LAHORE: The cessation of mutations of urban properties by revenue offices, on the orders of the Supreme Court, has necessitated the need for a fresh urban record management system. The Punjab government, however, has yet to even start the preliminary work on the long journey to prepare, maintain and computerise urban land records.
To chalk out a roadmap to streamline urban land records, a 17-member committee was formed on the orders of a senior member of the Board of Revenue (BOR) on March 14 and a one-month deadline was set. However, the committee has not been able to hold any meetings so far.
BOR officials said that in earlier months, authorities focused on getting immediate relief from the courts against the judgment of the Supreme Court – issued on January 3. According to the decision, the role of the record offices (patwarkhanas) was confined to the maintenance of land records. Moreover, the office was barred from making any decisions related to the transfer of urban properties.
The BOR approached the Solicitors’ Office on February 11 with a plea to file a review petition against the decision of the court. The move was initiated to claw back the power of revenue officers.
The request, however, was turned down on March 8 after which the BOR moved a summary of the case to Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar. He was asked to instruct the Law Department and Advocate General Punjab Office to file a review petition against the said judgment.
As per senior BOR officials, the review petition was not filed to request for a reversal of the decision of the court, rather the authorities filed it in the hope of buying more time.
Explaining the situation to The Express Tribune, a senior BOR officer said if the court grants the BOR a period of three years to put the new computerised system in place – with the patwari system provincially allowed to operate – it would enable a smooth transition without creating any bottlenecks.
Another officer said that preparing urban records is a difficult job, adding that revenue offices possess data limited areas. He said certain areas come under the jurisdiction of the BOR, but they are technically out of reach when it comes to record keeping because of multiple owners of a single property or building.
Under such circumstance, the revenue record will have to be created from scratch. The officer further detailed that records from the Revenue Office and the Excise and Taxation Office will have to be amalgamated to provide the basis for a survey.
He said that land record from the revenue office and Excise and Taxation office will also have to be amalgamated to provide a basis for a survey. Similar to the working of revenue officers in rural areas, taxation inspectors are required to prepare two documents – Property Taxation 1 and 2 – which contain the details of the tenant, owner, the lease and other details of the property.
Almost all the rural areas of the province have been functioning on the tehsil level under the Punjab Land Records Authority (PLRA) through its Arazi Record Centers (ARCs). Officials of the Planning and Development Department said PLRA has obtained permission from the government to expand its operations and open offices at the Qanon-goi level (smaller units).
Initially started as the Land Record Management Information System in 2007, the authority was converted to PLRA in 2017. It currently operates 152 ARCs in the province.
Despite PLRA’s decade-long experience and expertise in the area, the BOR seems to be least interested in assigning any projects to it, citing various problems with the authority’s service delivery system.
The PLRA, on the other hand, claims to have prepared a Geographical Information System (GIS) map of three entire districts, including Kasur, Lodhran and Hafizabad.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Additional Director Communications PLRA Nadia Cheema said the authority has complete expertise and experience in preparing, maintaining and digitalising land records.
Speaking on the shortcomings of PLRA, Cheema said revenue officers misled PLRA on the quantum of property transactions.
“The PLRA came to know that Patwaris only registered 10 per cent of the actual transactions which created a big hurdle the delivery of services,” Cheema explained. “The Patwaris also misled PLRA by misquoting the total of number rural property owners.”
During a meeting, the Planning and Development Department also cited similar concerns with PLRA regarding its operational problems.
Additional Deputy Commissioner Revenue Lahore Malik Awais – who was also a member of the 17-member committee – said that if transition period is not granted to the revenue department, it would create a very difficult situation for the government with all mutation seized and no alternative system available.
“Ideally, it would take at least three to five years to prepare the urban record system because it is a time-consuming and expensive exercise,” Awais said. “Data from other departments would have to be amalgamated with the revenue data of ‘record of right’ so that a survey could be conducted.
Awais added that GIS-based maps should be prepared on the basis of existing revenue records. He also opined that the PLRA – considering its expertise on the subject – should be granted permission to expand its jurisdiction to urban areas.
“The quickest way forward would be to amend the Land Revenue Act 1967 to the Land Administration Act since it provides a solution to many revenue-related problems even in urban areas,” he said.
The chairperson of the committee, Ahmad Ali Kamboh, said that the committee would hold its first meeting the next week and added that it would perform the assigned task within the stipulated time period.
Speaking in relation to BOR’s review petition to ask for more time, he said that streamlining the land record data is a lengthy and tedious task.
“Much of Excise Property Tax Record could have been useful, but it was based on mere surveys. The obtained data was neither cross-matched nor verified, which makes it very risky to use this data,” Kamboh explained. “Therefore, cross-verification of the data with previous entries is essential.”
He added that the matter will be deliberated at length before the committee takes a final decision. About assigning the task to PLRA, he said the authority still has a lot to do in rural areas.
“With the existing performance of the PLRA, it appears that they are not ready for such a mammoth task. However, no decision regarding the allotment of the project has yet been taken,” he concluded.