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ON June 30, the Supreme Court of Pakistan directed all the provinces to computerise land revenue records within three months but Khyber Pakhtunkhwa does not agree that this was a panacea to end corruption and irregularities.

And Sindh is of the view that apart from computerisation, some latest techniques should also be adopted to protect the records. In Pakistan, the system of maintaining land records, assessment and collection of land revenue continues to be outdated, distorted and obsolete.

A three-member bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is hearing a suo motu case regarding corruption in the provincial revenue departments.

Now politicians have also started raising voice for protection of land records. While addressing a rally in Karachi on December 25, 2011, Imran Khan had said solutions to the complex socio-economic and political issues were simple steps like computerising the land records because a computer does not accept bribe. Transparency International Pakistan (TIP) has requested all the political parties to promise transparency and good governance measures and computerisation of land records within a year.

The Supreme Court says that cases of corruption had been increasing due to irregularities in land records and is of the view that computerisation of these records would reduce the litigation regarding land disputes. The chief justice suggested that the computerisation work should be started from the areas under the hold of feudals and landlords.

During the last hearing, the Punjab and Sindh governments were directed to provide technical assistance to Balochistan and Khyber Pukhtunkhwa governments for carrying out this work.

In Punjab, the court was informed by a senior government official, that computerisation centres have started work in 12 districts of the province and the work in the remaining districts would begin in two months. Director, Land Record Management Information System Muhammad Usman told a seminar recently that the land revenue department will complete the process of computerisation by 2014. Shahbaz Sharif is of the view that the computerisation of land records would not only facilitate the people in obtaining revenue records, but they would also get rid of the patwari culture and corruption.

Similarly, the Sindh Revenue Board plans to start computerisation work in the next three months. The work has already been initiated in the form of central database being connected with 27 facilitation centres and integrated with digital mapping system.

The target date for completion is December 2012. But apart from computerisation, the measures being adopted to protect, preserve and secure the record of all lands also include lamination, plastic coating, film-making and efforts are being made to enable every owner to have access to his/her record.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister Mohammad Shuja Khan, who took over revenue portfolio recently, told the provincial assembly on June 19 that mere computerisation of the land record was not enough to contain the dirty role of ‘patwari’ because what revenue department experienced in Mardan district was depressing. The litigation cases registered an increase in that district after computerisation of the record.

Meanwhile, 70 per cent land record in Peshawar has been computerised and the work was being extended to another 17 districts.

However, the minister was at a loss to suggest alternate measures for curtailing powers of the patwaris. “We have two options, either to replicate Indian Punjab system or copy Australian model,” he told legislators.

But he favoured the Indian Punjab model and said a plan was under consideration to introduce it. Under this scheme, lands are allotted on a passbook. The buyers and sellers of land would have to register the transfer of land by using their passbooks and revenue officers could not intervene.

In Pakistan, the system of maintaining land records is under total control of the notorious figure of patwari, a term widely used in Pakistan and India for a land record officer of lower rank posted in ‘Tehsil’ and responsible for assessing and collecting agricultural revenue, recording inheritance, sale and transfer of land, and maintaining all land records in its area of jurisdiction.

The Patwari system was first introduced during the rule of Sher Shah Suri and it was further reinforced by Emperor Akbar. The British, during their colonial rule, made minor amendments to the system and continued to practise it. The Patwari wields effective power and influence with even feudal lords seeking his favour. There have been cases of corrupt Patwaris escaping punishment due to their position and political connections.

A patwari has three chief duties: maintenance of record of the crop grown at every harvest; keeping of the record of rights up to date by the punctual record of mutations; an account of preparation of statistical returns embodying information derived from the harvest inspections, register of mutation and record of rights.

A 2010 report of the International Crisis Group titled “Reforming Pakistan’s Civil Service” holds provincial revenue departments responsible for lack of effective checks on the patwari, and observes that the departments generally “lack both the will and the resources to hold the patwari accountable.” It says, “the revenue departments themselves are corrupt to the core”. In fact, the patwari is considered the main culprit for the failure of 1973 land reforms. In most cases, at the behest of landowners, he never informed tenants that reforms had taken place and that their status has changed. And the peasants continued to work on their fields as before, without knowing they had become the owners of their farms.

Tempering with land records is also rampant in Bangladesh. Of the various sectors that are affected by corruption, the Land Management System is among the worst. Corruption has been highlighted as the main reason behind slow, poor quality and faulty land related services in the country.

Those responsible for creating and maintaining land records often prepare incorrect records intentionally, and land owners are forced to pay bribes to get the records approved.

There are numerous cases where people have paid bribes to officials and surveyors and got land ownership transferred illegally in their names, leaving the real owners running from pillar to post to get justice. In 2006 alone, bribes worth about 83 billion Bangladeshi taka were paid for land related services such as registration and altering of records.