Digitisation is a process that has touched and transformed every industry. As we find ourselves sliding into the fourth phase of the industrial revolution that deploys digital technology to change our way of life – from transport, to health and education – digitisation is also transforming the real estate sector, in terms of construction, asset management, marketing and sales, as well as the dawn of ‘smart homes’ and a professional working environment. According to India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), the Indian real estate market is expected to touch USD 180 billion by 2020. The housing sector alone contributes five to six per cent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Technology is likely to further accelerate the growth rate in real estate, in the years to come. As land is a precious commodity in real estate, accounting for a major component of the cost of any transaction, it is worthwhile to note that until recently, only a few countries boasted of having an electronic public register of real estate.
Many states in the country have not yet digitised the basic survey documents, sketches, maps, etc. In the past, most of the land records in the country were through village maps, marking boundaries and/or paper records, which included the names of the occupants. Moreover, various types of information like property maps and sale deeds, are maintained by different departments at the village level. These departments work alone and their personnel lack training on digital access. Due to the lack of maintenance of streamlined land records, there have been litigations, scams and property disputes over land ownership. A digital department, hence, has to be set up, for better maintenance of land records. Alternatively, the process can be outsourced to various companies, which will assist in maintenance.
States can also consult and take feedback from developers on the main topics of sourcing, tracking and executing various land records. Digitisation of land records, will lead to transparency and reduce the time taken to procure documents.
Digitisation of land records: The progress so far
Making land records available to all, to contain/check property frauds, became one of the objectives of the government of India in the late 1980s. To address the same, the Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP) was launched by the government of India in August 2008. The main aim of the programme, was to computerise all land records, including mutations, improve transparency in the land record maintenance system, digitise maps and surveys, update all settlement records and minimise the scope of land disputes. Digitisation would provide clear titles of land ownership that could be monitored easily by government officials, to facilitate quicker transactions. This will also reduce construction timelines and the overall cost for the developer, the benefits of which can be transferred to the consumer, making property prices more attractive.
Karnataka was the first state in India to computerise land records, under the ‘Bhoomi Project’, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. By the year 2007, the three states had computerised their village property records. In a move to protect property owner’s rights, the Karnataka government also introduced property cards, authenticating the ownership details, area and location of each property, apart from mapping it. However, many states still do not have the means to survey land. Some lands have not been surveyed for more than 100 years. Although the government wants complete digitisation of land records, due to the lack of clear and sufficient data and mismanagement between the various agencies handling land records, the data registered at various government levels is not identical. Statistics from the DILRMP show that in most states, the digital land record database has not been synced with the digitised land registration database.
The importance of having a clear title to a property
Registered sale deeds and property tax receipts, are primarily used for financial purposes by the authorities. These documents are not a government guaranteed title to the property. Consequently, registered property title documents should be provided by the government, as evidence of ownership. This will also encourage faster transactions and completion of projects in the real estate industry. Development of infrastructure to support national growth, will also require litigation-free land for commercial and residential use.
Unclear land titles, accompanying costs due to title disputes and litigation and lack of transparency in real estate transactions, make the real estate market seem sluggish, while clear land titles will help in accelerating the pace of new projects. The government, hence, should ensure that the existing land records are consolidated and should be free of encumbrances. If land disputes have to be solved, then, digitisation of land records, vis-à-vis site plans, location, ownership details, khata details, property tax and other cesses payable on the property, is very important.
Advantages of digitisation
Digitisation of land and property records, will also directly boost the government’s Digital India mission. A complete computerised compilation of land data, starting from the original owner to the present status of land, including an image of the property and the landowner for identification purposes, will reveal the total area of land owned by a person. A fresh survey of every parcel of land at regular intervals, should be undertaken, to update the records. This will also help, in avoiding confusion between government land and private land. Transparency through digitisation, will make it difficult for the general public to evade property tax.
Digitisation can speed up the process of land acquisition, thereby, making it easier for the government to work on its Smart Cities mission or plan industrialisation. For home buyers, digitisation will offer the correct details of the owner of a particular property. The buyer can also check if the land is under litigation. If a buyer wants to buy a property from a developer, he or she can check if the building has adhered to all the regulations. Similarly, digitisation will help the buyer to check for transparent market-based pricing, before buying a plot of land.
Benefits of digitisation in real estate
- Transparent land record management.
- A single window to handle land records, including maintenance and updation of maps, survey and registration of properties.
- Easier online approvals of plans and occupancy certificates.
- Clarity over ownership status.
- Greater ease of doing business in the sector, by making it simpler for the developers and buyers to check the authenticity of the land or the property.
(The writer is managing director, Century Real Estate)