THE Constitution of the Republic recognises the right to acquire, possess and dispose off property as a fundamental right, subject to legal limitation, which is not, of course, unusual. But most of the criminal and civil cases are related to land -- the only property most of the people in this predominantly poor country possess. The huge number of cases of both nature, which always await disposal by courts, only exposes the pitiable state of this fundamental right. The deplorable position mocks at the country's Constitution and, simultaneously, at those who hold the sovereign power with the responsibility vested in them to uphold the Constitution. No right should be declared a fundamental right unless the state binds itself with an obligation to guarantee it through a process of strict enforcement.
Land is very precious to individuals. The only personal property the great majority in this country possess is land -- in most cases inherited and in fewer cases purchased. The position of the small piece of land in the life of an individual is, therefore, very delicate -- dispossessed, he or she is utterly destituted. Yet land management remains a clumsy and corrupt area of state affairs. The rural poor with no say for influencing the system are the worst victims of this sordid mismanagement. Periodic reports of gruesome acts of murder in land-related disputes only expose the flame of the fire of land-related disputes that burn this society from within. People who have no say often involve themselves in criminal activities as musclemen of political parties -- not rare events in the persistent confrontational politics -- to gatecrash their way in the domain of power for protecting their lands. The criminalisation of society goes on. The government can reduce the crime rate to at least one quarter in one grand sweep by only improving land management.
The extent of corruption in land management is visible in the fact that those, among the state officials, who were or are involved in the area of its management more often than not, are rich -- from sub-registrars and their clerks to survey officials within districts -- from chairmen through Assistant Commissioners (land) to Zonal settlement officers, and low-level land revenue collectors, previously called tassilders. The fact that the land registration law does not make a sub-registrar accountable for improper registration, like title deed having been registered with back-date on old stamps, and liable to deterrent punishment is largely responsible for forgery in land-related documents to support ownership on forcibly occupied lands. The recently amended law of registration requiring photographs of sellers to be affixed on transfer deeds may slightly improve the situation. But it will not help root out corruption in the sphere of registration entirely.
But land title deeds are substantially rendered ineffective in protecting ownership by land surveys. There are many instances of chairmen, engaged in such surveys on contractual basis, having, in connivance with the corrupt section of their senior officials in the district, recorded part of one's land as another's in lieu of bad money giving rise to new grounds for land disputes. These surveys are more or less redundant as title deeds should be enough to confirm ownership of pertinent individuals. Land surveys should be stopped. It is noteworthy that the prime minister has recently instructed the district authorities to recover all government and private lands from illegal occupation. How far her words are translated into action will decide the outcome of the instruction. But illegal occupiers are also a notorious lot. They often file civil cases with fabricated contentions to continue enjoying the fruits of their illegal occupation, and the whole process begins at the lowest court and goes, in some cases, to the highest court. As a result, the affected people are further pauperised and, at times, many lose the financial strength to engage lawyers as respondents. The illegal occupants become victorious. The whole legal process is so lengthy that one's life is lost in fighting such a case. A law should be there to ensure stern punishment of those who abuse the legal system in this manner and it should be obligatory on the disposing court to award the punishment without any consideration.