Interview

Empowering Farmers to Obtain Records of their Lands – Bhoomi Land Record Computerisation Programme : Rajeev Chawla, Secretary, e-Governance, Government of Karnataka.

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The computerisation of land records has led to transparency of the land record and makes the records tamper proof, leads to easy maintenance and fast updation of the land record”. Read more on successful Bhoomi Programme in this interview with Rajeev Chawla, (secyegov-dpar@karnataka.gov.in) Secretary, e-Governance, Government of Karnataka.

Being the pioneer in digitising paper land records in India, please tell us about the importance of automating land records by governments?

The land record is an important document for the farmer and it is required for many reasons. Some of the objectives for a farmer requiring his land record are

a) Obtaining a loan from the bank

b) Serves as a proof for getting many benefits from the government

c) Submission during court cases

d) Requirement for seeking compensation or crop insurance during crop failures

In the earlier manual system, the land records were maintained by a cadre of 10,000 village accountants and while, officially the price of the land record was a token fee of INR 1, the village accountant would issue a copy of a land record only for a consideration. While the task of obtaining a land record was difficult, the process for effecting a change in the land record (mutation) was even more difficult and the officials would follow a completely discretionary process for effecting mutation.

The computerisation of land records under the Bhoomi programme has enabled the farmer to approach the computer kiosk set up in the Taluka (local adminstrative unit) and obtain a copy of his land record without any fear or favour. Additionally in case a farmer wants he can place a request for mutation that will be handled through a due process.

Computerisation of land records has also led to transparency of the land record and makes the records tamper proof, leads to easy maintenance and fast updation of the land record. Computerisation has also led to laying down standard processes like First in First out (FIFO) for disposal of mutation applications and reduced discretion in functioning of officials.

Computerisation of land records has been extremely empowering for the farmer as now he can rightfully make a claim to obtaining a record of the land under his ownership. In Karnataka, the manual systems have been completely abolished and land records are issued through the computerised system.

Please elaborate on the Bhoomi software, in terms of user-friendliness, since most of the users are not computer literates. What are the steps you have taken to address the language localisation issue?

Many user friendly measures have been taken both during designing and later implementing the software that makes the software user friendly. A few of these steps are

a) Extensive inputs were taken from the entire hierarchy of revenue officials in designing the software. The project champion was personally present in the training sessions held for officials in use of software and hence the feedback of the users was incorporated in development of the software. Due to these inputs, the software follows the same process as the previous manual system and hence the officials do not face any changes in working on the computerised environment.

b) The user interface is in the local language

c) For the senior officials, there is minimum requirement for data entry and most user input is through check boxes or radio buttons.

d) Further most of the data entry is done by the lower level officials and these officials have been given extensive training on use of the computerised system.

Do you think, language localisation would play a key role in the success of e-Governance projects?

Language localisation is extremely important for the success of e-Governance projects. e-Governance projects can be classified into two types a) those in the area of citizen facing initiatives like Bhoomi or b) those that improve the internal functioning of the government like a file monitoring system. For both these kinds of initiatives to succeed, government employees need to work on the system and not leave the work to external data entry operators. While most government employees have knowledge of English, they are more comfortable working on the local language and hence the user interface of all software needs to be in the local language. In both the Bhoomi program and its successor programme Nemmadi (an e-Governance initiative for delivery of various kinds of services to the rural citizens), the software interface and MIS reports are in the local language, enabling government employees at all levels, be it the case workers, the office manager or the head of the taluka office, the Tahsildar to comfortably work on the system.

What is the status of Bhoomi today?

The Bhoomi program was completed in March 2002. This included computerisation of all rural land records of the state and distribution of these computerised land records from computer centres set up in the taluka offices. However in the past five years a large number of innovations and improvements have been carried out. These are

a) Newer and more refined versions of the software have been launched

b) The Bhoomi databases at the taluka offices have been consolidated at the state data centre. The replication of databases takes place on a daily basis. Consolidation of database at a single location also enables delivery of land records through the internet.

c) The servers in the talukas have been upgraded with more powerful and sophisticated ones.

d) As of May 2007, about 750 telecentres have been established in the villages of Karnataka that are also distributing land records to the farmers.

e) The offices of registration department have been electronically linked to Bhoomi offices in the taluka thus transferring electronic data to Bhoomi.

In the past five years the number of transactions under Bhoomi have increased manifold and currently about 14 million land records are distributed and 1.6 million mutations are done through the Bhoomi system every year.

How have you addressed the security issues?

The security issues have been comprehensively addressed in Bhoomi. All the machines of Bhoomi are part of a domain and can be managed from the state data centre. Access to database has been restricted and all users of the applications are authenticated through biometric authentication. Further this biometric authentication is configured centrally through the state data centre. Bhoomi has now been PKI enabled. Pilots are going on in 4 talukas where digital certificates have been issued to the village accountants.

What has been your experience of private sector partnership in implementing Bhoomi project?

Private sector partners have been extremely important in the implementation of Bhoomi. Initially private data entry agencies were engaged for the data entry of the manual land records. The tasks of handholding the revenue department officials in use of the Bhoomi application and first level maintenance and trouble shooting of the Bhoomi application is done by district consultants, who are engineers hired from the market and placed in each district. The facility management of the entire infrastructure of Bhoomi in the 203 talukas comprising of computers, printers, UPS, VSAT is again done by a private player.

One of the complaints against Bhoomi has been that a farmer has to travel to the taluka headquarters for obtaining their land record. In March 2007, 800 village telecentres were established under a public private partnership model that will serve as additional channels for delivery of land records to the citizens.

Bhoomi is a great example of a public private partnership where the private sector enables the government to provide a core service to its citizens.

What have been the key challenges and key learning of implementing this project on digitising paper land records?

The entire scale of the implementation of the Bhoomi programme has been challenging. Among the many challenges faced in Bhoomi were the following:

a) Bhoomi has been among the largest e-Governance efforts in the world. It involved digitisation of 20 million land records across the state, with each of these records having 50 fields. These digitised records in turn had to be validated by the 10,000 village accountants who have been traditionally entrusted with custody and maintenance of these records. Both the tasks of digitisation and validation of the digitised data has been a challenge

b) The programme of issue of computerised land records was started in 177 talukas of Karnataka in the period of 2001 – 2002. Keeping the computerised system up and running and ensuring that there would be no loss of data through hardware / software crashes etc. has been extremely challenging

The project team anticipated many of these challenges. The Bhoomi programme was implemented through a consultative process and over the course of the project, numerous meetings were held with all levels of the officials of the revenue department.

To handle the technical challenges, the entire process of procurement, deployment and maintenance of the technical infrastructure was undertaken in a comprehensive fashion to reduce any chances of failure due to technology.

The programme was also innovative in recruiting a cadre of 35- 40 engineers from the market on a contract basis who would support the government officials of the state in the use of the Bhoomi system.

A Bhoomi monitoring cell was set up in Bangalore with officials whose only task was implementation of the Bhoomi project.

How do you rate citizen response to Bhoomi project?

The response of the citizens has been excellent. Even in the initial days of the project as per a study conducted by the World Bank in 2002, the farmers using the system had the
following viewpoint

a) Ease to use: A majority of users (78 percent) who had past experience with the manual system found the Bhoomi system simpler. Further an overwhelming majority of users obtained their land record on a single visit to the kiosk.
b) Complexity of procedures: Most users (79 percent) of the Bhoomi kiosks did so without  having to meet any official except the counter staff, in contrast 61 percent of the users of the manual system had to meet two to four officials for their work.
c) Error free documents: Users indicated that the Bhoomi kiosks provided error free documents  to more users and further these errors were minor in nature and could be easily rectified.
d) Reduced corruption: Two thirds of the users of the manual system paid a bribe and needed  to do so very often. In contrast, only 3 percent of the users of the Bhoomi system reported paying bribes.
e) Staff behaviour: Most Bhoomi users (85 percent) rated staff behaviour at the Bhoomi kiosks  as ‘good’; none of the users of the manual system rated staff behaviour as good.

What are some of your plans for Bhoomi programme in the times to come?

Bhoomi was launched in March 2002 and in the past five years numerous innovations and  improvements have been launched and in the coming few years the process of innovations  will only accelerate  The Bhoomi project implementation cell had followed a procedure of  initially conducting a pilot, incorporating the learnings of the pilot and, thereafter, scaling  the initiative. Several initiatives are currently in the pilot stage and will be scaled up throughout the state in the coming few years. Some
of these initiatives are:

a) All land records and all changes to land records due to mutations will be digitally signed under the IT act 2000. Thus a manual signature will not be required on the land record and an authentic copy of the land record can also be obtained over the internet.
b) Prior to mutation (change) of the land record, the land will be surveyed and this will prevent unnecessary disputes in transfers.
c) The land records in Karnataka also contains crop details sown in the land, now the crop details will be updated by the village accountants through mobile devices.
d) The banks that loan money to farmers on the basis of land record will be able to electronically indicate to the revenue department that the land has been pledged to it. Thereafter, once the farmer has repaid the loan, the bank can electronically release the land.
e) For severable public projects, the government notifies land for acquisition. The land acquisition officer will now be able to put down the stage of acquisition in land records. This will ensure that land under the process of acquisition cannot be fraudulently transacted.

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