Despite the assurances of government officials, in wake of new developments, critical voices caution that the patwar system may be back
Apprehensive outbursts questioning the legality of formation of newly launched Dehi Markaz Maals (DMMs) administered by the Board of Revenue (BoR) terming them an infringement on the PLRA Act 2017. DMMs are newly-established centres, almost four months old that are issuing fard (property ownership certificate) and mutation (transfer of land document) record. There is outrage that in the presence of PLRA’s well-established Arazi Record Centers (ARCs) which computerised almost 95 percent records with experienced and well-trained staff, the setting up of DMMs amounts to creating a parallel system that might throw a spanner in the works.
Critical voices are raising questions on the legality of appointment and functioning of patwaris (Land Record Officer) which are now called village officers in DMMs, in violation of PLRA Act 2017 stating that the move is essentially a re-launch of the patwar regime.
A writ petition was filed in the LHC two weeks ago challenging the power of Board of Revenue (BoR) to appoint patwaris (Land Record Officer), especially empowering them to issue fard (the property ownership document) and authorising them to perform land-related tasks in a clear violation of the Punjab Land Record Authority (PLRA) Act 2017 as only PLRA officials are legally qualified to do so.
Sayyid Murtaza Ali Pirzada, the petitioner, tells The News on Sunday (TNS) that the common citizens are going to suffer because of this “big scam” as he expects thousands of fards and other land-related documents being issued by patwaris and tehsildars. These, he warns, have no legal value because under the PLRA Act 2017, such transactions will be challenged on the ground that those issuing them lack the legal status to do so.
The Board of Revenue (BoR) has appointed the patwaris and tehsildars or sub-tehsildars (revenue official) to issue fards and perform various other official functions at newly established DMMs also known as Service Delivery Outlets under the administrative perview of the BoR.
PLRA officials have written a letter to the PLRA DG Moazam Iqbal Sipra on April 29 (Thursday), 2021 pointing out the allegedly unlawful role of the DMMs and the patwaris regarding the issuance of fards and mutation documents. It states that according to the Land Revenue Act 1967 under Section 42 A (3), patwaris have been prohibited to register the records of land and West Pakistan Land Revenue Rules 1968 Rule 36-A only authorises Service Centre Officer (SCO) at Arazi Record Centres (ARCs) governed by PLRA to issue fards.
This raises the concern that all allegedly illegal DMMs (that are issuing important land documents of public worth billions of rupees) governed by the BoR are now being linked to the PLRA main server with insecure bandwidth connections (not officially dedicated lines).
“These insecure online connections are highly susceptible to hacking and data may land in the hands of unscrupulous elements. If that happens, colossal loss to the public is inevitable,” the letter says.
The letter also iterated objections on the process of recruiting 500 patwaris holding back 590 appointments of SCOs who are legally authorised to issue fard and other land related documents. The letter said that the PLRA chairman had also submitted his reservation to the senior BOR member through a letter on November 16, 2020. The letter also challenged the legal status of DMMs, questioning under what rule the parallel system is being introduced.
In a conversation with TNS, Nadia Cheema, the PLRA spokesperson and additional director of communications, dismissed ‘speculations’ saying categorically that no steps were being taken to bring back the patwari regime.
She said that as per PLRA Act 2017, a patwari cannot be appointed in ARCs.
Regarding the status of DMMs, she said in the formation of DMMs, PLRA Act 2017 is not violated at all. It must be clear that instead PLRA, DMMs are set up by the BOR.
As per PLRA Act, 2017, she explained that PLRA may put in place Service Delivery Outlets (SDOs) to serve the people better so that instead of crowding at the 152 officially designated ARCs, people may receive their property ownership right document, transfer documents and others from nearby SDOs enjoying hassle-free environment with less wait.
“These SDOs are already established in the name of 3,700 e-Sahulat centres of NADRA. Through Mobile Vans, similar SDOs are issuing land documents to public. On the same model, around 28 banks with 2,000 branches are serving the people. It is to be kept in mind that these SDOs are not a replacement for the ARCs, rather the staff of NADRA and banks have been given access to the PLRA data to improve service delivery.
She says that similar SDOs are being set up at DMMs where DMMs staff have been issuing fard and other land related documents. This aims to increase contact points with the public to ensure service delivery for their convenience.
Another PLRA official said that the entire was secure at the PLRA Data Centre in Lahore.
“To ensure the safety of the record, a backup storage facility has also been established in Islamabad where the entire data has been stored. In case of any untoward incident, the data of entire land record of 152 land record centres can be retrieved from the backup storage facility within minutes. The automation and now centralisation of the land record have completely eliminated the risk of any sort of tampering with the land record data. The centralisation not only protects the land record but also the ownership rights of the people, he adds.
In response to a query, Cheema says as per PLRA rules, automation process is almost complete and if the government further empowers the PLRA in accordance with law same, similar automation may be initiated in urban areas.
The writer is a freelance journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]