It has been more than a decade since the ambitious project to digitise land records across the country, called Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme or DILRMP, was launched. It has failed to keep the required pace. We can push it in mission mode using blockchain technology.
Why digitisation of land records is required?
The existing legal framework, based on the system of “presumptive ownership”, lends itself to litigation as land and property undergo several mutations over generations that are not always captured on public records. Moreover, data related to a specific parcel of land is stored in silo’ed government departments, and in formats that vary substantially from one state to another. Access to these records is time- and cost-intensive, as they involve frequent visits and bribes to government agents.
Using Blockchain Technology –
For some time now, there have been suggestions to improve this abysmal state of land records by introducing blockchain technology. NITI Aayog recently announced that it will bring out a discussion paper on leveraging this technology for land records management. Andhra Pradesh is currently working with private firms to secure land records in its new capital, Amaravati, using blockchain.
How will it work?
- A blockchain-secured record-keeping process will collect, store and provide access to information quite differently than a conventional process.
- After reaching consensus on what constitutes a valid record, market participants use cryptography and consensus algorithms to create or modify records.
- In a public blockchain, all participants are allowed to create or modify the blockchain, while in a private blockchain, like what has been envisioned for land records, only select participants are given that responsibility.
- New information is chained to the old entry, ensuring that a trail of changes to a record is established since its creation.
- There is no need for a central authority to keep records as they are distributed across a system of networked computer nodes.
- All participants can see and use the latest version of the record without relying on anyone else. In short, data stored using blockchain is secure, transparent, easy to access, and hard to dispute.
What should be done?
- We need to ensure that every aspect of these records must be indisputable to start with. While blockchain could ensure integrity and indisputability of future changes, it cannot resolve differences that exist today.
- To maintain indisputability, it must be introduced first on land with the least amount of issues. Land that belongs to the government—Centre or state, including those of its agencies like railways, defence and ports—could be great candidates for this transition.
- Amongst privately owned land, those that have been mortgaged could also be considered for introduction on blockchain. Banks and housing finance companies undertake extensive due diligence to validate the information in land records, and seek correction if there are differences for lands that are pledged with them. It is, therefore, not hard to imagine lenders seeking blockchain security for land records as it would dramatically cut down risks in lending against property.
- The newly set up information utility, National e-governance Services Ltd (NeSL), could be used to drive blockchain-based record-keeping for underlying collateral like land.
- To incentivise borrowers to seek this transition, at least initially, interest rate subsidies can be provided.
While a top-down approach of forcing blockchain on all land records could easily backfire, nudging selected participants to seek this transition using incentives could be the best way of leveraging this powerful technology.