Dept of Stamps and Registration to engage with citizens to bring in change

Imagine a day when you can check the authenticity and legality of the property you are buying, book your appointment online with Sub-registrar's office and finish the registration with no help from middlemen! This is the dream a team of citizens hopes to bring in.

According to Jana Mahiti report prepared by in 2010, the number of bribery cases was the highest in the Department of Stamps and Registration. The report even listed the top corrupt Sub-Registrar’s offices in Bengaluru. However, the future might change for the better, as there is some hope in the air.

When P Manivannan, Chief Project Officer, Karnataka State Highways Improvement Project (KSHIP), known to be a reformist, was given the additional charge of Inspector General of Registration, Department of Stamps and Registration, the online crowd interested in bringing about some real change got curious. Manivannan is one of those very few bureaucrats active on social media. When he took charge on January 2nd 2014, people started posing questions about corruption charges in the Department of Stamps and Registration, on his Facebook wall.

Ashwin Mahesh*, an anti-corruption activist who is also the President of the Karnataka wing of Loksatta party, came up with some suggestions. The suggestions were: 1) Mapping the market values and guidance values of the properties registered and hosting it online. 2) Taking the bottom 0.5% of the transactions and ordering an audit of randomly selected cases from this subset. 3) Setting up a rating desk where people can, with a single touch, rate their experience of registration, and suggesting improvements to the worst-rated Sub Registrar’s offices.

The idea behind the suggestions was to eradicate corruption, increase the revenue and curb black money. Manivannan responded positively to this idea. He said the DSR team was already working on audit/inspections of transactions randomly. The plan was to prepare the list, form teams to do the audit and inspections on selected cases.

Citizens dive in to bring in reforms

Ideas started flowing in from many interested citizens, and a group on Reforms in Department of Stamps and Registration was formed. The group used Facebook for communication and sharing of ideas, and aimed to make the department corruption-free by making information public and stakeholder-friendly, reducing the turn-around time and bettering citizens’ experience.

The first meeting of the DSR Reforms group held on January 8th 2014, saw the top officials from the department, including many Deputy Registrars and Sub-Registrars, along with citizen volunteers and experts like Raghunandan (Former IAS officer and anti-corruption activist who had initiated IPaidABribe at Janaagraha ) and Ashwin Mahesh. The team decided to create small focus groups to look at policy, processes, communication and technology tools.

The groups then went to work, studying and collating information. A prototype of a mapping tool was developed.

Action on abetment to corruption

Sources in Department of Stamps and Registration say that a case where a caseworker in the Sub-Registrar’s office in Bangarpet (Kolar) demanded extra Rs 300/- with no receipt, was brought into the notice of IGR through Facebook. The IGR ordered an inquiry into the incident. and found prima facie evidence against a second division clerk, who was reportedly suspended later.

In another interesting case, a developer was making the buyers of flats pay some amount to the tune of Rs 10,000 as fees, which, the builder’s representatives said, would be paid to the sub-registrars. This was recorded and sent to Manivannan, the acting IGR, by a buyer who wasn’t willing to pay the bribe, and wanted to do the things the right way. The IGR ordered his team to fight this case legally, by informing the police about ‘abetment to corruption by the builder.’ However, before the FIR could be filed in this case, the acting IGR has been relieved of his duties.

More web-based services suggested

The second meeting of DSR held on January 18th 2014, discussed the way ahead. Prabhakar, Assistant Inspector General of Registration, presented the features of Kaveri-II, the computerised data management and work platform that the Department will operate in future. So far, the first edition, Kaveri, was operating on Virtual Private Network.

The citizens in the reforms team suggested that some features of Kaveri-II be made available online to the citizens. Five teams were formed, in which the citizens were given the lead of each team and a DSR member was made the deputy. While the citizens’ role was purely advisory in nature, the DSR team was to take care of the implementation.

Making Kaveri-II web-based, mapping guidance and market value, 24×7 response system on the lines of BESCOM, improving the look and feel of the DSR website and professionalising sub-registrar’s offices with LCD screens, token system etc were on the agenda.

The communication group next met on January 20th 2014 and discussed how to go about the next steps.

Data, information, guidelines in public domain

Parallely, several team members from DSR, Prabhakar, Akash Srivastava and others, posted many interesting judgments that drive the working of the Department. When citizens asked why a fraudulent transaction and registration cannot be stopped by the Department of Stamps and Registration, the DSR team cited a High Court judgment, where the Tahsildar was fined because he refused to accept a fraudulent document, as his duty was just to ensure the registration takes place.

Here is the quote from Prabhakar H L, the AIGR: “The Sub-Registrar is required to make an enquiry whether the document has really been executed by a person who purports to execute the document and further as to identity of the executant or his representative who appears before him. The Sub-Registrar is not concerned with the validity of a document. [A.G. Shivalinagappa v. A.G. Shankarappa. [ RSA No.921/1979 etc. dt:13-09-1990] 1991 (2) ILR (Kar) 1804; 1990(3) KLJ (Supp)408]. (The judgment is not available online.)”

Many others posted judgments that are contrary to this by various courts, which indicated the power of the Department to stop fraudulent transactions. Many acts, guidelines and judgments that guide the functions of Department of Stamps and Registration, were posted by the team members. Examples from other states like Tamilnadu where many services are available online were also posted.

At crossroads, though there is hope

At this point came the news: Manivannan is to hand over the charge back to his predecessor IGR, Syed Adoni Saleem, who had been on leave, according to some sources in Department of Stamps and Registration.

However, Bhojya Naik, who is the Assistant IGR – Admin, said he spoke to Syed Adoni Saleem, and the process initiated by DSR Reforms team is expected to move forward. There is also talk of BBMP mayor collaborating with Department of Stamps and Registration.

If everything goes as per the plans set by the citizen-led reforms team, in the future, people can expect the Department to be more citizen-friendly and the registration process to be made much more easier. Engage in dialogues, track the progress and be a part of the change by following the Reforms group on Facebook!

* Disclosure: Ashwin Mahesh is also a director at Oorvani Media that publishes Citizen Matters.

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