The Department of Land Resources in the Ministry of Rural Development has released a draft version of The Land Titling Bill, 2011 on its website. This draft is a major revision of the original draft Bill released in 2010. Public comments on this draft are invited before June 24, 2011. A copy of the draft can be found here. The Bill provides for the registration of all immovable property to establish a system of conclusive, electronically recorded titles. It also provides for a mechanism to invite objections and for the resolution of disputes through special tribunals. The property record will be considered as conclusive ownership by the person mentioned. This will help resolve uncertainties in property transactions. Given that land is a state subject, the Bill is meant to be a model law for adoption by the states individually. The framework of the bill is explained below. I. Land Titling Authority and Preparation of Records The Bill establishes a Land Titling Authority at the State level. The Authority’s task is to prepare a record of all immovable properties in its jurisdiction. These records will contain (a) survey data of boundaries of each property; (b) a unique identification number for each property, which may be linked to a UID number; (c) any record created by an officer of the state or UT government authorised by the laws of that state to make such records; and (d) a record of Title over each property. II. Title Registration Officer and Registration Process The Bill provides for the government to create Title Registration Offices at various places, and for a Title Registration Officer (TRO) to function under the supervision of the Land Titling Authority. The TRO will have powers of a civil court and is charged with the task of creating e a Register of Titles. Steps for the registering of titles include: (a) notification of available land records data by the TRO, (b) invitation to persons with interest in such properties to make objections to the data, and (c) registration of properties by the TRO for which no dispute is brought to his notice in writing. In the case the absoluteness of the title to a property is disputed, the TRO will make an entry into the Register of Titles to that effect and refer the case to the District Land Titling Tribunal (discussed below) III. District Land Titling Tribunal and State Land Titling Appellate Tribunal The Bill proposes to set up a District Land Titling Tribunal, consisting of one or more serving officers not below the rank of Joint Collector / Sub Divisional Magistrate of the District. The government may also establish one or more State Land Titling Appellate Tribunals, to be presided over by serving Judicial Officers in the rank of District Judge. Revisions to the orders of the State Land Titling Appellate Tribunal may be made by a Special Bench of the High Court. The Bill bars civil courts from having jurisdiction to entertain proceedings in respect to matters that the TRO, District Land Titling Tribunal, and State Land Titling Appellate Tribunal are empowered to determine. IV. Completion of Records and Notification When preparation of the Record for whole or part of a specific are is complete, it will be notified. Any person aggrieved by the notified entry in the Register of Titles may file an objection before the District Land Titling Tribunal within three years of the notification. Additionally, the person may file an application with the TRO for an entry to be made in the Register of Titles. The TRO shall do so when the application has been admitted to the Tribunal. Minor errors in the Title of Registers can be rectified through an application to the TRO. V. Register of Titles After completion of records is notified by the Authority, the Register of Titles is prepared and maintained by the Authority. For each property, the Register will include: (a) general description, map, and locational details of the immovable property; (b) descriptive data such as a unique identification number, plot number, total area, built up and vacant area, address, site area, and undivided share in the land; (c) detail of survey entry, provisional title record, conclusive title record and status, mortgage, charges, other rights and interests in the property; (d) details of transfer of the property and past transactions; and (e) disputes pertaining to the property. Entries in the Register of Titles will serve as conclusive evidence of ownership. These entries shall be maintained in electronic form, indemnified, and kept in the public domain.
The Uttarakhand Assembly concluded a two-day session on November 30, 2022. The session was scheduled to be held over five days. In this post we look at the legislative business that was carried out in the Assembly, and the state of state legislatures.
13 Bills were introduced and passed within two days
As per the Session Agenda, a total of 19 Bills were listed for introduction in the span of two days. 13 of these were listed to be discussed and passed on the second day. These included the Uttarakhand Protection of Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (Amendment), Bill, 2022, and the Uttarakhand Anti-Littering and Anti-Spitting (Amendment) Bill, 2022.
The Assembly had proposed to discuss and pass each Bill (barring two) within five minutes (see Figure 1). Two Bills were allocated 20 minutes each for discussion and passing - the Haridwar Universities Bill, 2022, and the Public Service (Horizontal Reservation for Women) Bill, 2022. As per news reports, the Assembly passed all 13 Bills within these two days (this excludes the Appropriation Bills). This raises the question on the amount of scrutiny that these Bills were subject to, and the quality of such laws when the legislature intends to pass them within mere minutes.
Figure 1: Excerpt of Uttarakhand Assembly's November 2022 Session Agenda
Law making requires deliberation, scrutiny
Our law-making institutions have several tools at their disposal to ensure that before a law is passed, it has been examined thoroughly on various aspects such as constitutionality, clarity, financial and technical capacity of the state to implement provisions, among others. The Ministry/Department piloting a Bill could share a draft of the Bill for public feedback (pre-legislative scrutiny). While Bills get introduced, members may raise issues on constitutionality of the proposed law. Once introduced, Bills could be sent to legislative committees for greater scrutiny. This allows legislators to deliberate upon individual provisions in depth, understand if there may be constitutional challenges or other issues with any provision. This also allows experts and affected stakeholders to weigh in on the provisions, highlight issues, and help strengthen the law.
However, when Bills are introduced and passed within mere minutes, it barely gives legislators the time to go through the provisions and mull over implications, issues, or ways to improve the law for affected parties. It also raises the question of what the intention of the legislature is when passing laws in a hurry without any discussion. Often, such poorly thought laws are also challenged in Courts.
For instance, the Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill, 2022 in this session (five minutes had been allocated for the discussion and passing of the Bill). The 2022 Bill amends the 2018 Act which prohibits forceful religious conversions, and provides that conversion through allurement or marriage will be unlawful. The Bill has provisions such as requiring an additional notice to be sent to the District Magistrate (DM) for a conversion, and that reconversion to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion. Some of these provisions seem similar to other laws that were passed by states and have been struck down by or have been challenged in Courts. For example, the Madhya Pradesh High Court while examining the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021 noted that providing a notice to the DM for a conversion of religion violates the right to privacy as the right includes the right to remain silent. It extends that understanding to the right to decide on one’s faith. The Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006 exempted people who reconvert to their original religion from giving a public notice of such conversion. The Himachal Pradesh High Court had struck down this provision as discriminatory and violative of the right to equality. The Court also noted that the right to change one’s belief cannot be taken away for maintaining public order.
Uttarakhand MLAs may not have had an opportunity to think about how issues flagged by Courts may be addressed in a law that regulates religious conversions.
Most other state Assemblies also pass Bills without adequate scrutiny
In 2021 44% states passed Bills on the day it was introduced or on the next day. Between January 2018 and September 2022, the Gujarat Assembly introduced 92 Bills (excluding Appropriation Bills). 91 of these were passed in the same day as their introduction. In the 2022 Monsoon Session, the Goa Assembly passed 28 Bills in the span of two days. This is in addition to discussion and voting on budgetary allocation to various government departments.
Figure 2: Time taken by state legislatures to pass Bills in 2021
Note: The chart above does not include Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. A Bill is considered passed within a day if it was passed on the day of introduction or on the next day. For states with bicameral legislatures, bills have to be passed in both Houses. This has been taken into account in the above chart for five states having Legislative Councils, except Bihar (information was not available for Council).
Sources: Assembly websites, E-Gazette of various states and Right to Information requests; PRS.
Occasionally, the time actually spent deliberating upon a Bill is lesser than the allocated time. This may be due to disruptions in the House. The Himachal Pradesh Assembly provides data on the time actually spent discussing Bills. For example, in the August 2022 Session, it spent an average of 12 minutes to discuss and pass 10 Bills. However, the Uttarakhand Assembly allocated only five minutes to discuss each Bill in its November 2022 Session. This indicates the lack of intent of certain state legislatures to improve their functioning.
In the case of Parliament, a significant portion of scrutiny is also carried out by the Department Related Standing Committees, even when Parliament is not in session. In the 14th Lok Sabha (LS), 60% of the Bills introduced were sent to Committees for detailed examination, and in the 15th LS, 71% were sent. These figures have reduced recently – in the 16th LS 27% of the Bills were sent to Committees, and so far in the 17th LS, 13% have been sent. However, across states, sending Bills to Committees for detailed examination is often the exception than the norm. In 2021, less than 10% of the Bills were sent to Committees. None of the Bills passed by the Uttarakhand Assembly had been examined by a committee. States that are an exception here include Kerala which has 14 subject Committees, and Bills are regularly sent to these for examination. However, these Committees are headed by their respective Ministers, which reduces the scope of independent scrutiny that may be undertaken.