|dc.description||Farmer Rai Singh Bhika Padvi and his neighbour are standing in line at the local office of the Stamps and Registration Department (SRD) in Warana Nagar, in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Within just a few minutes digital images of the men have been recorded with a webcam and their thumbprints registered with a biometric scanner. The images will be included in an official document detailing the property deal the two men struck a few days ago.
Registering this document is the first and most critical step in the process of transferring formal title to land or property. The document serves as proof of identity of the new owner, and is accepted by banks as collateral for loans or other forms of credit. After adding the digital photograph and thumbprint, an SRD official stamps and signs the original document, passes it through a digital scanner and stores the image on CD. Padvi and his neighbour are then handed a printed receipt confirming the transaction. In just under 30 minutes, their deal is digitally signed and sealed, and the original document is delivered back to the customer.
Not so long ago this registration procedure would have taken many hours or even days. The improvement has been achieved with the Stamp and Registration with Information Technology Application (SARITA), a software platform developed by the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) to support the computerization of the state´s land registration system. Since 2002 SARITA has been introduced at 360 SRD offices, which serve 7 million customers each year and process a million pages of documents per day.
Not only has SARITA cut the time and effort required of both SRD officials and customers to process documents, it has also made the land registration procedure far less complicated. The Maharashtra state government recognizes 62 different property and deed registration documents, all of which used to be stored in enormous paper-based archives. Many of these documents were never verified or updated, and often contained incorrect or false information. The system was open to abuse, and to so-called ´stamp shams´ - large numbers of registration documents containing counterfeit stamps - resulting in significant losses in revenue for the government.
Thanks in large part to SARITA, fraud has been significantly curtailed. The system´s foolproof security measures, such as image encryption and decryption, and the inclusion of digital photographs and thumbprints, help to prevent forgeries. Local registrars are now required to stamp and sign registration documents immediately, in view of the waiting customer, rather than behind closed doors. What´s more, all local SRD offices are linked via an inexpensive dial-up Internet connection to facilitate the exchange of documents and other data between the taluka (villages) and the highest administrative level. The new operational transparency has prevented abuses of the system across the board.
Crucially, the system has also helped to boost state government revenues. SARITA automatically checks the value of the land or property that is being registered, provides a valuation and calculates the amount of stamp duty payable. This can be carried out at the click of a button because SARITA is hooked up to databases containing land survey and property market data verified by the state government. Within just two years, the state´s annual revenues from stamp duty have increased by 30%.
Another reason for SARITA´s success lies in the organizational model adopted - a public-private partnership between the SRD and the private sector known as ´build, operate and transfer´ (BOT). With this arrangement the state has been able to increase its property tax revenues without any capital investment. Private companies have been contracted to install, operate and maintain SARITA across all SRD offices for an initial period of five years. These companies are responsible for operating and maintaining the computer hardware, providing personnel for data entry and scanning tasks, and maintaining performance standards. The private partners operate their collective computing infrastructure on a cost-sharing basis, and are able to recover their investments by charging service fees to SRD customers. At the end of the contract period, ownership of SARITA will be transferred back to the state government.
SARITA has emerged as a truly successful e-governance application, delivering transparent and more efficient services that have provided a win-win solution for the state government, the commercial sector and the public. This public-private partnership model has the potential to transform the work of land registration agencies throughout India, and in countries across the world.
Suraj Kulkarni is a software developer at C-DAC. For further information, visit