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EDITORIAL: There's no doubt that digitising land records goes a long way in making the system transparent and is also perhaps the only way, especially in this country, to keep a check on notorious "qabza groups"; and in this way such initiatives help both the people and the economy itself. And while provinces have largely computerised their land records, what is built on the land is a different matter altogether because they tend to apply only to the land itself. As is often the case in big cities, which have multi-storey complexes and apartment buildings and, especially in the case of Karachi, sometimes the ownership of different floors of the same house is in different hands, cadastral mapping is the true game changer because it gives the contours of the property and exact details of ownership.

That ought to work like a charm when it comes to settling land disputes from the point of view of investors and residents, because it would throw all the corruption and intimidation usually employed by regressive elements in the land revenue system right out the window and provide all details at the press of a button. And, as the PM very rightly said at the launching ceremony of the cadastral map of Islamabad, which is to be followed by digitising revenue records of Lahore and Karachi till November and the rest of the country in the following six months, this is the most effective way of defeating land-grabbing, ensuring monitoring of construction through imagery and providing information about land ownership.

This should go a long way in facilitating and protecting expat money in land, construction and real estate because, as things stand, the biggest complaint of most Pakistanis working abroad is their inability to protect such investments. It would also remove a big burden from the legal system, since perhaps the major part of everyday litigation revolves around settling land disputes. In fact, it was an unfortunate sight just a few years ago when the governor of the most important province in the country resigned, citing the inability of the governor's office to do anything about properties of overseas Pakistanis which had just been taken over by the powerful "land mafia".

This is something that the banking sector has also been interested in for quite a while. Usually banks, which are flush with liquidity more often than not, hesitate to lend for things associated with land precisely because of the corruption embedded in it and since they would rather avoid lengthy court cases where their money is involved, they have preferred to keep it out of their risk-management matrix. Now, successful digitising of all land and property records will remove all these problems at once and provide all the information anybody needs in real time. Nothing will de-fang the patwaris, etc., who have long held the entire system hostage, like such steps. It is also in keeping with the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) government's obsession with digitising practically everything under the sky, particularly all elements of the economy. It is this push that is also enabling record inflow of venture capitalism into the country's still embryonic startup ecosystem.

The government must, however, be careful about elements within the old system sabotaging such initiatives. They have resisted any progress or modernisation for the longest time only because such things would deprive them of their own (illegitimate) windfalls as well as their nuisance value. Yet once such enterprises begin, they take on a life and momentum of their own and it can become very difficult to put roadblocks on the way to digitisation. The government's efforts in this regard are, therefore, appreciated and the sooner all land records in the whole country are digitised, the better for consumers, lenders and the government alike.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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