The Government of Punjab started computerization of rural Land Records with the overall objective to improve service delivery and to resolve the overall dispersed nature of land records. The transaction costs were very high for the poor during the old days of patwari system. Women were denied their land rights and the low mobility of land markets contributed to preserving the highly unequal distribution of land and, therefore, opportunities to improve people’s livelihoods.
Before the Land Records Management Information System (LRMIS) was set up, the Board of Revenue (BOR),Government of Punjab, operated a land record maintenance system which involved several levels of administration: the district, Tehsil, Qanungo circle, and Patwar circle. At the lowest administrative level of the records system – the Patwar Circle – are the Patwaris, who were not only responsible for preparing community maps and issuing land records, but also for many social, political, and administrative tasks. Administrative tasks included keeping weather records, collecting crop harvest information, reporting crimes, and updating the voter registry. Imagine 8,000 Patwaris maintaining the land records – usually very small holdings -- of about 20 million land owners. The Patwaris, who were the custodians of these confidential and important records, kept this information in a cloth bag called Basta.
LRMIS has been performing really well. The Project was rolled out in all 36 districts of Punjab. The Project has successfully tested linkages between the land records system and the deeds registration system. The biggest achievement of the project is that the time required to complete transactions has been reduced from 2 months to 45 minutes. Land record services are now provided on an automated basis throughout all 150 Tehsil Service Centers. There are many contributing factors to the success of the Project:
Human capital: The Project hired top professionals who are proud to be good at their jobs and are willing to do even better.
IT and software connect with social inclusion and people’s participation. The LRMIS team designed an indigenous software tailored to the needs of the Punjab province and to the issues that needed to be resolved. The team undertook the detailed task of reviewing all manual records and data entry with exceptionally rigorous quality controls. These efforts included checking the double blind entry, system cross checks, complete verification by Patwaris and all records corrections and verifications. The software and the IT system, however, were unable to resolve the land records conundrum on their own unless a sustained and a clear social strategy to include and promote the participation of the ancestral Patwari system within the new and sophisticated computerized system was set in place. The incentives to foster the involvement and participation of the Patwaris to clean and update the records was and remains crucial. They continue to play a key role within the overall governance of the land records system, but in a regularized form with checks and balances. It was proven that it is more efficient to work through and with the existing local institutions while seeking changes needed to attain objectives.
Governance and the relationship between decentralization and centralization: Clearly a balance between decentralized land administration and management on one hand and national level direction on the other is necessary but how to achieve this balance is the tricky part. While the BOR is the institution providing direction at the provincial level with the implementation of the LRMIS, at the local district (Tehsil) level data centers called Arazi Record Centers (ARCs) were created. The establishment of about 150 ARCs increases access for the local population by reducing the physical distance between them and the ARCs. The centers have contributed to reduced costs, increased transparency, reduced transaction time and improved good governance.
LRMIS has contributed tremendously towards protection of women’s land rights. Records are computerized. The succession law is applied; one part for women and two parts for men. The ARCs also have reserved areas to service women and senior citizens; these are operated by female staff, thereby contributing to women’s participation in Pakistan’s workforce.
For Pakistan and for the Province of Punjab and for the Board of Revenue, as the implementing agency, this Project has been a challenge. Now it is a challenge of success, i.e., how to expand it to the rest of Punjab nay Pakistan.