Land administration systems: Bangladesh

Facing the future

28 November 2014

Suzanne Valkman explains the challenges in Bangladesh as it modernises its traditional land administration systems

Bangladesh is implementing major land administration reforms aimed at modernising the current system. Strategic plans and policy documents set out a clear route and vision but is the country ready?

Over the past decades, the country has shown a unique record of sustained growth. Its status has risen to a medium human development country by United Nations Development Programme standards and its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper builds on a major decline in population growth and child mortality. More jobs and opportunities are being created with micro-credit, which is increasing economic participation by women and female enrolment in primary and secondary education.

However, a major bottleneck hampering further development and poverty reduction is lack of secure tenure and ownership of land. The National Land Use Policy 2001 states that "a quarter of previously possessed land remains either unused, illegally possessed or misused".

Currently, there is no single document that proves the ownership and 80% of court cases in the country relate to disputes over land

To be effective, a land administration system should be designed to meet the needs of all people to support security of tenure and to sustainably manage and use land and natural resources. In some cases, high-accuracy surveys are not necessary to allow registration. In rural areas, for instance, a more flexible and pragmatic system could be used, where people know that the rocky outcrops to the north and the rural road to the west form the boundaries of their land.

As long as mountains do not move and roads do not change, aerial imagery and a participatory approach could be sufficient for registration. This allows georeferencing to be done at a later stage making the process less costly and time consuming than top-end technical solutions that can be done only by professionals.

Due to cultural and historical practices, land administration is complex. The family-based rights system has led to decentralised maintenance and storage of records and legal procedures are lengthy. Currently, there is no single document that proves the ownership and 80% of court cases in the country relate to disputes over land.

Recording systems

The importance of secure tenure and ownership of land and property is recognised. A key factor is the identification of khas land and government land. One of the main changes is the transfer from a family based to a plot-based land record system. This should lead to a Certificate of Land Ownership which will open access to formal credit and support long-term investments.

Major changes are necessary in the institutional setting, the legal and administrative system and the human capability to implement a new land management system. By holding on to established methods – combining rigid procedures, a top down approach and the highest level spatial accuracy, progress would be slow with the benefits only reaching the capital cities. It would take at least 300 years for the improvements to spread throughout Bangladesh. It is therefore necessary to allow for an approach that is scalable and realistic, essentially combining participatory approaches with modern electronic data collection and georeferencing tools.

Major changes are necessary in the institutional setting, the legal and administrative system and the human capability to implement a new land management system

In due time all land may be surveyed and registered integrally with the highest accuracy, but in the intermediate timeframe a more flexible approach should be allowed. For the land professional, this means selecting the appropriate registration method, matching regulations with the purpose, resources and time available.

'Fit for purpose' is a new term applied to building sustainable land administration systems. It means that the spatial framework of large-scale mapping, particularly, should be designed to address current land issues in a specific country or region rather than simply following more advanced technical standards.

The World Bank (WB) and the International Federation of Surveyors (FIG) have endorsed this innovative approach, which includes the following elements:

  • Flexible: spatial data capture to provide for varying use and occupation
  • Inclusive: to cover all tenure and all land
  • Participatory: in data capture and use to ensure community support
  • Affordable: for the government to establish and operate and for society to use
  • Reliable: information that is authoritative and up to date
  • Attainable: establishing the system within a short timeframe and within available resources
  • Upgradeable: incremental improvement over time in response to social and legal needs and emerging economic opportunities.

A country's legal and institutional framework must sometimes be revised to apply the elements of the fit-for-purpose approach. It must be enshrined in law, implemented within a robust land governance structure, and the information made accessible to all users.

The public needs to be well informed and aware of their rights and duties. In Bangladesh, the establishment of a one-stop service and full operation of the Land Disputes Resolution Commission should eventually lead to a decrease in land disputes. Combined with the fit-for-purpose approach it offers the government the opportunity to make a significant improvement in land issues.

Legal changes

The largest change may involve institutional and organisational reforms, including legal framework, processes, procedures, and awareness in terms of incentives and accountability.

Introducing a Right to Information Act in 2009, the government declared itself "pledge-bound to bring transparency, accountability, impartiality and dynamism in all spheres of public administration".

The EU is supporting the changes through the €10m Strengthening Access to Land and Property Rights for all Citizens of Bangladesh programme approved in 2008. This allowed the development of the National Land Policy and sub-policies covering khas, char and government lands. Politicians and decision makers in the land sector are key players in this process. Effective knowledge sharing is also central to ensure that the lessons learnt and good practices are widely implemented.

Developing capacity at the Ministry of Land is seen as key. The Netherlands' Kadaster (the national land administration and mapping agency) is involved in this component together with the University of Twente Faculty of Geo-Information and Earth Observation (ITC). Financial support comes from the Netherlands’ government, which has invested €45.7m promoting land administration and tenure rights since 2000.

Effective knowledge sharing is also central to ensure that the lessons learnt and good practices are widely implemented

A high-level delegation from Bangladesh visited Kadaster in October 2013, followed by a group of land professionals from the Directorate of Land Records and Surveys, whose objective was to learn about best practices in land administration worldwide.

After seeing the work done in the Netherlands, they were offered a 3-week tailor-made course at ITC focusing, among other things, on the fit-for-purpose approach. Winning the hearts and minds of land professionals is crucial to fully embrace this approach.

The Bangladesh State Minister of Lands and his Senior Secretary declared themselves very supportive of a system that can be built within a relatively short time and at an affordable cost.

Nevertheless, the task is huge, especially since conventional methods are predominantly taught and advocated
by land professionals who are not necessarily in favour of opening up their territory to participative methods.

The next step is to get decision makers in Bangladesh together with EU project partners and leading institutions such as the WB, FIG, International Law Commission, Global Land Tool Network and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation to formulate guidelines for an innovative fit-for-purpose land administration system in Bangladesh.

Suzanne Valkman is Manager at Kadaster International

Further information

Related competencies include: Property records/Information systems