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Thursday, November 01, 2018

Rethinking urban land records: A case study of Mumbai

by Gausia Shaikh and Diya Uday.

Introduction

A well functioning market is identified by the ease of doing business. This connotes both the ease in conducting transactions as well as low transaction costs. Ease of doing business in any market is inhibited by the lack of adequate information about the traded good. Land markets are no different.

In fact, they pose unique challenges that contribute to information asymmetry. Firstly, land is not a homogeneous product. Each parcel is unique with a particular set of locational and physical attributes (Catherine Farvacque, 1992). In addition to this, each land parcel also carries with it unique rights and obligations of which a typical buyer has little knowledge. Secondly, in India, land is a State subject under the Constitution. From a governance perspective, it means that the legal and organisational framework pertaining to land is determined by each State. For instance, land records in Maharashtra are maintained under the Maharashtra Land Revenue Code, 1966 while the equivalent legislation in Rajasthan is the Rajasthan Land Revenue Act, 1956. Therefore, the range of information on land parcels maintained by each State is not necessarily uniform.

A purchaser is therefore compelled to bear high transaction costs both in terms of money and time to obtain information about the land parcel. This is done by conducting a due diligence of the title to the land parcel. It involves the painstaking process of first obtaining all relevant records pertaining to a parcel of land from various government departments and then reviewing the information to ascertain the rights and obligations that flow from it. Often these records are missing crucial information that will affect a purchaser's buy decision. Even when information is available, the insufficiency of information related to a land parcel in a consolidated manner is a cause for concern. Buyers therefore tend to rely on information contained in contracts pertaining to the land as a source of information. Further, purchasers also feel the need to publish a notification of their intent to buy the land parcel in local newspapers, for good measure.

In this article, we first set out the various types of cadastres. We then highlight the policy of countries to move away from maintaining fiscal cadastres. We analyse the position in India and highlight the need to move towards multi-purpose cadastres. We support this with a case study on urban cadastres in Mumbai.

The shift away from fiscal cadastres

The contents of cadastres are motivated by the purpose for which they are created. Globally, there are three types of cadastres:

  • Fiscal: These are designed for property tax purposes and contain information like the identification of the land owner(s), value of the land and description of the land parcel.
  • Legal or juridical: These are designed to record ownership, legal interests in land and conveyancing matters.
  • Multi-purpose: Apart from the information mentioned in the fiscal and legal cadastres, these include a wide range of spatial and non-spatial information that support land registration, land markets, socio-economic activities and land use management (Mukarage, 2016).

Historically, in countries governed by feudal agrarian systems such as India, political, economic and social success was largely judged by the extent of land and the effectiveness of revenue collection. Land taxes were an important source of revenue of the State (Powell, 1892). Therefore, the earliest forms of land records or cadastres were fiscal records.

With increased complexity of the land market, countries such as Switzerland have tended to shift from fiscal to multi-purpose cadastres. In fact a cadastre itself is now defined as "A parcel based, and up-to-date land information system containing a record of interests in land (e.g. rights, restrictions and responsibilities). It usually includes a geometric description of land parcels linked to other records describing the nature of the interests, the ownership or control of those interests, and often the value of the parcel and its improvements." (International Federation of Surveyors (FIG)). Simply, this means a multi-purpose cadastre.

In India, land record reform has been central to policy discourse. Centrally Sponsored Schemes such as the Computerisation of Land Records (CLR) & the Strengthening of Revenue Administration and Updating of Land Records (SRA&ULR) were issued as an attempt at curing information asymmetry as a means to maintaining better land records. In 2008, these schemes were modified into the Digital India Land Record Modernisation Programme (DI-LRMP) the three major components of which are (i) computerisation of land record (ii) survey/re-survey and (iii) computerisation of registration.

While these initiatives are steps towards ensuring the accuracy of the information contained in existing records and ease of access to the records, there has been a lack of focus on the adequacy of the information captured in existing records. This could be attributed to the fact that even today, the primary purpose of recording information about land parcels is land revenue collection. In the following section we make a case for moving towards a multi-purpose cadastres. We do this by analysing existing urban records in Mumbai.

A case study of urban cadastres in Mumbai

The cadastral system in Maharashtra consists of two major elements: a Cadastral Map (CM) and a Record of Rights (ROR) linked to each land parcel. There are two types of RORs in Maharashtra: the 7/12 extract, which is used in peri-urban and rural areas and a property rights card (PRC), which is used in urban areas.

For revenue purposes, urban areas in Mumbai are divided into two regions: Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburban regions. Each of these regions consists of multiple divisions. All land parcels in these divisions are identified by survey numbers. Information about the land parcel represented by each survey number is recorded in an urban cadastre or PRC. We conducted a case study of these urban cadastres in Mumbai. We do so with two main objectives. First, to verify if the existing cadastres are in line with the legal framework governing such cadastres. Second, to analyse whether the information being recorded is sufficient to enable a sound buy-sell decision.

Methodology - We first randomly picked five area divisions from each Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburban (sample divisions). This was done from the drop down list of divisions available on the website of the Mumbai City Collectorate (MCC) and the website of the Mumbai Suburban District, respectively. The five divisions we selected from Mumbai City were (i) Colaba, (ii) Byculla, (iii) Girgaon and (iv) Mazgoan (v) Sion. The five divisions selected from Mumbai Suburban were (i) Mulund, (ii) Kurla, (iii) Bandra, (iv) Andheri and (v) Malad.We then selected one of our sample divisions from the drop down list on each of these websites. After this, we entered a random survey number to generate a PRC for a parcel of land. This was repeated thrice for each sample division, in both Mumbai City and Mumbai Suburban in order to access PRCs for three separate land parcels within each sample division. Our total number of observations were therefore 30 PRCs (15 for Mumbai City and 15 for Mumbai Suburban). Our findings are set out below.

Findings - In each case above, we examined the heads of information to be entered in the PRC under the following themes:

  1. Information to be maintained under the Maharashtra Land Revenue (Village, Town and City Survey) Rules, 1969 (Rules) - The Rules set out the fields of information required to be recorded in the PRC. This information can be classified into three main themes. First, property identification which includes details such as the cadastral survey number, location of the property and the name of the division in which the property is situated. Second, assessment information which includes information such as the collector's number, the collector's rent roll number and ground rent due to the government. Third, holder's history which has details of the holders of the property.

    We find that not all the fields of information required to be recorded in the PRC by law are in fact recorded. In addition to not recording this information, the template of a PRC does not even have allocated sections to record this information. A summary of our findings is set out in Table 1. Table 1 sets out our findings on whether PRCs have a provision/place holder to record all information mandated to be recorded under the Rules.

    Table 1: Information to be compulsorily recorded
    S.No. Information to be recorded Whether provision to record (Mumbai City) Whether provision to record (Mumbai Suburban)
    1. Survey number Yes
    Yes
    2. Area Yes
    Yes
    3. Tenure Yes
    Yes
    4. Particulars of assessment or rent paid to the government No
    Yes
    5. Particulars of when the assessment or rent paid to the
    government is due for revision
    No
    Yes
    6. Easements No
    Yes
    7. Holder in origin of the title, so far as traced Yes
    Yes
    8. Other remarks No
    Yes
    9. Date No
    No
    10. Transaction volume number No
    No
    11. New holder Yes
    Yes
    12. Attesting lessee No
    Yes
    13. Encumbrances No
    Yes

  2. Information which would aid a sound buy-sell decision - To ascertain the ideal fields of information which should be recorded to aid an efficient buy-sell decision, we have relied on the definition of a cadastre set out by the FIG, referred to above. We have accordingly classified the information into three broad heads:

    1. Recording of interests in the land: Under this head, the FIG includes recording of rights, responsibilities and restrictions. Under each head we list relevant fields of information in the context of the Indian market. For example there is no provision to record possession rights in the PRC.
    2. Map and description of boundaries: Currently, the boundaries of the parcel are not recorded in the PRC. A person looking at a PRC has no way of knowing where the parcel of land is in fact situated. In modern cadastres, the boundaries are set and described using the latitude and longitude description of the land parcel. Further, in Mumbai, the CM in respect of a parcel of land is not available as part of the PRC. Neither is a copy of the CM available online. In order to obtain a copy at present, a purchaser or parcel holder is required to make a physical application to the Survey and Settlement Department.
    3. Valuation and improvements: Currently, property rates are available in the ready reckoner, which is a government issued booklet on area wise property prices. For the purpose of determining the fair market value of the land, the ready reckoner takes into consideration not only the location of the land but also the buildings on the land. This information is currently not recorded in the PRC. Similarly, the other factors that affect the valuation of the land such as development potential or the floor space index (FSI) available in respect of the parcel of land and its proximity to roads are also not recorded. This information is important as it directly affects the economic value of the land and is likely to affect a decision to transact in a parcel of land.

    In Table 2 we set out a list of desired fields of information and analyse whether or not these are captured in the PRCs for sample divisions.

    Table 2: Information required to aid a sound buy-sell decision
    S.No. Information Whether provision to record (Mumbai City) Whether provision to record (Mumbai Suburban)
    A. Record of interest in the land
    1. Rights
    (i) Ownership Yes
    Yes
    (ii) Possession No
    No
    (iii) Easement No
    Yes
    2. Responsibilities
    (i) Payment of taxes Yes
    Yes
    3. Restrictions
    (i) Charges No
    Yes
    (ii) Disputes No
    No
    (iii) Restrictive covenants No
    No
    B. Maps and boundaries No
    No
    C. Valuation and improvements
    (i) Structures on the land No
    No
    (ii) FSI No
    No
    (iii) Transferable development rights No
    No

Miscellaneous observations

Our case study also revealed several inconsistencies and deficiencies in the information recorded in the PRC. Some of our observations are as follows:

  1. Lack of uniformity: We have observed that the templates of PRCs in Mumbai Suburban and Mumbai City differ. This means that even the fields of information captured in PRCs within Mumbai differ based on where the parcel of land is located. For instance, the PRC of a parcel of land in Mumbai City does not have a provision to record easements on the land whereas the PRC for a parcel of land located in Mumbai Suburban does.
  2. Poor recording: The PRCs in Mumbai Suburban region revealed that, even though there is a provision for recording the information mandated under the Rules, such information was not always recorded under the specific provision. For instance, in 7 out of 15 cases, we observed that easementary rights were not recorded. Similarly in case of encumbrances and attesting lessees we observed that in 6 cases, respectively, this information was not recorded. In fact the PRC of one parcel of land only recorded 2 out of 13 fields of information i.e. survey number and particulars of rent.

    In addition to not having the required fields, the PRCs in Mumbai City did not even record information for the existing fields.
  3. Ambiguity in recorded information: We observed that there is lack of uniformity in the manner in which information is recorded. For instance where there is no information to be recorded in a given field, this is recored as "nil" in Mumbai City and a "-" in Mumbai Suburban. For instance the sample revealed that in Mumbai Suburban 8 out of 15 PRCs recorded "-" in the field for easements. Further in some cases the field is left empty leaving it to the reader to infer whether this is a mistake on the part of the recording officer or a there is no information to record.

    We also observed that in some cases of PRCs in Mumbai City, where there is no specific field for recording certain information, the information is recorded under a different head. For instance, "attestting lessees" are recorded in the ownership column in PRCs (with the mention that they are attesting lessees). The problem with this is that where there is no lessee, there is no information stating clearly that there is no lessee on the land. Again, it is left to the interpretation of the reader to decide whether there is no lessee or there is in fact a lessee and this information has not been recorded.

Recommendations

Our study reveals that the PRC as a cadastre in Mumbai, is far from being an ideal record. The new policy objective ought to be the creation of greater information symmetry in the land market to enable informed and intelligent buy or sell decisions. Based on our case study, we suggest the following:

  1. Recording information mandated under the law: Our findings (Table 1) reveal that the current format of PRCs in Mumbai City does not have the provision to record certain heads of information that are mandated under the law. As a first step, authorities must ensure that the format of the PRC is in consonance with that set out under the law.
  2. Increasing the scope of information recorded in a PRC: Our analysis of the PRC has revealed that the information recorded in the PRC is far from adequate for making an informed buy or sell decision. The scope of information recorded in the PRC must be increased to include relevant information such as disputes in relation to the land, mortgages and the development potential of the land as set out in Table 2.
  3. Adopting uniformity in recording information: It is recommended that uniform practices of recording information be adopted. For instance, where there is no information to be recorded, it must be depicted by "nil" only and must not be left empty or be represented wth "-". Similarly, information must be recorded under the appropriate head in the template.
  4. Moving towards a multi-purpose cadastre: The State of Maharashtra still maintains PRCs for the primary purpose of collection of revenue, as is evident from the property details currently recorded in the PRC. The growth of investment in real estate has led to a point where maintenance of a multi-purpose cadastre is the need of the hour for two reasons. First to ensure that all information pertaining to a land parcel is available in a consolidated manner at a single source. Second, to ensure that buyers are presented with all relevant information about the land parcel. This maybe achieved through the integration of databases maintained by relevant authorities. For instance, orders passed by civil courts, tribunals and other quasi-judicial institutions affect interests in a land parcel. For a complete, accurate and up-to-date picture of the interests appurtenant to the land parcel, it is essential that the outcome of such orders is immediately notified to the City Survey office. Further, pendency of proceedings before judicial and quasi-judicial bodies or lis pendens also has ramifications on the rights and interests to a land parcel. It is therefore advisable that such judicial and quasi-judicial bodies automatically update PRCs to reflect such encumbrances.
  5. Integrating textual and spatial records: As a step towards achieving multi-purpose cadastres, we recommend that CMs and PRCs be integrated to form a single record. As of today, the CMs and PRCs are maintained by different offices. The aim again is to consolidate all relevant information about a land parcel in one document. For instance, this would mean that every time a land is sub-divided and a new map is drawn for the land parcel, it must become part of the PRC.

References

  1. Badarinza, Balasubramaniam and Ramadorai, The Indian Household Savings Landscape, 2017.
  2. Farvacque and McAuslan, Reforming urban land policies and institutions in developing countries, 1992.
  3. Constitution of India, 1950.
  4. Dale and Mclaughlin, Land Information Management, An introduction with special reference to cadastral problems in Third World countries, 2000.
  5. Department of Land Resources, The National Land Records Modernisation Programme (NLRMP) Guidelines, Technical Manuals and MIS, 2008-2009.
  6. Ministry of Urban Development, Draft model guidelines for urban land policy, 2007.
  7. Expert Committee, Government of India, Land titling - A road map, 2014.
  8. Federation Internationale des Geometres, FIG Statement on the Cadastre, 1995.
  9. Mukarage, Investigating the contribution of land records on property taxation: a case study of Huye District, Rwanda, 2016.
  10. Powell, Land systems of British India, 1892.
 

Gausia Shaikh and Diya Uday are researchers at IGIDR.

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