The digitisation of land records is expected to be completed in two major provinces — Punjab and Sindh — during this calendar year. This would make documentation transparent and instantly accessible to the public.
And to quote experts, digitilisation is poised to radically change the country’s economic matrix. Apart from enabling a more effective public planning, a secure private land ownership will generate tangible collateral to support a flurry of market activity.
Contrary to general impression, Sindh was discovered to be ahead of other provinces in terms of technology and coverage. Land records in the province have already been scanned and about 95pc of it has been punched into the computer in a centralised programme.
The collected data, a source in the Sindh government confirmed, has been passed on to the district administrations for physical verification. The records have been made accessible to the public from the service centre in Hyderabad, and the facility will be extended to Karachi and Sukkur by March.
Unlike other provinces, Sindh self-financed the extensive exercise and developed dedicated apps for the purpose. The records are said to be in Sindhi for better accessibility to a majority of people in the province.
Punjab, which had started the exercise much earlier, is following close and is also reported to have covered nearly 95pc of the task. In a press report, it declared that it will complete the project by November. The cost of project in the biggest province is being shared by multilateral donors.
Experts see far-reaching sociological gains from the exercise, as it would loosen the stranglehold of the tapedar-patwari-mukhtiarkar-big landowner-power nexus that is believed to have kept the rural land market hostage.
Transparent demarcation of land will curtail land disputes and pave way for investment in corporate farming and boost productivity in the labour-intensive rural economy, improve livelihoods and reduce rural-urban migration. The urban investor may quickly reap the dividends of clear, verifiable land titles, and the availability of bankable property documents will enhance accessibility of bank credit.
Experts see far-reaching sociological gains from the exercise, as it would loosen the stranglehold of the tapedar-patwari-mukhtiarkar-big landowner-power nexus that is believed to have kept the rural land market hostage
The scope of real estate investment tools in the capital market is expected to widen. Analysts say the property transactions will be formalised, pushing the share of real estate in GDP to 5pc per annum over the next five years, from the current 0.5pc. The gain in GDP growth, as activity in the sector picks up pace, may increase as much as 1-1.5pc per annum. In other emerging economies like Thailand, Philippines and Indonesia, real estate makes up 10-15pc of GDP.
When contacted, all stakeholders, landlords, agriculturists, real estate developers, businessmen, bankers and officials spoke the same language, with varied degrees of clarity on the subject. Many were not aware of the progress made, but supported the idea that it would curtail corruption, reduce land disputes, improve the coverage of bank credit and modernise the economy.
Shaukat Tarin, a former finance minister, was pleasantly surprised, particularly by the progress Sindh has made in digitising its land records. “This will change the economic landscape of Pakistan. The implementation of the Land Administration and Revenue Management Information System (LARMIS) will initiate the process of change, with huge economic dividends for businesses and citizens,” he said when reached over telephone in Dubai.
In KP, the land record computerisation project was launched last year, and a pilot project has digitised the records of Mardan district. After an assessment of its outcome and addressing the identified weaknesses, the province plans to replicate it in other districts.
But owing to security and administrative challenges, it is expected to be completed by the end of the PTI government’s current tenure. A newspaper report said seven districts, including Abbotabad, Banu and Peshawar, have been covered, but this was not confirmed by the relevant department.
In Balochistan, however, the exercise is yet to be initiated, despite the 2011 decision of the Supreme Court directing all provinces to digitise their land records
Shahram Khan Tarkai, KP’s senior minister for health and IT, sounded excited over the project of computerisation of land records in his province. “There are challenges, but we are committed to stem all sources of corruption and conflicts. The availability of transparent property documents will promote harmony and move us towards our target of a corruption-free KP,” he told Dawn from Peshawar.
Mukesh Kumar Chawala, Sindh’s IT minister, was not aware of developments in the province in this regard.
He regretted that many ministries and departments bypass his ministry regarding technology-related initiatives.
“I have been assured that a directive from the CM House will soon mandate all ministries to route their IT projects through this ministry,” he said.
Dr Muhammad Anjum Ali Buttar, DG Agriculture Extension and Adaptive Research in Punjab, said “to universalise the benefit of digitisation, awareness in the rural community is crucial. The availability of information is great, but people need to know how to leverage this information to promote their well-being”.
“The patwari, though a public servant, has acted as an willing agent of big land owners. The computerisation of land data will dent the power structure in rural Pakistan, which has been tilted against the tillers of the land,” he said.
Zulfiqar Ali Shah — the Sindh Board of Revenue officer who headed the team that computerised land records in a record time of two and a half years — was all excited.
“Imagination is the limit on what you can do with the pool of information that is available. By June, we hope to make this programme accessible from all districts in Sindh. We are using the GIS technology. Karachi is the first division where we have completed a GPS-based survey,” he informed on telephone.
Chaudhry Muhammad Saeed, a former FPCCI president, was all praise for the initiative, which expected would ease the business environment.
Dr Abdul Majeed Nizamani, chairman of the Sindh Abadgar Board, also supported the initiative, which, he felt, would help modernise agriculture. He was not aware of the progress made in the digitisation initiative, but wanted the government to give representation to the farming community in the policymaking forums.
Sayem Ali, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank, said “the digitisation of land records will unlock huge potential, which will increase the scope of the country’s banking business”.
Published in Dawn, Economic & Business, January 19th , 2015