Green Earth


The prime minister is right in describing the initiative to digitize the country’s land record system as “transformative”, both for the economy and the people. Speaking at the launch of the digitized land record system and cadastral map of Islamabad showing the extent, value, and ownership of land, particularly for taxation purposes, he reiterated the government plans to digitize the land revenue record in three major cities — Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad — by November this year and then in the rest of the country in six months for improved administration and governance of the real estate sector and construction industry.

If the government successfully meets the deadlines it has set for itself, it would bring a major shift in the economy and drastically reduce land conflicts that are responsible for almost half the litigation burden that our frail civil and criminal justice system must shoulder. As the prime minister pointed out, digitizing land records will eradicate land grabbing, control illegal and haphazard construction activities and land development in both the urban and rural areas, guarantee transparency in land and property transactions, curb record tampering, and provide quick ownership information online. More importantly, the availability of verified records online should go a long way in increasing the access of people, particularly women, to land and property.

It is well recognized the world over that secure land and property rights are critical to increasing the access of people and businesses to land for effectively using this asset for quicker economic growth, poverty reduction and social inclusion. Doubtful and ambiguous land titles are a huge impediment in the evolution of the housing- and construction-financing industry in Pakistan since our risk-averse banks are reluctant to venture into this sector for fear of long litigation and losses. At the individual level, people are forced to pay a higher price for land or property with clean titles. Removing ambiguities overall would create more uniform levels of pricing. For the government, the accuracy of the land record contributes to effective planning, better tax collection and resource allocations, and improved disaster management. Digitizing land and property records is, therefore, the need of the hour for investment in housing, better environmental management, and improved revenues.

It is, however, pertinent to note that the provinces have been extremely slow to implement the land administration reforms initiated more than one and a half decades ago with technical and financial assistance from different global institutions. Stiff resistance from the provincial revenue bureaucracy that is deeply invested in the legacy land administration system owing to factors ranging from financial corruption to fear of technology has kept successive governments from making meaningful progress in this area. With the prime minister himself pursuing the project, the renewed push for secure land and property rights in the country stands a much better chance of success this time around.