Rich and well-connected

Online land records good tool for land-grabbing

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- it was waiting to happen. After all one can trade shares, buy airplane tickets and conduct a variety of commerce via the Internet. So, the Maharashtra government's and that of several other state governments' move to computerise the state's agricultural records doesn't really evoke much surprise. What, however, appears ludicrous is the state government's self-congratulatory statements that accompanied the announcement to place the land records on the Internet. T C Benjamin, settlement commissioner and director of land records, for example, lauded the move as the harbinger of greater transparency.

Transparency for whom, Mr Benjamin? According to recent Internet World Statistics, Internet users represent just 3.6 per cent of the country's population; rural users were negligible according to the survey. So, the Maharashtra government's hosannas for an e-utopia if ever there was one where farmers can access land records at the click of a mouse are utterly misplaced.

So, who benefits? Quite obviously, industry and the land mafia itching to click their way to the new e-market. Many ngos and activists have voiced fears that rather than help farmers, this move will just help corporate entities to target land they want for their growing operations in this age of liberalisation and get it for a song or a click. Their apprehensions are justified. But there are greater worries. The maze of land rights in India has confounded administrators since ancient times. The upheavals caused by the colonial attempts to codify them are well documented. Are those singing paeans for the e-market ready for similar upheavals? Perhaps it doesn't matter to them.

The situation is also apt to sound a warning to those 'well-meaning' groups who are easily swayed by the current hotch-potch of e-democracy, e-voting, interactive citizens, and so on. Under the circumstances, filling a hard disk with information, then circulating it to e-mail addresses in India, Bangladesh and a handful of us campuses, may bolster the illusion of belonging to a worldwide fraternity. But it is a very far cry from global democracy. We should do well to recall the words of the sociologist Manuel Castells: The most sophisticated features of interactive communication are the privilege of the most highly educated, prosperous segment of the population in the richest, most highly educated countries.

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