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All revenue offices of Odisha get high-speed internet to update land records via Land Records Management System

Odisha was adjudged as the second best performing state to have digitised land records, in the National Land Records Services Index 2020 (N-LRSI) survey of the National Council of Applied Economic Research. Under DILRMP, Odisha has computerised all registration offices and registered documents are delivered to citizens on the same day. In an interview with Express Computer, C J Venugopal, Member, Board of Revenue, Government of Odisha says that the reform measures in property registration in the field of online document submission, slot booking and token system will start as pilot projects in five registration offices, besides the sub-registrar offices. Excerpts:

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When did you start digitising land records work and in how many years it took to complete the entire process?

“Bhulekh” is part of the Government of Odisha’s Land Records Modernisation initiative. Under this programme, the government aims to achieve complete digitisation of all the land records. Odisha is pioneer in implementing Land Record Modernisation Programme, which was acknowledged from the testimonial that Odisha was adjudged as the second best performing state in terms of digitising land records, in the National Land Records Services Index 2020 (N-LRSI) survey conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research. Under DILRMP, Odisha has computerised all registration offices (SRO). Registered documents are delivered to citizens on the same day. Encumbrance Certificates and Certified Copies of registered documents are issued online. Digitisation of land records of the tenants showing the ownership of land has been done, which is available in the Bhulekh website (http:// bhulekh.ori.nic.in). In 2008, Odisha successfully made all the land records digital and accessible to the general public through the Bhulekh Odisha website. Cadastral maps have been digitised and hosted in the ‘Bhunaksha’ website (http://bhunakshaodisha.nic.in/). All revenue offices have been equipped with high-speed internet connectivity for updating the land records through e-Mutation software, namely Land Records Management System (LRMS). LRMS is the single source, where every land record gets updated. Modern Record Rooms are operational in 279 Tehsils out of 317 Tehsils.

As we know the land registration can now be done online in Odisha, what are some major benefits for the people?

To make the land registration easier, the whole registration process of Odisha has been reengineered and now it can be done hassle-free, through the Inspector General of Registration Revenue and Disaster Management Department (IGR) website. The Revenue and Disaster Management department is predominantly accountable for computerisation of revenue offices, updation of land records, digitisation of cadastral maps, inter-connectivity among revenue offices, undertaking survey operations using modern technologies, etc.

To offer easier land registration, the department makes available a host of services on its website, which includes online land records showing the ownership of the land, model sale deed format for property registration in Odia and English, issuance of e-stamp certificates, online payment of registration fees, stamp duty and registration fees calculator and benchmark valuation of all land.

The reform measures in property registration in the field of online document submission, slot booking and token system will start as pilot projects in five registration offices besides sub-registrar offices. These registration offices will be model offices so that benefits offered to the registrant public can well be documented and replicated in other registration offices. The move is to help out a common citizen without physically visiting registration office for property registration. We are harping on further improvement in online payment of stamp duty, registration fees and other dues by citizens in a contactless manner.

While there is an online facility in the system, it requires reinforcement measures to help out citizens in property registration so that he/she can prepare a document from a well-developed deed writing module with inputs of required variables. With system development, one can pay stamp duty, registration fees, and other fees electronically and can submit documents online with necessary information for registration of the property. 

To ensure people get maximum advantage of digital initiatives, internet connectivity plays a key role. What do you think about the present connectivity issues in Odisha? Has it changed drastically in the recent past?

For better administration, we need to keep pace with the technological advancements and to take maximum advantage of digital initiatives, internet connectivity plays a key role. I firmly believe that digital infrastructure will be an enabler of growth and development in the state.

In the pursuit of its spirit of “Internet for All”, the Government of Odisha is gearing up to provide high speed internet connectivity to all Gram Panchayats. Directives have been issued to provide Wi-Fi connectivity at the main activity points of the GPs so that all government offices including the schools, medicals and banks can also access the connectivity. Each GP would have five connection points for utilisation by development institutions and government offices. The main commercial place of the GPs would get Wi-Fi connection. The telemedicine centres, schools and agriculture kiosks would be connected for facilitating healthcare, e-learning and profitable agri-commerce. We are in the process of completing a target for optical fibre cable that has been laid and the balance will be completed soon. Similarly, now most of the blocks and the GPs have been provided the connectivity. Rest blocks and GPs will be linked up in phases. This infrastructure will bring all the GPs within the scope of the SWAN network. It shall also be available to be leased out to the telecom and internet service providers on a commercial basis. Odisha is also establishing an SPV (special purpose vehicle) involving the departments like Energy, Electronics and IT and Panchayati Raj for productive utilisation of the digital infrastructure created in the state. Viable business plan with self-sustaining models for the SPV is being worked out.

How many land registrations are done every year in Odisha and how much revenue is being collected through registry every year? Please share with us the figures. 

The total revenue collected in 2019 was INR 1,456 crore whereas the government collected INR 2,549 crore in 2020. We have worked judiciously on the Inspector General of Registration portal of Revenue and Disaster Management Department to put all of this data in public domain so that the people across the sectors can utilise it.

What is the biggest digital initiative of your department ever since the lockdown was imposed by the Centre on March 24, 2020? Kindly explain in detail.

Last year during the lockdown period, there had been definite restrictions on movements of the common public which was imposed by the government concerning the upsurge of Covid-19. The unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic presented itself as a great opportunity for innovation. As we were required to conduct the revisional courts under Board of Revenue of Odisha, we brainstormed to create a platform for virtual court which can be helpful for citizens and other stakeholder to attend it without physically visiting the court.

By holding revisional courts through a virtual court system combined with CCMS project, the concept of public distancing is obeyed as the general public were able to connect virtually to the revisional courts to contest their cases. Nowadays, it is being used as an alternative to physical and in-person interactions between petitioner, defendants, and all parties related to trials and judgment. The citizens and their advocates are participating in the court proceedings by sitting in the comforts of their home, workplace or any convenient place through connecting virtually to the concerned courts via links provided to them in the daily/ weekly case lists of the courts.

The virtual court idea isn’t just only for ease of use but it also eases the burden of heavy backlogs of cases and other matters of the court. Everyone is apparently pleased with the path breaking initiatives as it not only saves time but also holds back expenses of the general public.

While it can adhere to public guidelines on social distancing, I sincerely hope that virtual courts have the capacity to break through the barriers of months-long waiting periods and fasten the court proceedings and morph these challenges into opportunities for success.

Can you share some of the challenges which you faced with respect to technology adoption in the initial phases of the Covid-19 lockdown?

It is rhetoric to say that every breakthrough initiative comes along with certain challenges. The challenge factor projects to run without interruption for the foreseeable future. Understanding this fact, we have accepted it, and learn to take these technology adoption challenges and turn them into opportunities that have actually accelerated its usage.

With respect to technology adoption during the lockdown period, the challenges were to provide an online platform to all the litigants to participate in the hearing of their revisional cases, as many litigants were not tech-savvy and that they had not provided their emails/mobile numbers. Besides, preserving data in the virtual cloud space for a longer and hassle free environment for usage by more participants during a single sitting of a virtual court also possesses a challenge. To overcome these challenges, we have taken various steps in consultation with the NIC to broaden the virtual data cloud space, the speed of data and other technical issues. The information gap of emails/mobile numbers have since been addressed by the collection of proper data from the users for holding the virtual courts. Also regular training was provided to the departmental officials in the revisional courts for smooth facilitation. We have made the virtual court platform as device agnostic application so that it can operate on desktop, laptop, iPads, smart phone, etc. The result is a virtual court system that deals with more hearings per day in a quicker and more efficient manner. Aggrieved citizens can get on with their lives faster and pursue the next course of action, or other solutions for their future in a time bound manner.

In order to conceptualise and implement any digital initiative, the role of partnership with private players plays an important role. What has been your experience of partnering with the private tech players?    

We are in the midst of an exciting journey towards digital revolution. Digital initiatives are bringing great transformation in the citizen centric service delivery model. 

Governments across the world are taking leads in bringing all stakeholders – public sector, private sector and the civil society – to combat issues faced by citizens at large. 

It is also changing the outlook of the government towards partnering with private players. The government is nimble enough to recognise this and encourage participation of private players in the delivery of services.

Over the years, we have seen that private players need to be brought on board to play an important part in technology consulting, project management and software development, etc. They assist us with their techniques and expertise to bring innovative digital solutions which in turn help the government to identify and clear bottlenecks, promote transparency, reduce service delivery costs, and deliver public services efficiently.

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