Quite shockingly, the Bangladesh government had lost Tk 34.18 billion in land revenue in the past three decades due to widespread corruption and irregularities in 64 ADC (Revenue) offices across the country. A book titled 'Bangladesh Dark Facets of Land Rights & Management with Directions to Agrarian Reform' written by Proshanta K Roy, a government official, revealed this startling figure. According to the researcher, if all other sources of state revenue collection like custom duties, income taxes and land registration fees could be ensured, then it would be possible to prepare the annual development budget of the country with the state revenue.
The story depicted above is of the offices of the Additional Deputy Commissioner (revenue). What is happening in various upazila-based land offices manned by the assistant commissioners of land and sub-registrars where land deeds are executed? Nothing moves there unless one pays the 'speed money' which runs to the extent of several hundred times of the real expenditure. In fact, since the beginning of the land administration which was purely a tax collection institution, it became a corrupt sector due to lack of proper management and accountability of its officials. Misappropriation of public money through different ways and means like fraud or false documentation is very common.
The Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) conducted a household survey. It showed that of 3,000 households, 97 per cent had to pay bribes for land registration, 85 per cent for land mutation, 85 per cent for collecting land-related documents, and 83 per cent for land survey. Former TIB Chairman Prof Muzaffer Ahmad in a write-up titled 'Bangladesh: Corruption as People See It' once quoted a female participant of a discussion as saying that it is difficult even to register a gift deed where no transaction of money takes place.
What is really surprising is that manual records show there is more land owned than actual land exists in Bangladesh! The land administration process still follows the antiquated system that British colonial rulers instituted, from surveys all the way to collection of property taxes. Three different ministries oversee the records system, working independently and with little coordination. Another research study found that digitising the land records system could provide an incredible Tk 619 of benefits on each taka spent. The complexity of the system and tendency for officials to delay or block the process encourage people to rely on informal title arrangements. This informality weakens the security of property rights and undermines economic activities.
The Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) organised a seminar in which it brought into sharp focus the pertinent need for digitisation of land records as 80 per cent cases that have virtually chocked the entire legal system of the country are related to land disputes. Manual records have led to illegal occupation of khas lands affecting marginal farmers. Such age-old manual system in measurement and registration process has even posed a big challenge before the government to find plots for industrial units and protect agricultural lands, water bodies and forests. The BIDS seminar underscored the need for digitised land records in hastening the process of both industrialisation and protection of agricultural lands.
The government too has seemingly realised the great importance of digitisation of land records and deeds to reduce the incidence of massive corruption and undertaken a digitisation project in this regard. But the project being executed is on pilot basis and progress in total digitisation of land records is not at all satisfactory. With the European Union's financial support, the government is implementing the project in three upazilas -- Jamalpur Sadar, Manoharpur of Rajshahi and Amtali of Barguna. Sadly, the project, initiated in July, 2012 till June 2014 had to be revised twice. The land ministry, for mysterious reasons, is just keeping mum over the issue of land record digitisation. The website of the ministry shows that 46 million CS, SA and RS khatians in record rooms of 55 districts would be digitised and their printed copies would be made available to members of the public. But 'when' and 'how' are yet to be spelt out clearly on the website for public consumption.
There must a strong determination to complete the process of land record digitisation as the government showed in case of the Padma Bridge project. As the country has entered the age of Information Technology, it is now very easy to digitise land records as, thanks to the present government's initiatives, the digital technology has of late reached even villages. The Union Information Service Centres (UISCs) throughout the country today are capable of helping digitisation of land records as there has even been massive union level expansion of ICT-based devices like computers, laptops, laser and colour printers, projectors, modems, digital cameras, scanners, IPS, UPS and Photostat machines. These UISCs could be effectively employed in speedy digitisation of land records.