Despite at least ten projects since 1995, Bangladesh's efforts to digitalise land management still remains elusive thanks to a lack of coordination among government offices, corruption, land officials' incompetence and their unwillingness to switch to automation.
Even after the failed attempts, land projects in the past couple of years appear to have been strenuously undertaken since they have proposed centralised land databases, use of drones in land surveys or ownership verification with a mobile phone-based app.
Even so, land related obstacles have mounted, as land disputes related to businesses jumped to 48% from 30% in 2002, as noted in the World Bank's Doing Business-2020 report.
A parliamentary watchdog on the land ministry recently vented its irritation over a land automation project that failed to take off even after three and a half years. The parliamentary committee said officials have been wasting public money since the project has purchased cars and recruited manpower, but could not even start the field-level survey.
The Tk352 crore project by the Land Record and Survey Department began in 2018, but it could not spend even 1% of the allocation even after missing the deadline in December 2021. Now an extension of the project has been sought till 2025, which means the cost will inflate to Tk380 crore as well.
The Planning Commission recently expressed its disappointment over the lack of progress of the project, seeking an explanation for the deadline being missed.
Under the project, lands are to be surveyed by drones in three city corporations, one municipality and two upazilas. After the survey aided by South Korea, a digital database will be set up that would allow all land-related topics such as registration, sales, purchase and mutation to be recorded digitally.
Among the objectives of the project are ensuring land rights of genuine owners, reducing land related disputes, scaling up land revenue and enhancing the government's land management capacity.
Md Younus Ali, director of the project, held Covid and technical issues responsible for the delay. He also pointed the finger at a stronger US Dollar against the Taka and foreign consultants for the 8% cost escalation.
Projects through Tk100cr piloting failed
The Digital Land Management System (DLMS) project was launched in 45 upazlias as a pilot scheme in 2011 to digitalise land management.
The scheme talked about developing an integrated land management software. The authorities said the project would expand across the country if the outputs were found to be satisfactory.
However, the land ministry later walked back on the scheme in 2017, saying, "The DLMS software is semi-automatic. It is not possible to work on data recorded by the system."
The Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) – the development project monitoring and evaluation agency under the Planning Ministry – in its assessment said the project had failed to deliver the desired outputs since the land management software could not be launched.
On futile spending, the IMED report noted that furniture was bought and supplied to the project sites.
After the DLMS, three projects at a total cost of Tk2,747 crore were taken up subsequently with almost the same target.
Currently, there are a total of four land digitalisation projects under the land ministry, all progressing at a snail's pace.
The ministry has been implementing the "Automation of Land Management" project since July 2020 at an estimated cost of Tk1,197 crore to digitalise all land offices. The project clocked 0.03% of progress up to August of the current fiscal year.
The ministry achieved 0.22% progress in implementing "Mouja and Plot Wise Digital National Land Zoning Project" up to August last year. Implementation of the project started in October 2020 at an estimated cost of Tk337.60 crore.
The Department of Land Record and Survey introduced "Strengthening Operational Capacity of the Department of Land Records and Surveys" for digital survey in July 2020, at an estimated cost of Tk1,212 crore. The department achieved zero financial progress up to August last year.
Abuyal Hossain, a former additional secretary at the land ministry who has been involved in land automation, said, "Most of the automation projects since 1995 were too obsessed with mutation. But in reality, there are so many aspects of land management. Since the projects failed to address them, digital land management remains in limbo."
Automation needs sincerity
ABM Shamsul Huda, member secretary of the Executive Committee of the Association for Land Reform and Development (ALRD), said inconsistency and a lack of cooperation among public offices pull back land digitalisation.
"Plus, there is inefficiency and unwillingness of the land officials towards digitalisation. Since transparent automation would stop irregularities and bribes, most of the service providers do not like it," he claimed.
Shamsul Huda noted that corruption in land-related services is so widespread that it has turned out to be the regular process. He called for political commitment and sincerity of the government to revitalise land automation.