Reducing Discretion, Improving Service: Computerizing Land Records in Karnataka, India, 1998-2003
Focus: Containing Patronage Pressures, Civil Service
Topics: Training, Corruption in the Civil Service, One-Stop Shops
Type: Case Studies
Author: David Hausman
Keywords: Bhoomi, Karnataka
Between 1998 and 2003, Rajeev Chawla, the joint secretary of the Revenue Department in India's Karnataka state, led a drive to computerize the state's land records. Before computerization, farmers were at the mercy of local village accountants, who often charged informal fees in exchange for land records, which they issued slowly nonetheless. Chawla, benefiting from strong state-levelpolitical support and national funding, replaced the manual system with a digital one, speeding up the process and reducing village accountants' ability to solicit bribes. Working with a small team of colleagues, he hired private companies to digitize the state's 20 million land records, set up a new kiosk process for issuing land records, and trained 1,000 recent secondary-school graduates to staff the kiosks. Corruption decreased and customer service improved. Still, critics noted that the reforms were most helpful to wealthier farmers who could afford to visit one of the state's 177 kiosks or 800 telecenters, which, distributed over a land area slightly larger than Cambodia, often required a day's travel from a rural village.