A landmark project in Karnataka to create digitised, geo-referenced and unique identity records for property in urban areas, and issue property cards to owners, has stalled in the pilot phase itself, official records reviewed by The Indian Express show.
The Urban Properties Ownership Record (UPOR) project was launched in 2014 in Shimoga and Mangalore, on a pilot basis, following clearances from previous BJP and Congress governments. The objective: Prevent cheating in land deals and protect government land from fraudsters.
But on September 30, ignoring objections from the Revenue Department, the new BJP government cancelled an order issued four years ago, making UPOR cards mandatory for property registration under the project.
The latest order follows a letter from Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa on September 9 to the Principal Secretary of the Revenue Department: “The UPOR project is being implemented in the city of Shimoga on a pilot basis. Many members of the public have expressed reservations over the project making property cards mandatory for carrying out land transactions.”
But government sources say there is more to it than meets the eye.
Speaking to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity, a government official said: “A system like the UPOR project and digitised cards are the only way to save properties on lakes, drains, parks, forest areas or even coastal zones from being fraudulently sold to innocent people. It seems the government does not have the courage to tame the real estate lobby.”
The government’s decision comes despite the Revenue Department insisting that UPOR was working effectively in Shimoga. Officials also point out that the project is being used by the UP government as a reference to implement its own land records initiative.
Responding to the Chief Minister’s letter, officials said in file notings: “UPOR is integrated with the online land registration IT system called Kaveri. As a result, changes in land ownership are reflected in mutation records as soon as a change occurs. Members of the public do not have to run around to get these records. This is the first such system in the country and can serve as an example for the whole country.”
One of the notings state: “Except government land encroachers or other encroachers or unauthorized new layouts, everyone can get UPOR cards within 48 hours of applying. There is no grounds to relax the mandatory provision for the cards.”
Soon after the September 30 order, two BJP MLAs from the Mangalore region — Vedavyas Kamath and Bharat Shetty — announced that the mandatory UPOR card provision was withdrawn from Mangalore as well on October 11. The MLAs claimed the government made the move on their request.
After the implementation of the pilot project, UPOR was proposed to be taken to 27 other cities in Karnataka and eventually to every urban region in the state with a population of over 5,000 people.
In Shimoga, digital records have been created for 1,00,998 surveyed properties. Of these, UPOR cards are ready for 57,337 properties. Records show 9,150 properties have been registered with UPOR cards since the project was rolled out in 2016.
In Mangalore, 1,53,466 properties had been surveyed and documents collected from 87,717 owners till June, just before the BJP came to power. Records show 28,646 draft cards and 25,009 UPOR cards were issued.
“Every year, around five per cent of properties in a city will see registrations and the property card is mandatory for these transactions. It ensures that all owners obtain UPOR cards,” a senior government official said.
Land scams perpetrated by using khata, which is not a legal document for urban land records, are being prevented in Shimoga with UPOR cards, the official said.
The project was being implemented through a private-public partnership model with IT firm Cyient Ltd responsible for creating spatial data, IT infrastructure and delivery of services, and the Revenue Department authenticating land records.
Financial and Cabinet clearances were granted on November 28, 2012, by the then BJP government, including a directive to legally notify UPOR as mandatory “with no substitute for all property related transactions”. The February 2014 order on making UPOR cards mandatory in Shimoga and Mangalore was issued by the then Congress government.
In November 2018, a UPOR policy paper by the Institute of Social and Economic Change referred to a Mckinsey study and said “more than 70 per cent of legal disputes” in India “are land based”. “The need for computerized process of land title registration system introduced in Karnataka for urban centres cannot be overlooked,” it stated.
However, in his letter to the Revenue official, Yediyurappa said: “In the light of the department being unable to issue property cards to the public due to technical reasons and in the light of the public complaining of being unable to carry out transactions without property cards, it is necessary to strengthen the project technically. The project can also be implemented after all land owners are given property cards.”
The letter stated: “Since this project is not being implemented in any other city of the state, it is directed that the project can be continued without making the property cards mandatory for land transactions.”