Criticality of efficient management of land resources to the sustainable economic development and socio-cultural harmony has been universally acknowledged and as the process of modern technology and industry led growth coupled with fast-paced urbanisation gathers increasing momentum the importance of optimial utilisation of land has acquired new dimensions. There have always been voices underlining the necessity of a humane and holistic approach to the managemenmt of land resources, so that decisions are not guided by current moment bias and are based on balanced processing of the compeiting demands. When Willa Cather says that Land belongs to the future; When Thomas Jefferson opines that “No generation can contract debts greater than may be paid during the course of its own existence;” when Moss Cass writes that We have not inherited this earth from our parents to do with it what we will. We have borrowed it from our children and we must be careful to use it in their interests as well as our own;” when Theodor Roosewelt echies the sentiment that The term “for the people” must always include the people unborn as well as the people now alive, or the democratic ideal is not realized; and when Aldo leopold observes that We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect; they are all essentially saying that this precious resource needs to be handled with utmost care.
Revenue Administration in the state has evolved over a period of time through the institutional and structural fabric put in place by the colonial rulers essentially based on the needs of an agrarian economy and considerations of revenue maximisastion and firm control over the Law and Order scenario. Successive Land Policies copupled with new legislations promulgated by the state Government tried to address the issues of equity and aligning land management to emerging demands of complex socio-economic relaities, but there has not been any paradigm shift in the broad administrative-legal framework governing the managemenmt of land; nor has been witnessed any significant change in the psycho-philosophical outlook of the administrative machinery towards land management. State Government has been conscious of the inadequacies of the prevailing scenario and has taken several momentous initiatives to herald a new era in the management of land resources in the state.
Draft national Land Use Policy includes in the definition of land “things attached to the Earth or anything permamanetly fastned to the things attached to the Earth.” It is amazing that an age-old Sanskrit Saying reflects the same organic and holistic understanding of land: God sleeps in minerals, awakens in plants, walks in animals and thinks in humans.
Lines of Barry Lopez deserve mention in this context: For a relationship with landscape to be lasting, it must be reciprocal. In approaching the land with an attitude of obligation, willing to observe courtesies difficult to articulate - perhaps only a gesture of the hands - one establishes a regard from which dignity can emerge. From that dignified relationship with the land, it is possible to image an extension of dignified relationships throughout one's life."
Forging an ethical and dignified relationship with land is looked upon as an important challenge by the state government and this is more than reflected in the renaming of the Revenue Department as Revenue and Disaster management Department and several other initiatives taken by it. Most important of them are the decisions to create a ground level instititutional mechanism in the form Village Land Management and Conservation Committee (VLMCC) for promoting the concept and spirit of stewardship of land at the community level and prepare perspective Village land Use Plan (VLUP) for each of about 27000 revenue villages in the state that will serve as the primary tool for deciding the way the land resources should be earmarked for various purposes. These two path-breaking decisions ensure that there will be no adhocism and short-termism in the decision-making process, informed and balanced decisions will be taken and the community will have an active role in the decision-making process; and will create a landscape, to use the words of wendell Berry, that will have a higher ratio of caretakers to acres, of care to use. Former American Vice-President Al also underscores the importance of attitudinal change at the level of community when he say that the struggle to save the global environment is in one way much more difficult than the struggle to vanquish Hitler, for this time the war is with ourselves. We are the enemy, just as we have only ourselves as allies. The cardinal purpose behind creating VLMCCs is to turn people into the allies of the land resources and make them internalise the truth that "I am I plus my surroundings; and if I do not preserve the latter, I do not preserve myself." More than 16000 VLMCCs have been formed and a detailed action plan has been chalked out for their orientation and empowerment.
The state has been extremely fortunate to have been handed down plenty of land reserved for the community purposes by past generations. Majority of the villages of open and green spaces, mostly in the form of Village Grazing Reserves (VGRs) and Professional Grazing Reseves (PGRs). There are other categories of reserved land too, like, Road-side reserve, river-side rserve, wetlands etc. and the state is also blessed with substantial unreserved land under governement control. But at the same time it has a large chunk of its poplation as landless and there are areas ravaged by recurrent floods and erosion rendering a vast multitude homeless and landless. It has resulted into unregulated encroachment taking place on large areas of reserved categories of community land with harmful consequences of various kinds. The situation calls for effective government intervention to protect the interests of both the ecology and the people. Government has responded by creating Village land Bank (VLB) for every revenue village and making it online, so that authentic data is available for the preparation of VLUPs and the ground situation can be monitored effectively to prevent unauthorised encroachment. Janet Kaufman has very aptly pointed out the dangers of unpragmatic approach to the use of land resources - We have an arsenal of ideas about land use possibly as dangerous to human life on the planet as the use of nuclear arms. Village land Banks can serve as an important tool for informed decision-making.
Maintenace of authentic land records is key to efficient management of land. Manual system of record keeping has not proved adequate and been marked by opacity, untimely updation or non-updation, corruption and harrassment to the people. State Government took the decision to launch web-based Integrated Land records management System as an answer to all these problems by ensuring interconnectivity among the Revenue Circle, Sub-registrar, Deputy Commissioners' offices and the Directorate of land Records. The Integrated land Records System has four components – online system of issuing NOC for the transfer of immovable property, as required under section 21 of the Registration Act, Dharitry - online system for updation of land records, e-Panjiyan – online system for registration of property, and online system for land revenue collection. All these four systems can talk to one another and ensure optimum efficiency, transparency and accountability in the revenue adminsitration. .
The Integrated land Records management System ensures that all the processes for the transfer and registration of land and updation of land records, like, Mutation, partition, Conversion, and Reclassification, and land revenue collection are handled online and people will have access to the land records online. Endeavour is being made to equip it with the facility of online payment though the payment gateway provided by State bank of India and next step is to link it up with the systems of the institutions like Banks, Cooperative Societies, Urban Local Bodies etc, so that the delivery of services which require verification of land records get fast and hassle-free.
One important aspect of land records managememt is the availability of maps that mirror ground realities. Significant strides have been made in this area by digitising about 26000 village maps with the help of ASTEC and integratin them with Dharitry through the software called: Bhu-naksha. There are still about 2500 villages which are either unsurveyed or mapsheets for which are not available, but Bhu-naksha is proving to be a great tool in the hands of land Rcords statff for updating the land records and correcting the instances of mismatch between the textual data and maps.
An effective system of record-keeping also requires proper maintenace of old records. State Government has taken up construction of 129 Modern Record Rooms in the Deputy Commissioner offices and Revenue Circles. The MRRs have computerised Ducument management Syatem which not only facilitates safe upkeep, but also an easy retrieval of the records. Once all of them are completed, it will be ensured that they become part of the Integrated land Records management System.
For all these institutional and e-governanace initiatives to wok satisfactorily, it is necessary that there are instrumentalities available to monitor the functioning of those responsible for making them work. State Government has taken two major initiative to enforce accountability. Management Information System (MIS) for Revenue Administration has been created as a comprehensive instrumentality to make available all the relevant information at one place and standardise the system of reporting.Of various modules, one is particularly fascinating and might be first of its kind in the whole country i.e. the module on Summary of Revenue Villages. This is one-stop gateway to all the useful information about each of the revenue villages in the state. Deputy Commissioners, Subdivisional Officers, Circle Officers and Sub-registrars are required to update all the modules on regular basis and furnish online certificates by 7th of every month to the effect that necessary updation has been done.
The second important instrumentality is e-Safar, the web-based system for recording and monitoring the tours and inspections by the departmental functionaries. Assam land Records manual requires the field level functionaries like, Circle Officer, Supervisory Kanungoes and Lot mandals, to visit the villages during Autumn, Winter and Spring seasons to update the basic land record called Chitha and also to share with the community the status of land records. Reputed environmentalist Paul Brookes lamented that In America today you can murder land for private profit. You can leave the corpse for all to see, and nobody calls the cops. To ensure that such a situation does not arise it has been made mandatory to enter the advance village visit programmes of these functionaries on e-Safar and the system makes it possible to monitor if the visits were actually undertaken, visit reports furnished and status of action taken on those reports.
State Government is aware that managing such an array of initiatives is not possible through the regular aministrative set-up. It decided, therefore, to create Assam Land Management and Information Society (ALMIS) under the Societies Registration Act to support and oversee the implementation of all these initiatives. Located in the office of Directorate of land Records, ALMIS has professionals engaged on contractual basis to do the monitoring and also to take care of the Central data Centre located therein. Besides, a new service called Assam land Revenue Service was created considering the growing need for specialisastion in the field of land management and it has also been decided to reorganise the existing set-up of field level functionaries in the form of Assam Subordinate Revenue Service with a view to creating better promotional avanues and utilising their empirical knowledge at higher levels of tevenue administration.
Department has put a lot of emphasis on the capacity-building of the revenue functioaries to equip them with the required know-how and skills to manage these changes. In addition to Structured classroom based training, arrangements have been made to provide continuous onsite support through State and District Dharitry teams. To further strengthen the District Dharitry Teams Government decided to provide Consultants for Integrated Land Records Management Syatem at the distict level. Besides, a momentous decision was taken to engage Field Officer (Disaster Management) in each of 154 Revenue Circles with the specific purpose of enhancing the capacity of Circle offices for working with the VLMCCs and to prepare VLUPs and Village Master plan for conservation and Disaster Management. Field Officers are required to take the messages on ethical relationship with land and preapred of the community to cope with natural and man-made disasters.
State Government has been appreciative of the fact that capacity-building is based pursued by creating an eco-system conducive for self-directed learning and meaningful communication, both vertical and horizontal. A multi-pronged strategy has been worked out to create that ecosystem. A web-based interactive Knowledge Managemenmt System is being developed for the departmental functioneries to be able to keep abreast of the progressive and innovative developments relating to their functional landscapes within or outside the country and share their own experiences and ideas. Secondly, it has been decided to utilise the NIC's SMS gateway to share educative information capsules on important areas of conservation and disaster management. Thirdly, periodic review meetings are being designed as fora for knowledge-sharing through the institutional mechanisms like District Disaster management Authority (DDMA), Circle Disaster Management and Conservation Committee (CDMCC) and Village land management and Conservation Committee (VLMCC). The process of knowledge sharing is never complete unless it provides ample scope for the sharing of the tacit knowledge of the people on the ground. Wendell Berry makes the same point when he says that as knowledge expands globally it is being lost locally. This is the paramount truth of the modern history of rural places everywhere in the world. And it is the gravest problem of land use: Modern humans typically are using places whose nature they have never known and whose history they have forgotten; thus ignorant, they almost necessarily abuse what they use.
There is also a serious and well-conceived effort to strengthen the organisational for the survey and re-survey. Process of replacement of old methods of survey by introduction of modern equipments like, DGPS, ETS etc. has laready been started and survey officials have been trained in the use of these equipments. It is now under active considertaion of the Government to upgrade the organisation into a full-fledged Directorate of Survey and replace the existing system of periodic Survey and Resettlement Operations that take decades to be completed by the concept of continuous survey and updation of records by creating Survey Wings in Deputy Commissioner offices. Two other major challenges are preparation of Village land Use Maps using remote sensing technology and ground truthing and GIS mapping of the critical land masses such as VGRs/PGRs and wetlands. A modest beginning has been made in both the areas, but it is a mammoth task and requires sizable financial resources.
Among other initiatives of the Government for strengthening revenue admistration include the decisions to replace the existing land related legislations with a new and comprehensive Asaam Land Revenue Code that is attuned to the present day challemges and futuristic at the same time, and preparation of the History of Settlements in the State that maps out the significant socio-economic and cultural trends that underpinned the emergence and spread of the land settlements with their distictive ethnic and cultural attributes in course of the history of the state.