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.
Tribunals function as a parallel mechanism to the traditional court system. Tribunals were established for two main reasons - allowing for specialised subject knowledge in disputes on technical matters and reducing the burden on the court system. In India, some tribunals are at the level of subordinate courts with appeals lying with the High Court, while some others are at the level of High Courts with appeals lying with the Supreme Court. In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled that Parliament may create an alternative to High Courts provided that they have the same efficacy as the High Courts. For an overview of the tribunal system in India, see our note here.
In April 2021, the central government promulgated an Ordinance, which specified provisions related to the composition of the search-cum-selection committees for the selection of members of 15 Tribunals, and the term of office for members. Further, it empowered the central government to notify qualifications and other terms and conditions of service (such as salaries) for the Chairperson and members of these tribunals. In July 2021, the Supreme Court struck down certain provisions of the Ordinance (such as the provision specifying a four-year term for members) stating that these impinged on the independence of the judiciary from the government. In several earlier judgements, the Supreme Court has laid out guidelines for the composition of Tribunals and service conditions to ensure that these Tribunals have the same level of independence from the Executive as the High Courts they replace.
However, Parliament passed the Tribunals Reforms Bill, 2021 in August 2021, which is almost identical to the April Ordinance and includes the provisions which had been struck down. This Act has been challenged in the Supreme Court. For a PRS analysis of the Bill, please see here.
On 16th September 2021, the central government notified The Tribunal (Conditions of Service) Rules, 2021 under the Tribunals Reforms Act, 2021. A couple of the provisions under these Rules may contravene principles laid out by the Supreme Court:
Appointment of the Administrative Member of the Central Administrative Tribunal as the Chairman
In case of the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), the Rules specify that a person with at least three years of experience as the Judicial Member or Administrative Member may be appointed as the Chairman. This may violate the principles laid down by the past Supreme Court judgements.
The CAT supplants High Courts. In 1986, the Supreme Court stated that if an administrative tribunal supplants the High Courts, the office of the Chairman of the tribunal should be equated with that of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Therefore, the Chairman of the tribunal must be a current or former High Court Judge. Further, in 2019, the Supreme Court stated – “the knowledge, training, and experience of members or presiding officers of a tribunal must mirror, as far as possible, that of the Court it seeks to substitute”.
The Administrative Member of the CAT may be a person who has been an Additional Secretary to the central government or a central government officer with pay at least that of the Additional Secretary. Hence, the Administrative Member may not have the required judicial experience for appointment as the Chairman of CAT.
Leave Sanctioning Authority
The Rules specify that the central government will be the leave sanctioning authority for the Chairperson of tribunals, and Members (in case of absence of the Chairperson). In 2014, the Supreme Court specified that the central government (Executive) should not have any administrative involvement with the members of the tribunal as it may influence the independence and fairness of the tribunal members. In addition, it had observed that the Executive may be a litigant party and its involvement in administrative matters of tribunals may influence the fairness of the adjudication process. In judgements in 1997 and 2014, the Supreme Court recommended that the administration of all Tribunals should be under a nodal ministry such as the Law Ministry, and not the respective administrative ministry. In 2020, it recommended setting up of a National Tribunals Commission to supervise appointments and administration of Tribunals. The Rules are not in consonance with these recommendations.