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seeking information on land deals in Maharashtra? Log on to http://mahabhulekh.mumbai.nic.in:8080/. The website, the latest 'milestone' achieved by the Pune-based settlement commissioner and directorate of land's office, furnishes information on agriculture record of rights in the state's talukas and villages. And there are big plans to expand it for greater 'transparency'.
According to T C Benjamin, settlement commissioner and director of land records, Pune, The entire data of land records are available online. By March 31, we will also chart out details of all urban properties throughout the state online. People will have access to all kinds of land-related information free of cost. Experts, however, claim that builders, industries and land mafia stand to gain over farmers by accessing and using such information, because they can use it in a manner that can harm farmers' interests.
The website provides data under two main heads: '7/12' (saat-baara) and 'query'. The former establishes the owner's right over a combination of village forms 7 (record of rights) and 12 (record of crops). Under '7/12', information is sorted out under sub-heads of district name, taluka name and village name.
A 'query' entry has two options: to either locate land on the basis of area in hectares; or on the basis of tenure of land fully government-owned, partially government-owned, fully private, partially private and common land. It also provides details like crops sown on particular piece of land and liabilities of a farmer towards local land development banks.
But there are precedents of such abuse of information. In Bangalore, the Bhoomi project has helped it companies locate pockets of land for acquisition with the click of a mouse. Solomon Benjamin, an expert on urban governance, along with his colleagues, carried out a study in January 2005 titled, 'Bhoomi: E-governance, or an anti-politics machine necessary to globalise Bangalore?' to understand the impact of the programme. Their study found that the computerisation and the centralisation of land records made it a more expensive affair and less efficient for poorer groups to access and use such records.
The study also found that villagers had to wait for three to four months to get a copy of records of rights. Besides, to avoid losing a day's wage, villagers often hired agents and paid much larger 'market-rate' bribes. There were complications arising due to problems like wrongly spelled names.
In fact, the problems of e-land records run much deeper simply because no Indian state has a straight and simple land tenure system. There is a major controversy regarding Maharashtra's Vidarbha region's forest villages. Recently, a Down To Earth correspondent travelled to Amravati district and met tribals from the Melghat area who were on a hunger strike for not receiving 7/12. Most of them have been branded encroachers because they have no legal proof of land ownership.
T C Benjamin claims all efforts have been made to verify the data on the website. Three steps for data verification have been followed. ngos working in tribal areas should use information provided in this website to know the actual status. Portions of land in forest areas is encroached and thus 7/12 cannot be obtained.
This may be a fancy online land record system but what it also does is further alienates marginalised people and possibly writes them out of official records. A lot of people may just have been erased.