Governance innovation and land disputes

Governments all over the world are on the lookout for innovations in public service delivery

Hasaan Khawar February 13, 2018
The writer is a public policy expert and an honorary Fellow of the Consortium for Development Policy Research. He tweets @hasaankhawar

Last week, I visited Chakwal for some work. At the deputy commissioner’s office, I was invited as an observer to an unusual meeting. All the district revenue administration and police leadership were present and providing an update on something called Revenue-Police Committees, set up in each tehsil of Chakwal district.

These committees, established only three months ago at the direction of the DC and the district police officer, objectively look at land-related disputes, providing a verified record of rights and titles and amicably resolving such conflicts, where possible, preventing prolonged litigation. So far, a total of 44 cases have been referred to these committees, out of which 26 have been resolved, reflecting a resolution rate of 59%. None of the parties in these resolved cases felt the need to either appeal the committee’s decision or to go for civil litigation.

I was greatly impressed on three counts. Firstly, the focus of district administration on something very relevant to the local context was admirable. Not only land-related disputes are quite common in rural settings but a significant proportion of crimes are also known to have land disputes as their root cause.

In most cases, the opposing parties muddle the situation through involvement of both the police and land revenue administration separately and generating multiple conflicting reports on titles — by greasing a few palms. Such tactics complicate the case facts and lead to civil litigation that may take years. Only last month, the Supreme Court decided on a 100-year-old property inheritance case, originally started in 1918.

Availability of both agencies together along with availability of original record however helps in objectively looking at facts and leaving little ground for confusion or malafide intent on the part of either party.

Secondly, such initiatives provide a platform for alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Use of ADR can prevent litigation and reduce the judiciary’s workload. The chief justice of Pakistan recently disclosed that in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, only one judge is available for 62,000 people, whereas in the Lahore High Court, only one judge is available for 2.2 million people. Every civil judge has to deal with an average of 150 cases daily with about 2.4 minutes to hear each case. Furthermore, taking pendency into account, the disposal rate for civil cases was 55% in 2014 in the courts of district & sessions judges across Punjab.

For a complainant, the median cost of a single interaction with courts and the police in Punjab is about Rs17,000 (UNDP survey in 2012). Considering that each case involves multiple such interactions increases the cost to hundreds of thousands of rupees for citizens.

There is already a broad realisation of these impediments and the Lahore High Court has set up ADR centres in the province. So far 13,500+ cases have been referred to these centres, with 8,500+ mediated successfully.

Thirdly and most importantly, the initiative provides a classic example of a local home-grown innovation undertaken by civil servants. In this particular case, the local district leadership realised that merely through better inter-agency cooperation, it could enhance transparency in how such disputes are handled and provide quick relief to citizens. The police and land revenue administration are twin pillars of local governance in a district. Working together systematically to tackle a major justice-sector problem is a simple, practical and cost-effective solution.

Governments all over the world are on the lookout for innovations in public service delivery to improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance citizen satisfaction. The ideal nursery for such innovations however continues to be the service delivery front-end, where local problems are best understood and can be resolved. The Jhang Model of seeking citizen feedback to check corruption was introduced by a former DCO a few years ago and gained attention of the Punjab chief minister, resulting in provincewide replication. The role of the government therefore is to recognise and take stock of such innovations, review and refine them and scale them up for improved governance.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2018.

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