India is rapidly digitising. There are good things and bad, speed-bumps on the way and caveats to be mindful of. The weekly column Terminal focuses on all that is connected and is not – on digital issues, policy, ideas and themes dominating the conversation in India and the world.
The Registration of Births and Deaths Amendment Bill, 2023, wants to push birth and death certificates for property registration using Aadhaar. There are multiple reasons for this exercise – like taxation and claims of inheritance. But beyond the needs of governance, this data collection also powers the property markets. This data sharing will happen through the government.
The digitisation of land deeds and property records was one of the early projects that were taken up post liberalisation in the 90s in India. Even after three decades this process has still not been completed yet. At the national level the Union government is digitising every land parcel using drones under the SVAMITVA Scheme of the Ministry of Panchayat Raj.
The idea of surveying every land parcel to create property cards and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps is primarily to resolve old property disputes and make the land pool available for market economy. In turn, the state wants to promote automated tax collection mechanisms where vacant land tax and other property taxes are imposed on owners of property.
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where this process has been completed much before of the rest of the country, we saw the states forcing Aadhaar to be linked to property deeds. This move by the government of Telangana was challenged in Telangana high court, with the latter limiting the state’s ability to use Aadhaar for urban property. However, it allowed agricultural lands to be linked to Aadhaar as farmers receive subsidies. This was admittedly a compromise with the Supreme Court’s orders on allowing the use of Aadhaar only for subsidies.
When it comes to digitisation of land records with Dharani, Telangana’s Integrated Land Records Management System, it must be remembered that by default, all the details of land records are public. The Revenue Act in Telangana was specifically amended to create the land database with a condition that banks can only provide loans based on Dharani data. A property holder can exercise his right to privacy by requesting the government to hide his details, otherwise the state is publishing everyone’s property details online. So is the case with many other states where ownership details are published online.
This digitisation process for land records also came with its own challenges. This land database is the single source of truth for property ownership. Thus, even if you are in possession of land, if the digitised land records say otherwise, the state does not recognise your claims of ownership. And the state does not want to recognise your claims to property, unless you link your Aadhaar.
Even that will not stop the state from taking away your land overnight because the information from this single source of truth can be modified without your knowledge. Because it required land to build a ‘Pharma City’, the Telangana government modified the records of assigned land owners overnight ignoring the land acquisition laws.
Linking Aadhaar to any system will make that system inherit the problems of Aadhaar.
Similar to how linking Aadhaar to your bank account allows fraudsters to steal your money using Aadhaar Enabled Payment System. An Aadhaar-based property records system will have a similar vulnerability.
The limitations the Supreme Court put on Aadhaar have been completely overturned by the government through its new laws. This allows private sector access to this data. Even with birth certificates, beyond the ideas of tracking the population, the government wants to share this data for the needs of the market.
While the proponents of Aadhaar claim this will help weed out benami transactions, this sounds like yet another excuse. Truth is that they need this data to promote property markets and land based loans. The excuse for pushing Aadhaar – to solve welfare fraud and its savings – has long been busted and any claim on how Aadhaar will solve issues needs to be ignored while understanding the real intent of commodification and surveillance.
Aadhaar has already been forced on the population at every point of life and there is no escaping this dystopian software monster. After forcing Aadhaar on welfare, banking, income tax, and voter IDs, the government is forcing it on property holders. If you want to inherit any property or own property, be prepared for this upcoming system.
No amount of court orders will stop this as the majority of people will be willing to submit to this illegal exercise.
The Registration of Births and Deaths Amendment Bill is thus another backdoor to push Aadhaar on the population, ignoring the protections to people ordered by the Supreme Court.
Srinivas Kodali is a researcher on digitisation and a hacktivist.