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Courting tech to streamline revenue courts

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When Warren Hastings, the first de facto Governor-General of India introduced the office of the District Collector in 1772, he had twin objectives in mind – collecting revenue and ensuring peace. But over time, land management and peace keeping have moved to the back-burner and District Collectors have become an agent of centre and state governments to carry out their pet projects in the name of development.

This has happened even as the number of land disputes and revenue cases has sky-rocketed, adding to the woes of the already distressed farmers. Millions of cases are pending at revenue courts across the country. As of January 1, 2018, about eleven lakh cases are pending in three states alone, including seven lakh cases in Uttar Pradesh, three lakh cases in Madhya Pradesh and one lakh cases in Haryana.

The issue is compounded by the fact that unlike the National Judicial Data Grid that gives real time details about the number of disposed and pending cases from the level of District Courts to Supreme Court, there is no such platform for revenue cases. So much so, that in some states, the Chief Secretary has to rely on the data shared by the same District Collector who may have contributed to growing pendency.

“One of the fundamental weaknesses that all of us realise is that focus on land management, which was the main job of the department, is being diverted in favour of other areas – this has been an area of concern for all,” said Manu Shrivastava, principal secretary, Department of Science & Technology, Madhya Pradesh.

To address this challenge and reduce pendency, the Madhya Pradesh government has recently launched the Revenue Court Management System (RCMS). It is an online platform that tracks the progress of revenue cases in all the revenue courts – from the level of Nayab Tehsildar to Tehsildar to Sub-Divisional Magistrate to Additional Collector to Collector and the Board of Revenue.

The online platform provides details such as the number of cases pending in each revenue courts. Their next hearing dates and the status of disposed cases on an intuitive dashboard. So, from a Tehsildar to the Chief Secretary, all officials can find out how many cases are pending in different courts.

According to Shrivastava, this information is now being used by the present Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary, leading to a significant drop in pendency. “Law and order problems often originate from problems pertaining to land. Our new system has had an impact on the functioning of government and delivery of services. Our goal is not just to promote Information Technology (IT), but to impact government processes or final delivery of services in a meaningful way with the help of technological intervention,” said Shrivastava.

The RCMS is more or less similar to what states like Haryana and Himachal Pradesh already have in place but the differentiating feature with Madhya Pradesh is its indigenous nature – be it RCMS or the other key IT projects, they have been built by state’s own IT cadre led by the Madhya Pradesh Agency for Promotion of Information Technology (MAP-IT).

“Mostly in the government, where programmes are implemented, tenders are offered and outsourced to a company. However, we have software engineers employed in our organisation who undertake these programmes. Project management is done by us, ensuring privacy and data ownership,” said Shrivastava.

On the question of delay in implementing RCMS, Shrivastava conceded that a system like it should have been put in place much earlier. On the challenge to IT adoption in the state he said, “It is difficult to expect people to change over night. For instance, we are working on renewable energy based cooking. To expect people to suddenly change their eating habits for utilising renewable energy is unreasonable. We have to change technology to adapt to people’s requirements. There is no lack of acceptance among people, as long as the process is simple.”

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