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Pakistan digitizes over 55m landowners’ record

The provincial government of Punjab has digitized more than 55 million landowners’ records in an effort to make them less dispersed and improve service delivery. (AN photo)
RAWALPINDI: The provincial government of Punjab has digitized more than 55 million landowners’ records in an effort to make them less dispersed and improve service delivery.
All rural land-title information is now available online. The Punjab Land Records Management and Information Systems project scanned 10 million pages of old records within five years to expedite transfer of land ownership and issuance of a fard (an official document showing details of land ownership), as well as to enhance transparency in land administration.
The Punjab government says the computerization of land records has helped ensure the rights of women and small farmers who were often cheated in the old, inefficient, paper-based administration system.
Under the old system, information could easily be lost because the patwari — the village accountant responsible for land records — used to demark land titles on a sheet of cloth without any proper backup.
There are 56.6 million landowners spread over a vast area of 200,000 sq km in the province, and 98 percent of them can now access their land record data online.
“The system is revolutionary,” said Fazal Sher, a farmer in Rawalpindi district. “I got my ancestral land ownership transferred to my three sons and two daughters in just an hour.”
Sher said it is hassle-free, and he would not have to bribe the patwari to get the land ownership transferred to his children.
Prior to the project, it would take up to two months to complete a land transaction in Punjab. But now residents can receive a digitally recorded, legally registered land title from one of the 150 new land record offices across all 30 districts of the province.
Ali Raza Buttar, assistant director at the Punjab Land Records Authority, told Arab News that some 4 million landowners have benefitted from the computerized system in the last 10 months.
Giving a monthly breakdown, he said more than 70,000 cases of land ownership transfer are processed, and around 180,000 fards or ownership certificates are issued.
Buttar said the digital system has helped the government generate more than $6.65 million per month from fees collected for transfer of land ownership and issuance of fards.
The use of a biometric system has put an end to the fake registration and transfer of land ownership, besides ensuring land rights for women and small farmers, he added.
The government plans to expand digital land record management to its urban areas, and to prepare digital maps for accurate land demarcation and online crop inspection in the province.
According to the World Bank, only three out of 10 people have a legally registered title to their land.
Muhammad Siddique Awan, an advocate High Court and land rights activist, said the computerized records system is expected to reduce land dispute litigation clogging the courts, besides ensuring transparency in the land administration system.
But he said it will make hardly any difference to ensuring land rights for women, especially in getting their share of inheritance, because this requires specific legislation that the government has not done so far.
“The government should ban women’s right to surrender their land share in inheritance to brothers and male family members through legislation,” he told Arab News.
Officials at the Punjab Land Records Authority say there have been more than 6 million mistakes in the digitized land records, inconveniencing thousands of landowners across the province.
“I had to pay 10,000 Pakistani rupees ($95) to officials at the authority as a bribe to get my father’s and my name rectified and fix some mistakes in the record,” landowner Ghulam Mustafa told Arab News.
He also complained that first farmers only had to bribe patwaris, but now they have to do the same for computer operators too.
Official figures suggest that since January this year, authorities have dismissed around 40 officials on corruption charges.
Buttar said an intelligence and vigilance wing is being set up in the authority to address corruption complaints and monitor officials.

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