In September 2021, PM Khan launching the digitalized land record system and cadastral map for Islamabad stated that the digitalized land record system would not only eliminate land mafia but also control illegal and haphazard constructions in both urban and rural areas. He had also earlier vowed that the cadastral mapping of three cities (Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore) would be digitalized by November 2021 while the rest of the country would be covered in the next six months. However, after six months it seems his government is dilly-dallying to fulfill his commitment to digitalize land records and make the land acquisition process more transparent.
In November 22, 2021 Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeted “The total value of all encroached state land stood at approximately Rs 5.5 trillion, whereas the land encroached in the three major cities alone was valued at Rs 2.63trillion. Similarly, encroached forest land was worth around Rs1.86 trillion.” The prime minister called these revelations shocking facts.
Later Prime Minister Imran Khan vowed to launch an operation to retrieve occupied state land worth Rs5.5 trillion. But again according to a news report the federal government appears disinterested in rooting out the infamous Patwari system as it is still using a criteria laid down in the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 for this purpose.
The Patwari System
This traditional system of land records has made property purchase, transfer and tax collection an intricate procedure as it lacked the modern-day technological tools for accurate mapping, demarcation, and devolution of property. Similarly, the changing nature of land ownership from agricultural to residential or commercial and rural to urban areas has not only become a challenge for the authorities concerned but also for the public at large.
Digitalization of land records was an integral part of Imran Khan’ government’ vision for housing development. But on the surface, it appears only to be lip servicing and a contradiction in government policy.
Benefits of Land Digitalization
Land digitalisation along with cadastral mapping could have proven instrumental for Inland Revenue generation, easy accessibility of property rights, tenure information, lesser land litigation cases, improved taxation and collection mechanism, land conflict resolution and reduction of corrupt practices. Besides it would also helpful in verification, construction, transfer of properties, field surveys for delimitation, geo-tagging and digitization of the properties. And obviously, this project would enable the government of Pakistan to retrieve encroached land.
Government’ Reluctance in Digitalization
However, according to a news report the government is not interested in the computerization of its processes or digitalization of records as the manual processes benefit certain vested interests. According to a former official of the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA), the IT department of the Authority had been kept `dormant` as this served the vested interests of certain officials, adding that manual handling of land acquisition, development and other operations made it easier to manipulate the process.
Although, the FGEHA`s Deputy Director on Information Technology maintains that his department has maintained a database of all members since the inception of the Authority, but he concedes that while land is still being acquired and evaluated through the decades-old Patwari system. Nonetheless, he hopes that recent initiatives for automation will bear fruit and the old methodology will gradually be abandoned.