Bhoomi, Bangalore, Karnataka

Sixty-six percent of the population of Karnataka resides in rural areas where the main occupation is agriculture. About 6.7 million farmers own 20 million land holdings. The crucial document which records various parameters and information pertaining to land-holding is the Record of Right Tenancy and Cultivation (RTC). Earlier in the manual system, these records were maintained by 9,000 Village Accountants (VAs or village revenue officials) who served farmers in about 27,000 villages. The RTC is required for land transactions, to obtain crop loans, other loans and concessions linked to the size of the land holding. The manual system of maintaining RTCs was exploitative as the VAs was not easily available and bribes were often extracted. Since the records were not open for public scrutiny, there was considerable scope for manipulation. The land records are the most important testimony of rights to land owners in the huge agro-economy of India. VAs held a monopoly on all revenue records and was frequently involved in harassing citizens, tampering with the records and other corrupt practices. The Ministry of Rural Development has been providing funds to state governments for computerization of land records since 1988-89. In Karnataka, data entry work started in 1995, but up to 1999 there were few concrete benefits. In 1999-2000, modifications were made in the software and all the databases were updated when the Bhoomi project was launched.

Objectives and Goals

  • To facilitate easy maintenance and prompt updatation of land records.
  • To make land records tamper proof.
  • To provide farmers easy access to their land records.
  • To create and to construct databases of land revenue, cropping pattern, land use, etc.
  • To utilize the data for planning and formulating development programmes.
  • To enable usage of this database by courts, banks, private organizations and Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

A pilot project for the computerization of land records in Karnataka started in 1989, initiated by GoI. By 1996, the project for computerization of land records for all districts in the state was sanctioned. The aim was to create computer records from the manual data. However, since no provision was made to install computers at sub-district level, online updating of these records was not possible. Thus these projects failed to achieve all of the above objectives. The Bhoomi project was launched in the state of Karnataka in 2000 with the aim of computerizing the system for maintaining land records, thereby permitting online updating. In the first phase, the project was implemented as a pilot in five talukas in the district; and later rolled out to all 177 talukas. The required software was designed and developed in-house by the National Information Centre (NIC, a Government of India organization).

Services Provided
At the kiosks, there are two-computer screens, one of which performs the operation and the other which shows the transaction being performed to the clients. Just by providing the name of the owner or the plot number, one can collect copies of the land parcel. Farmers can file online requests at these kiosks for a change of ownership, sale or inheritance. These are important transactions for initiating the mandatory process known as mutation for effecting necessary changes in the RTC. Each request is assigned a number, and notices are then generated from Bhoomi, which are served by the VA, on interested parties. After waiting for a statutory period of 30 days from the day of serving the notice, the Revenue Inspector (RI) passes the mutation order in a register maintained for this purpose. The mutation order passed by the RI is processed in Bhoomi and a new RTC is generated, duly incorporating the details of the new owner. As a part of this process, the mutation order is scanned to take care of non-repudiation. While the mutation records are pending for orders of the RI a farmer can trace the status of the application, using the number provided to them.

Target Group and Intended Beneficiaries
All citizens of the state (residing in rural and urban areas) are the target groups and intended beneficiaries.

Institutional Arrangements
An additional secretary in the Revenue Department (Land Reforms) acts as the project manager, assisted by the Senior Technical Director, NIC (Technical Manager). At the district level, the leadership role is given to the Deputy Commissioner. The administrative responsibilities were given to the Assistant Commissioners, technical responsibilities to District Information Officers of the NIC, and implementation and monitoring tasks assigned to the consultants appointed by the Bhoomi project. Revenue Shrestedars (Deputy Tahsildars) were made project leaders at taluka level, working under the direction of the Tahsildar. At the grassroots level there are revenue inspectors, village accountants and data entry operators. Except for the 28 consultants (one for each district and one for the state headquarters) appointed on an annual contract by the Bhoomi project, all tasks have clearly defined roles and responsibilities assigned to existing government staff. At the taluka level, one of the three existing Deputy Tahsildars are made responsible for Bhoomi. Five VAs were given training and assigned the job of manning the Bhoomi counter and updating records.

All 177 talukas are provided with one computer with 64 MB RAM (with two monitors), one printer, one scanner, one UPS, one battery for back-up and a generator. The computer at the counter is connected to a a LAN and the server room has biometric equipment for fingerprints, two client machines for data updation and one printer. The front-end is written in Visual Basic v6 and the database in SQL server v7.0. The Operating System is Windows NT.

Primary Access Points
Bhoomi centres are operational in all 177 taluka headquarters of the state, providing a primary access point for all citizens. Each Bhoomi counter has two computer screens, one for the counter operator and another for the user. Some centres have touch screen kiosks as well.

Capacity Building
Rs 12.8 million were spent on capacity development of government officials. Intensive training was conducted for bringing about changes in attitude amongst departmental staff: 1,200 VAs were given seven-day training, consisting of 10 hours a day on the basics of computers and the Bhoomi software; 108 VAs were given two-month intensive training on hardware and networking; 500 Tahsildars and 900 Shirastedars were given seven-day training on computer operations and the Bhoomi system; and 600 VAs were given two-day training on data entry operations. Twelve state-level seminars were organized for 1,200 senior and middle-level officers. Four divisional-level workshops were organized to train 800 officials. To clarify various technical and administrative issues, more than 150 circulars were issued and compiled into seven compendia. Also a Bhoomi-Help Manual was distributed at the sub-district level. A computer-training lab was also set up.

Constraints and Implementation Challenges
Many constraints and challenges were faced at the time of implementation. There were 20 million land records of a dynamic nature, which had to be updated at least once a year. The manual copies of land records had a number of inaccuracies and inconsistencies. The question of data integrity became a major issue, as they became more visible once they came into the public domain rather than under the monopoly of VAs. The data structures in the state were not uniform. Data were kept in multiple languages across the state. Data entry operations by multiple agencies had to be closely monitored, as there was an urgent need to create a robust process to facilitate data validation by the owners. There was huge resistance to change from an exploitative system of land records which had operated for more than 300 years. It was necessary to change the mindset of 10,000 revenue officials, VAs and RIs, and 1,500 officials from other departments. The revenue officials involved in the project had no exposure to technology. There was an issue of lack of public acceptance of the deliverables of the project (such as trust in the legal validity of the computer printouts) amongst 6.7 million farmers. The project in the initial phase was supposed to be operated from the taluka level instead of village level, which required change in the processes and procedures. Online updating of the system had to be built in to obliterate manual updating of records. The issue of manual records had to be discarded, which was a major procedural shift. The mutation system had to be robust and quick once it was decided that it would go online. The geographic expanse of the project - 27 districts, 177 talukas and 27,000 villagers - provided a challenge in the form of coordination of implementation and monitoring. There were major power cuts (six to10 hours in a day) which also hindered the project. This compelled project managers to buy UPSs, batteries and generator sets in each taluka.

Project Outcomes
The generation time of the RTC has been reduced from one to30 days to five to15 minutes. Similarly, the mutation process cycle time has decreased from 90-180 days to 30-45 days. Crop record updating has increased to 80-100 percent from 50-70 percent. Around 12 million users have used Bhoomi since its inception, which has resulted in the collection of Rs 180 million as user charges. Presently, 0.7 million people are using Bhoomi centres every month and monthly user charges collected amount to around Rs 10 million.

Key Lessons Learnt
Land registration is a major requirement of Indian villagers. The successful implementation of the project has proved that citizens are ready to pay increased user charges to get certified copies of their records. It has also emphasized the point that even huge and confusing databases can be integrated in a simple and user-friendly program. Another key lesson is that the payment of user charges is necessary for the financial viability of the project. Actually, land records can become a core e-government service for any CIC or a telecentre, supporting other developmental activities.

The project operates a financially sustainable model. It has recovered Rs 180 million in three years against the investment of Rs 244 million. In-house capacity building has provided skilled manpower from within the organization. The constant modification of software ensured long-term functioning of the system.

Replication and Scaling Up
Computerization of the land records is an ongoing GoI programme, which has been continuing over the last decade. Besides Karnataka, other Indian states like Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra have also shown similar success in land record computerization projects.

It is planned to scale this project up to at least three villages in every taluka (around 500 kiosks). On a pilot basis, seven talukas have been linked to the State Data Centre. There is a plan to create a network of all 500 kiosks in villages and 177 existing taluka centres. Presently, a few centres have been provided with touch screen computers, but it is planned to provide this facility to all centres. On a pilot basis, two villages - Arudhi and Sassalu in Doddaballapura taluka- have been linked to taluka centres through mobile wireless sets (using Dak Net). Also, 200 Simputers have been provided to VAs in five districts of North Karnataka to be used for updating the crops in land records. It is envisaged to scale up the Simputer (or some more cost-effective hand held device) to all 10,000 VAs of the state to integrate the back-end processing.

It is important to convert the land records into measurements of hectares and boundaries rather than plots provided in a matrix (in metres). The Bhoomi project still depicts areas in guntas and acres, and boundaries in feet. There is no provision of maps through the Bhoomi kiosks as it is still in the experimental stage of scanning or digitizing village maps. The farmers have to depend on VAs for maps of their land records. There is still a problem in Unicode standardization of Kannada fonts. At present, Bhoomi is providing only land records with entries after 1999 because the records before 1999 have not been updated and validated. For the growth of the project, it is recommended that all land records prior to 1999 be updated and validated as well. Villagers have to walk 10-35 km to the taluka headquarters to get computerized copies of land records. It is further recommended the project be extended to remote villages, so that the villagers are provided with closer access. The project is over-dependent on proprietary software (Oracle and Microsoft) and it is necessary to shift to open source software like LINUX to cut costs. Non-agricultural land data is still not entered into the databases. Citizens in need of records pertaining to non-agricultural land have to depend on the manual system. This should be rectified. Bar coding of land records can also be used to improve their validity. Due to the manual system adopted by VAs to update crops in the land records (twice in the year), there are huge delays in updating the records. It is recommended that these records be updated using cost-effective hand held devices which can be synchronized with server databases to save time.

Human Interest Stories
At Last, Relief after Eight Months Forty-year-old Gangu Muthaiyya, a landless laborer and member of a marginalized community, lives 25 km from Bangalore in a small village called Ganapatti Hadli. Eight years ago he was allotted 1.27 acres of land by the Government of Karnataka for which he paid a bribe of Rs 650 to the VA. But even after that his name was not entered into the land record system. He came to a Bhoomi centre three months ago and applied for a mutation over the counter. Surprisingly to him, within a month he got the mutation order. When he came to consult a doctor in the city he dropped by at Bhoomi counter where, in only five minutes at a cost of Rs15, he received the corrected copy of the RTC. He was very happy when he saw his name registered as the legal owner on the RTC.

The Times Are Changing
Khamitkar is a Village Accountant in Gangen Hallie. He joined in 1972, and has as a VA for almost 28 years. Then the computerized RTC started to be issued from his taluka office. Though he did not have any knowledge of computers, he felt that the new system was good. But, he claims that his workload has increased. He also says that villagers do not pay land revenues to him as they now pay it directly to the centre to get the RTC. Earlier he used to settle the land revenues before issuing RTC. He is also upset because earlier, whenever he visited the villagers, they would carry his bag on their heads and invite him to eat in their houses. Now, since the introduction of Bhoomi, they don’t even notice his presence in their village. “The times are changing. Things will change, “he says.

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