to resurvey. As I said earlier, without recognizing the boundaries, if they survey, those boundaries will not be acceptable. Moreover, if they are just copying the old land records and digitizing it, it does not serve any purpose.
It is learnt that the firm has conducted survey and digitization in Rajasthan. The issue is entirely different here. In Rajasthan, the land is owned by the tenants. In our Island territory, land belongs to the Government. In Rajasthan, there is no issue of contradictory records like we have. The whole exercise is futile.

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