In the Indian state of Telangana, rural land records have largely not been updated since the 1940s. Recent field studies indicate that most of these records are no longer accurate. As a result, a vast majority of smallholder farmers have unclear and insecure rights to the land they rely on.
These farmers are vulnerable to being pushed off their land and are more likely to become embroiled in land disputes.
Moreover, without legal documentation of their land holdings, farmers are often unable to access government agricultural support programs including crop loans, crop insurance, and government input subsidies.
The ramifications of this, at scale, hampers development and clogs the court system.
Recognizing the critical role accurate and clear land records and rights play in agricultural productivity, security, poverty alleviation, and in minimizing land disputes, the government of India has launched an ambitious $1.6 billion Digital India Land Record Modernization Program (DILRMP) to update and modernize land records.
The global land rights organization Landesa has developed and tested a low-cost, community-led process to update land records. The process relies on trained community members and paralegals to gather and analyze information village-by-village through household surveys, land records analysis, and field verification.
Landesa trained paralegals to help farmers correct the government’s land records when an inaccuracy is identified.
Landesa’s initial model involved collecting and analyzing the data using traditional surveys conducted with pencil and paper. Gathering this information generally took about three hours per land parcel.
Landesa sought to explore opportunities to further improve efficiency and effectiveness and reached out to Cadasta Foundation.
Cadasta developed a tailor-made digital survey and trained Landesa staff and community paralegals to collect the data using GPS-enabled mobile phones and tablets.
Landesa’s field testing of Cadasta’s digital survey with GPS-enabled tablets and smartphones brought the time needed to record a single parcel’s data from three hours to less than 40 minutes. Using Cadasta’s digital survey also eliminated the need to transcribe information from document to document, reducing the risk of transcription errors which might further undermine a farmer’s land rights.
“This demonstrates the value add of these digital tools,” said Jolyne Sanjak Landesa’s chief program officer. “With technology, we can record the data faster, reduce errors, and in the end, produce land records that are even easier to share with government.”
The Cadasta Platform, used by government officials or a trusted local NGO like Landesa, has the potential to expedite the government’s efforts to update and digitize its land records. And the platform allows for easy sharing and analysis of the data.