'Sindh to have E-passbooks for farming land soon' -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

‘Sindh to have E-passbooks for farming land soon’

Pakistan Press Foundation

Zulfiqar Ali Shah is a career bureaucrat currently serving as Secretary to the Government of the Sindh province. He holds a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from Indiana University Bloomington USA and a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Pakistan. 

His present assignment for the last five years, as Member (Reforms), Board of Revenue, has been to computerize Sindh’s land-ownership records. This project has been successfully completed and launched in April 2016 and subsequent reforms are now underway. 

The project has directly benefited more than 7 million landowners through free online services and 27 Service Centers throughout the province. Moreover, Land Registry Management System automation and introduction of E-Stamps is swiftly underway and will be completed by June 2018. A GIS-based cadastral mapping system has also been developed for Karachi and is being expanded to the rest of the province. The Board of Revenue Sindh has also introduced web-based integrated land management system that connects digitized maps, land ownership records and land registries.

Below are the edited excerpts from BR Research’s recent conversation with the man behind the reforms. 

BR Research: Can we start off with a general background of the problems that Sindh government set out to solve?

Zulfiqar Shah: The subject of land records is generally decentralized in Sindh; land records are generally held at Tehsil (or Taluka) level. This structure has been there since the colonial times. There are 126 Talukas; so it’s geographically scattered with poor storage. Moreover, there are various forms of land records with inconsistencies, and even within the same format you will find differences in printed forms, many of which are not transparently available to the land owners. As a result, land record manipulation; exploitation of revenue; and other examples of corruption and inefficiencies are very common.

BRR: How is the Board of Revenue (BOR) structured? 

ZS: Structurally, there are three different silos in the BOR: land records, registries and maps.

The BOR is mandated to keep the land records and also to collect agricultural tax based on agricultural land. It also performs the function of ‘Registry’ by holding the records of all transactions of land that comes under its own domain as well as the domain of other agencies. Then there is a directorate of Maps, Settlement and Survey headquartered in Hyderabad.

None of the three silos talk to each other. They do at times talk to each other for instance, before you get the registry done, they ask you to get it attested by the land records department. But a formal, permanent relationship which accounts for every change in each and every segment is non-existent and that is the basic flaw.

BRR: We will get into the project details in a bit, but just for clarification, by land record we mean both land and property, right? 

ZS: Yes, by land records I mean land and property together. But in Sindh, the BOR is the custodian of the property only to the extent that when land or property is handed to other landowning agencies, the BOR only maintains the registry but does not record the land, or maintain a map.

For instance, Karachi alone has about 18 landowning agencies. When you hand over the land to the DHA; you mark it on the map, then the maps within those allotted areas and the land & property records are maintained by the DHA. Likewise is the case with, KDA, KMC, cantonments and so on.

BRR: Is there any law or rule of business that says all of these datasets by KMC, KDA should be reconcilable and the datasets can talk to each other at the very least?

ZS: There is no well-defined law as such. Secondly, when you make two systems talk to each other you need technology and there are varying technological capacities of the different departments. And last but not the least, there is no keenness either to adopt the modern technology. Because these departments are moving with their stereotypical pace, they’re not ready to change. The change has to be enforced upon them, and it won’t come from within.

BRR: Tell us about the Land Administration & Revenue Management Information System (LARMIS); the financing and other broad contours.  

ZS: The problems related to land records were realized a long time ago; there were some decisions made as well, but there was no implementation. Eventually we moved at the direction of President of Pakistan in 2011, and at the same time the Supreme Court had also directed all the four provinces to automate their land records.

This project is fully funded by Sindh government; there is no donor or foreign support, neither technological nor financial. The initial approved project cost was Rs4.9 billion, and this is the first mega project in the history of this province where there is no cost overrun. In fact, there is cost saving of Rs400 million which we returned back to the provincial government.

BRR: What are some of the distinct features of LARMIS? 

ZS: To start with, most of the land record is in Sindhi language. The Englishmen introduced recordkeeping in vernacular language so that’s how it’s been; but now, over a period of time, it’s a mix of Urdu, Sindhi & English languages.

The registry is mostly in English in Karachi for instance, and in Sindhi in the rural areas. But the land records mainly related to the rural areas of the province are in Sindhi language. Sometimes registries are executed in Urdu also. So understand the fact that we had to devise the software for land records from scratch.

Also, the format of the land record in Sindh is different from that in Punjab, and it is unique to all the other three provinces. In Punjab, there is ‘Register haqdaran-e-zamin, shajra-e-nasb etc’ and in Sindh, there is no such thing. There is a land register which is survey register, then there is village form-II which is for urban property and smaller towns, and then village form-VII for agricultural land exists in different formats in Talukas.

I advise all resident of Sindh – especially buyers, sellers and brokers to visit sindhzameen.com and also download the app to check out all the features. There a lot of features on the website such as the property tax calculator, registries, maps, microfilmed records, archive records, sales certificates, survey register, revenue laws, list of Dehs, administrative units, etc.

Apart from that, we have made a lot of information public like viewing our daily performance, the number of web visitors, the number of services provided, etc.

BRR: What are the advantages or disadvantages of not getting donor funding? We know Punjab has developed its land administration programme on the back of World Bank funding and technical assistance. 

ZS: International donor or multilateral funding is somewhat a double-edged sword. Sometimes they do control the agenda, leaving lesser room for indigenization. But that is only one side of it.

Like in Punjab, the World Bank funded from scratch. Even though there would have been a few terms and conditions applied by the World Bank but there were two major benefits. One, that the World Bank has an expertise of about 60 mega projects of land records computerization worldwide now. Secondly, when the World Bank works on a project, they highlight it too. There is political mileage that a typical politician would like to get from it, and when they did Punjab land records, CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif got some major limelight.

Having foreign expertise amid the change of regimes/ governments and poor governance structures in general, ensures that at least the technical as well as financial assistance is consistent.

In our case, however, there was keenness at that time by the government so we just went ahead and started the project. The World Bank has now shown their interest by offering us assistance to take this project to the next level of integration of various systems.

BRR: What percentage of land records have been computerized to date?

ZS: All the available land records of the 29 districts that the province maintained since 1985 have been computerized. This is about 95 percent of the existing records that come under the domain of the BOR; the remaining 5 percent includes burnt and missing records. Burnt records are also reconstructed, though some are still missing. So the statistics have come close to about 97-98 percent.

The centralized database has about 18 million pages which have been scanned, and in the process of doing so, we discovered that it’s the largest Sindhi language database in the world.

This entire database is backed up at Tier-III level so it’s fail proof. All of our service centers look almost the same with standardized designs. There is a biometric system installed in each of the centers, so you take your token and then go to the desk and then get a biometric record search and then your CNIC is verified by NADRA and then you can fetch the record in 15 minutes at a cost of Rs150.

Each record has the image of the original document, as well as the computerized data. The paper on which the records are printed comes from the government’s Pakistan Security Printing Corporation; it has several security features including the QR code.

BRR: Does the document issued by the BOR come with a guarantee of ownership of the property? Can it stand as evidence in the court in the case of property disputes? 

ZS: Yes it can stand in court in the sense that there can’t be two documents; if there are two, one of them will be fake and easy to spot because of the enhanced security features on the original. It is easy to differentiate between authentic and fake documents.

However, in Pakistan we haven’t gotten to the stage of guaranteeing ownership. In developed countries, the government and authorities giving you the title take the responsibility of the document that they issue. If it has any error, then the risk is on them and for this purpose there are insurance companies also. But this is in the first world. In the subcontinent, we have a long way to go.

BRR: Have you also digitized all the historical transactions of a particular property?  

 ZS: We have been in the process of digitizing registries. In the first step, we are digitizing all the archive registries, of which there were more than 7 million registries available in micro films. We have already converted them to digital and currently doing the data entry.

One year down the line, you’d be able to see all the rural, urban, suburban transactions occurring in the last 32 years in this province. You can already search for the last five years of registries online but 30 years will take some more time.

Secondly, we are also trying to computerize the existing system of registrations and we have given this task to NADRA. Thirdly, we have abolished the micro-film setup. The documents physically signed are now digitally scanned and not micro filmed. The entire registry system will be digitalized in around one year.

With online registration; monopoly of information is eliminated, obtaining agricultural loans is easier, there is lesser time cost, transactions are secured, it improves business environment and fraudulent entries can be eliminated.

BRR: Wasn’t BOR also coming up with E-stamps?

 ZS: Yes we are waiting for the Chief Minister Sindh’s approval on the finalized design. NADRA has already studied the system and proposed us three models as the architecture which systems development firms can execute. We are hoping by June 2018, a lot more progress would be made.

BRR: The last time we met, you said the BOR was interested in talking to banks and building some product around these kinds of data sets. What’s the progress to date? 

 ZS: We have already done some work on that. We have provided direct verification link to Sindh Bank and United Bank Limited and next week we are signing an MOU with the Allied Bank Limited & Habib Bank Limited. This will reduce the time and cost of verification of land document from several weeks to only a few minutes.

In the bigger picture, one of the ultimate objectives is to assist banks and the central bank in increasing agricultural loans. When there is convenience, customers draw automatically; our objective is to make public service delivery better for the end user.

Farming loans are obtainable on a few conditions: if you are a land owner, the land should be cultivable with cultivation record in order to get a loan. As an experiment, we have picked a Taluka from Hyderabad and its yearly agricultural data because currently only the landownership records are computerized, not the annual crops.

Under this project, we will have E-passbook for land owners and the whole idea is that you as an individual will have all the necessary information on this card; from your CNIC, your urban rural industry, commercial and every property you own, your agricultural data and any other information that you wish to give us. So you go to the bank and they will immediately assess your credit worthiness based on it. This can be in a broader sense, like a credit card and all your property will be on it.

In the next stage, we are trying to come up with system with the banks so that they’ll directly mortgage on these cards and then that information comes to us into the database.

BRR: What’s the progress with maps? 

ZS: Maps for the entire province are digitized to about 70 percent. But we want to take it to the next level. We have developed software which connects the land records with the maps. It’s in a prototype form and we are trying to expand it. Our objective is to club the digital data for maps, land records and the registries. This is not available in Punjab so we’ll again be the first.

When the registries will be completed, they’ll be associated with the database and then the survey numbers, plots, registries, maps, all will be associated and that is the concept of integrated land management. As a result of this, everyone from the three directorates will be bound to consult this database, leaving no discrepancy in terms of area, ownership etc. Along with this, we have computerized data of settlements, the notified villages, education facilities, and railway lines in the province.

We do face a lot of constraints because of systems as there is no mandatory updating of records. For example, four people had a piece of land who later decided to distribute it equally among themselves. The transaction was recorded in the registry but the on-ground distribution is not updated in the Maps directorate.

BRR: How much of BOR’s land have been encroached?

ZS: We have a report of Karachi division from 2013 that we made on the orders of the Supreme Court. Based on satellite maps, the report clearly shows that in Karachi alone 60,000 acres of BOR’s land has, in our opinion, been encroached.

Out of those 60,000 acres, about 7,000 to 8,000 acre are encroached by private owners; the rest is by institutions and the biggest encroachers are Sindh government’s own departments.

BRR: What is the next step forward for BOR?

 ZS: There is a strong need of actual field survey again for the entire province based on GIS. We need to account for the ground realities again and to plot the digital coordinates so that the break or disconnect that lies between the existing archival maps and the ground realities is eliminated.

For example, in Garden East there is an old house. In our maps, it’s a one acre plot; you’ve bought it and then you made a building of 200 flats with 200 families residing in them. In our record, it’s still a one acre house but the sub-registrar has 200 owners registered, and in the property register, it only is updated with the sale of the land. Do you see the disconnect? Unless and until we do a field survey, all the available information will remain in different silos. Once this exercise is done, we will have a credible database for taxation.

The world is now entering into a phase of 3D mapping. In the context of urban properties, your horizontal development is not the only important part; vertical is just as important and needs to be considered. When the development is multidimensional, you need 3D software to account for it. Now when the 200 flats are constructed in Garden East, only when you make a 3D map, you’ll find out about them and connect those to the registries and the change of ownership.

BRR: How much money will the field survey cost and when will it be completed? 

ZS: The project will cost about Rs2 billion to Rs3 billion. We put forward a proposal last year but it wasn’t approved because of shortage of funds. This time we have taken it up again, let’s see.

BRR: Why are that World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings haven’t yet incorporated LARMIS in its report as a result of which our ranking in its ‘Registering Property’ sub-index is rather poor, since Karachi has a two-thirds of weight in country ranking? 

ZS: We have to understand the data collection cycle of those rankings. When they were collecting data last year, we hadn’t fully launched LARMIS, which is why it didn’t reflect in the rankings. However, when the Ease of Doing business rankings will be launched later this year, you will see that Sindh LARMIS will help boost Pakistan’s performance in that sub-index.

BRR: You and your team are career officers, so you may be transferred to other departments. What’s to ensure that good projects like this don’t fail midway? Are there any institutional steps or any reforms that are being implemented?

ZS: We are in the process of confirming and permanently appointing the officials who have carried out the project. If the leadership changes, it doesn’t matter as we have the core expertise. We have the field staff in place now and soon they will be a permanent part of the system. Ideally, I would like to see the entire restructuring of the board of directors of the BOR. But that lies beyond my realm of authority.


Business Recorder

Related Stories

Business Recorder: The death of a true great