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Digitalizing Land Registration in Bangladesh
Source: bangladesh-web.com
Source Date: Thursday, November 04, 2010
Focus: Citizen Engagement
Country: Bangladesh
Created: Nov 08, 2010

Finance Minister A M A Muhith said: The land registration system is at the core of corruption. Bribes are exchanged openly in the land registration offices. Digitalizing such organizations is urgent because massive use of information technology can curb corruption and expedite development. He further said that the government had taken up the challenge to digitalize the land registration system, though the progress so far had not been remarkable. The Finance Minister came up with this observation while addressing as chief guest the inaugural ceremony of the four-day BCS-ICT World Fair-2010 at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre on Saturday, the 30th October.

Finance Minister in the same function said that Bangladesh is a land of impossible attainments.

Now one may wonder why the progress in digitalizing land registration has not been remarkable in a land where any attainments are possible, however impossible.

In fact, there has not yet been any concrete planning as to how to digitalize the old manual system of registration though we are hearing for the last few years that the government is going to overhaul the land registration offices very shortly through introducing digital archiving of the documents with a view to reducing fraud and litigation in connection with land ownership.

A few months back it was reported that a digital database was created for Dhaka city and over 0.42 million land records had already been uploaded into the database, which was supposed to be inaugurated by the Prime Minister. But, we are not hearing any follow-up of the report. Rather it is rumored that a select group of ten local IT companies is hatching a conspiracy to get such a gigantic job of digitization by influencing the work-giving authority and by bypassing any international tender.

Among the wealthiest people in Bangladesh are some public servants who are getting wealthier overnight on the strength of bribe-taking. Such bribe-taking is an open secret. These public servants are very powerful and also indispensible because on them many in the upper hierarchies depend for their extra wealth accumulations. Among those public servants in Bangladesh are the land record officials.

These officials are low-paid public servants but their wallets are always bulgy. Their palms are continuously greased by land owners and land grabbers. Some of the land record officials are very smart; they know every inch of the land in their jurisdiction like the backs of their hands. These officials keep track of farm plots in books and also in their memory. These officials who are responsible for creating and maintaining land records often prepare incorrect records intentionally so that genuine land owners are forced to pay bribes to them to get the records corrected. If bribes are not plunked down by the genuine land owners for correcting the records, lands so incorrectly recorded are made transferred to land sharks who are ever eager to pays bribes to grab others lands illegally.

The present method of land recording in the local land management and registration offices such as office follows the age-old system of writing down everything about land---who owns what, where, how much, and what is grown in which land in illegible and archaic manners. These land record and registration offices are filled with tattered and handwritten paper documents and registers, many of them going back 100 years and most of them already damaged and brittle due to humidity or half-eaten by book lice, wood worms, termites, mice and cockroaches.

Shoddy and hackneyed management of land recording is mainly responsible for fraud and manipulation in land ownership and has given birth to land grabbers and their cohorts.

More than 80 percent of litigations in the courts of law in Bangladesh are on the dispute over land ownership and millions of conmen, middlemen, lawyers and other functionaries related to civil law and courts are thriving on the business of litigations. At present, over 3.2 million land-related cases are pending before the judiciary in Bangladesh. This huge figure does not include millions of the aggrieved who are terrorized by the touts to remain silent or not strong enough to approach the courts for litigation.

Any measure that may kill the source of income from frauds, manipulations, disputes and litigations over land may not be easy to undertake on the part of the government. Undertaking any initiative to digitalize the land record system may not be possible on the part of an authority unless the authority is doggedly determined to do so.

Bangladesh is a land where anything is possible, however impossible.

Nobody could imagine that every citizen in Bangladesh would possess a National Identity Card, which also serves as a Voter ID Card. These ID cards were digitally processed by the armed forces in collaboration with the Election Commission. It was a daunting job to prepare a voter list, one that is computerized, consisting of a data-base of 80 million 500 thousand 723 voters with photographs and fingerprints at a cost only TK 424 crore and had been successfully completed in a mere 11 months. The same armed forces of Bangladesh have undertaken another job of processing the Machine Readable Passports (MRP) which is going to be complete very shortly.

One UNDP representative while speaking at a function marking the completion of voter registration termed the job as a historic one because never before have so many people been electronically registered in such a short time in any other country in the world. If there were a Nobel Prize for voter lists, Bangladesh would be the clear winner the UNDP rep said.

There are many complaints people are lodging against the caretaker government in 2006-2008 under the Chief Advisor Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed. But this was the military-backed interim government that made this impossible task possible. Some observers believe that such a gigantic job of building such a huge data base facilitating issuance of both national identity cards and machine readable passports with biometrics perhaps would not have been possible had the task been undertaken by any civil authority.

In this age of information technology it is very much possible to upload to an online database with relevant information of lands to digitize Bangladesh landownership records, however labyrinthine the job could be. Rapid and flawless digitalization of land recording, archiving and retrieving will reduce litigation, improve planning for disaster relief and food security, and encourage foreign investment and rid the country of the mountains of litigation especially at the village level where due to the opaque manual system of record-keeping there is widespread manipulation. Land-related red tape is also deemed as one of the biggest obstacles for foreign investors in doing business in Bangladesh.

Before undertaking the program the government should frame a policy to adopt a uniform coding for measuring and earmarking the lands and their titles replacing the old terms and units that were introduced during the Mughal era. There has to be a correct database through proper surveys and digital land zoning based on Geographical Information System (GIS), a recent revolutionary system that makes digital mapping easy and efficient. A digital land registration system fed with updated data and information as to land ownership may be integrated with the voter/national ID database. And to make the project cost-efficient cloud computing---an internet-based computing whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers on demand, like the cheaper way of subscribing to cable TV or electricity---may be adopted. And the job has to be undertaken by our armed forces.
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