If bureaucrats and officials don’t find ways to scuttle the intent and objectives of the sudden, disruptive land legislation Telangana chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao sprung on the state, it has built in within its scope ability to reform and impact and set a benchmark so momentous that it would be chronicled someday as one of India’s most important legislations.
The legislation is momentous, epic, but the asterisk (with a conditions apply warning) is rather crucial — if the bureaucracy, higher and lower, don’t succeed in sabotaging Rao’s dream, as they are often wont to do.
As most Indians know, land revenue is one of the most brazenly corrupt functions of all governments and administrations: nowhere in our national democracy is Article 14 followed to its finality — land registrations don’t discriminate against any Indian based on gender, region, religion, caste or economic strata — everyone pays a bribe while buying or selling a land.
Almost no one’s land is safe either. No criminal or political goon in any area can grab or illegally occupy anyone else’s land to make a claim based on the proviso of “possession” without the connivance of officials of the land department.
Records of ownership and transfer are fraught with such complex conditionality and local variances, if one wishes to truly experience a slice of the medieval ages, one can try to buy, sell or seek a migration of purpose of land.
Chandrashekar Rao wishes to change all that, starting with abolishing and removing the village revenue officer (VROs).
In an announcement on Monday that was styled to draw parallels with Narendra Modi’s “surgical strike” swiftness, Rao decided to order all VROs to hand over all land documents to tahsildars, who would henceforth likely register all agriculture land while sub-registrars will handle non-agriculture land.
Mutations will be hassle-free with a single website, named Dharani, will handle all land records and transfers.
In the past, in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, late chief minister N.T. Rama Rao tried to revolutionise land administration and abolished the Patwari system, which earned him huge political goodwill, but the deeply entrenched Patels/Patwaris of Telangana region managed to embed themselves back into the system with a new nomenclature — VROs.
India’s current land system was largely conceptualised and designed by Sher Shah Suri, which Mughal emperor Akbar modified and named the mansabdari system, which, with a few changes, lasted the British era and thrived with very few amendments in Independent India.
Can Telangana set a new benchmark in high quality transformation of a vexatious branch of administration and enable our experiencing a basic economic right in a manner befitting the 21st century? Will Rao’s political determination and foresight be able to withstand the pressures of not just the displaced VROs, but an entire powerful corrupt ecosystem — land mafia, politicians, local goons, officials, touts and “dispute settlement” lords?
Will Rao deliver a reform that will make history hail him as a great reformer or will he succumb before forces within his own party and government to hijack it remains to be seen. But for once, there is hope.