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Land admin reforms remain elusive

28Reforms in land administration and management has remained elusive as the government steps towards the objective have been confined to undertaking pilot projects and studies instead of going for a holistic approach.
Land ministry officials and experts said that a number of pilot projects have been undertaken and a major feasibility study for land reforms conducted since 1972.
They said the authorities generally consider pilot projects and feasibility studies as important tests before going for a countrywide implementation of any projects but the land ministry has not approved any of the pilot projects for implementation on a wider scale or recommendations of the studies.
Punyabrata Choudhury, joint secretary (development) of the land ministry, agreed that all the projects already implemented or ongoing were isolated steps towards land reforms.
‘We will go for a holistic approach to undertake reform projects for countrywide implementation on the basis of a master plan now being prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international consultancy firm appointed by the Asian Development Bank,’ he said.
According to the 2013-2014 revised Annual Development Programme of the land ministry and project profiles, implementation of half a dozen of pilot projects at a cost of Tk 500 crore for digitising land administration is going on.
Of the projects, the land ministry signed a contract with an Indian firm on February 2, 2015 to implement an ADB-funded project involving over Tk 135 crore to introduce digital land management system in 45 upazilas of seven districts.
The ministry is also implementing a European Union-funded Tk 106 crore project in three upazilas of Rajshahi, Jamalpur and Barguna districts to conduct digital surveys on pilot basis and four other components for reform.
The ministry earlier conducted similar digital land surveys in Palash upazila in Narsigndi and Savar upazila in Dhaka district.
According to the documents, the government had undertaken the Bangladesh Land Administration Reform Project, funded by the ADB, in 1995 under which Landgate, a statutory body of Western Australia government,
conducted a major feasibility study in 1995-2000 to set guidelines for land management and administration reforms.
The ADB submitted the final report of the feasibility study in 2001 with the recommendation that the government could go for a new land administration system in Bangladesh for introduction of a plot-based certificate of land ownership (single authoritative record of land ownership) in 26 years at a cost of $55.96 million.
The cabinet in its meeting on December 21, 2002 approved the project in principle and the Project Concept Paper was sent to the Planning Commission on January 18, 2003.
But no steps were taken till date to implement the project or any of the recommendations of the feasibility study for bringing about reforms in the land administration and management.
If the Bangladesh Land Administration Reform Project had started shortly after its approval in 2003, about half of the implementation work would have been completed by this time, said a senior land ministry official.
He said that instead of undertaking a project for countrywide implementation, the government as well as the donor agencies preferred funding pilot projects.
Abdul Mannan, former director general of Directorate of Land Records and Surveys, said that all steps except for the EU-funded project ‘Strengthening Access to Land and Property Rights for all Citizens of Bangladesh’ of the land ministry to bring about reforms in land administration and management had proved isolated efforts although it needed a holistic approach.
‘It depends on the commitment of the government to go for a countrywide implementation once the EU-funded pilot projects in three upazilas prove successful,’ he said.
Shamsul Huda, executive director of Association for Land Reform and Development, told New Age that all the pilot projects undertaken by the land ministry for reforms were nothing but waste of money.
‘It would have been possible to complete the reform in land administration with the amount the pilot projects have eaten up,’ he said.
Huda said a syndicate of land officials and donor agencies preferred undertaking pilot projects as there was huge scope for corruption in such projects.