How prestigious Dharani portal affected Telangana farmers’ pride and livelihood — and hit the BRS

The Dharani portal was launched in 2020 with the aim of updating land records and bringing transparency to the system through digitisation of documents.

ByBhaskar Basava

Published Dec 02, 2023 | 12:00 PMUpdated Dec 02, 2023 | 12:00 PM

How prestigious Dharani portal affected Telangana farmers’ pride and livelihood — and hit the BRS

Dharani or no Dharani? This was one of the much-debated topics in the run-up to the Assembly polls in Telangana.

The Congress, while unveiling a land declaration poster, vowed to replace Dharani — the integrated land records management system of the government — with a new computer-based, error-free record reflecting the actual condition of the land, accessible to all. The BRS, on the other hand, threw its weight behind the portal and pledged to protect it.

In Telangana, 61.12 percent of the total population resides in rural areas and more than three-fourths of this population finds its livelihood, wholly or partially, from land. For all of them, owning land is a matter of pride, security, and livelihood.

However, minor typographical errors, technical glitches, and a half-baked survey have affected their pride, security, and livelihood — thanks to Dharani.

Woes of the people 

Kalavrala Chinnaguttalyya, a Dharani portal victim from Nagarkurnool district. (Bhaskar Basava/South First)

Kalawara Chinnaguttalyya, a Dharani portal victim from Nagarkurnool district. (Bhaskar Basava/South First)

Kalawara Chinnaguttalyya of rural Kollapur in the Nagarkurnool district gave up tailoring during his youth and took up farming, which has been his source of livelihood for almost 50 years. Now, at the age of 78, he has returned to tailoring since he has not been getting the benefits of any government schemes. Additionally, he is now a tenant on his land.

“I bought the land in 2001, went to the sub-registry office, and got the sale deed done. Later, I submitted all the documents at the mandal office, but they asked me for a bribe. I refused to bribe them but submitted my records and returned home. I was confident since I had the sale deed and agreement papers with me,” he told South First.

“But when Dharani was introduced, we didn’t get the passbook, despite the sub-registry office having our records. They went ahead with the mandal-level information they had since 1999 and, today, the family who sold the farming land has got the title deed and is receiving the Rythu Bandhu funds,” an emotional Chinnaguttalyya said.

Chinnaguttalyya’s case is not an aberration. Over one lakh such farmers and original landowners were left disappointed after the launch of Dharani. Some have wrong entries, a few have incorrect records, and many are struggling to get the Pattadar passbook.

Also Read: Pride of BRS, bane for many citizens, political ammo for Opposition

The birth of Dharani

The BRS government embarked on a cleansing of land records and updation exercise in 2017-2018, to upgrade the century-old land records in the state to reform the Land Act,

Later, the government passed the landmark Telangana Rights in Land and Pattadar Pass Books (PPB) Act, 2020, giving legal sanctity to the Record of Rights maintained online on the Dharani portal.

This brought an end to the traditional system in which a land deal record was made at the sub-registry level. After Dharani, everything is handled at the mandal level office, with employees entering the details directly onto the Dharani site.

Somesh Kumar with revenue officials over registration and mutation services through Dharani portal. (Supplied X)

Somesh Kumar with revenue officials over registration and mutation services through the Dharani portal. (X)

Speaking to South First, Somesh Kumar, former chief secretary to the Government of Telangana and current chief advisor to Chief Minister KCR, who played a key role in the execution of Dharani, stated, “After the bifurcation, Telangana witnessed a surge in land purchases. Given the growing economy, Dharani was introduced to bring in transparency and digitise records.”

“Now, with Dharani, the government has been able to bring in a single window to manage land records, including maintenance and updating of textual records, based on a request by the citizens or the department,” he added.

Regarding the complaints, he added, “Every problem has a solution and so does Dharani. Those are being addressed.”

Also read: Former chief secretary Somesh Kumar is back

Issues over land ownership

During South First‘s coverage of the poll campaign, it was noted that many farmers and landlords were facing issues over title deeds. Over 100 candidates from Shankar Hills Welfare Association (SHWA), who were the “victims” of Dharani, even filed nominations in Gajwel against Chief Minister KCR.

SHWA member Mudragalla Nageshwar Rao said that around 3,328 plots spread across 490 acres near Khairatabad, Hyderabad were now illegally occupied.

Most of them were purchased from farmers through sale deeds in the 1980s. “With the launch of the Dharani portal, passbooks were sent to farmers who sold the land some 35 years ago to the current board members of SHWA. The farmers (previous owners), on receiving the passbooks, allegedly sold the same land to new parties,” he added.

With the new owners commencing layout works and the government remaining inactive, SHWA members filed nominations to draw KCR’s attention to the issue. Nageshwar said they withdrew the nominations after getting an assurance from Finance Minister T Harish Rao that their grievance would be looked into.

Pedireddy Changal Reddy, chief advisor to the Indian farmers associations. (Bhaskar Basava/ South First)

Pedireddy Changal Reddy, chief advisor to the Indian Farmers’ Associations. (Bhaskar Basava/ South First)

South First met Pedireddy Changal Reddy, chief advisor for the Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Associations — a non-political farming organisation.

“The revenue and records system in Telangana is century-old and dates back to the 1930s. It is a mix of the Nizam and British maintenance systems. During the Nizam’s tenure, the land records were mostly issued in Parwana, a judicial order for entry/incorporation of names in the revenue record,” he said.

“The real problem arose when Telangana merged with Andhra since most of the Parwanas were in Urdu. Furthermore, in 1985, the TDP led by NTR abolished the Patwari system where the village-level officials kept the land records. After the abolition of the Patwari system, the local officials did not properly update the records, even if the land was sold,” he added.

“Also, in many rural areas, the land transactions were done on mutual agreement and sale deeds. So, no updated land survey tells who the real landowner is,” Changal Reddy said.

Changal Reddy highlighted that family issues about asset sharing and in cases where land was gifted, further aggravated the problem. “Thousands of cases are pending in the courts,” he said.

“Dharani is a good idea, but a proper resurvey, mandal level judicial officer, and tribunal have to be formed at the district level to address the grievances,” he opined.

Related: In KCR’s Gajwel citadel, many contest against him just to draw his attention

A half-baked resurvey 

On the resurvey, Peddalinganna Gari Prasad, a lawyer practicing in the Siddipet District Court and founder of Rural Social Development Society, told South First, “Though the Land Records Updation Project (LRUP) was said to be conducted to update the records, but it was mostly limited to the updation of textual records and not spatial records.”

Farmer Kalavrala Chinnaguttalyya sale deed from a farmer in 2001 over purchase of land.

Farmer Chinnaguttalyya sale deed from a farmer in 2001 over the purchase of land. (Supplied)

“The survey primarily facilitated the rollout of the BRS ‘Rythu Bandhu’ scheme launched in 2018, six months ahead of the polls. A farmer receives ₹4,000 per acre during each sowing season — altogether getting ₹8,000 an acre in a year,” he explained.

“With the existing problems in the land records, the Dharani portal aggravated the problems,” he added.

Imagine how just one wrong letter or number could lead to three years of complications. This has happened to at least a dozen families in Siddipet, KCR’s district.

Several people said there was no process for changing or rectifying these human-made errors on the website. This further forced the seller or buyer to approach the Collectorates and the Chief Commissioner of Land Administration in Hyderabad.

“At the village level, earlier, during the time of stamp work, the pleader used to read out the document where the errors are rectified on the spot. Later, the papers are submitted for registration. However, now, these details in mandal offices are entered by outsourced employees with no attention and, hence, innocent people are made to pay the cost,” he added.

Also Read: On the campaign trail with Barrelakka of Kollapur

Disappearing names

In some cases, the properties of several farmers have been “added” to the possession of the Telangana State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation. These farmers had resisted the move to acquire their land for the Hyderabad Pharma City project.

“Earlier, some farmers from four villages — Medipally, Nanaknagar, and two other adjacent villages — resisted the acquisition. Later, the farmers went to the high court, which gave a ruling in their favour for fair compensation,” senior journalist Hari Krishna Reddy from the Ranga Reddy district told South First,

“Some agreed to the compensation, while others resisted that too. Among them, the properties of around 60 farmers are still in the name of the Telangana State Industrial Infrastructure Corporation.”

Master plan of the Hyderabad Pharma City (Supplied)

The master plan of Hyderabad Pharma City. (Supplied)

However, the issue has been brought to the attention of the local MLA, who promised to change it back to the original landowners’ names. This has not been done yet.

Until they get the ownership of the land, the farmers would not be eligible for the Rythu Bandhu scheme, crop loans, and other assistance from the government as the farmers don’t hold any rights on the said land anymore.

Several such incidents even triggered suicide attempts across the state. There were also reports by civil societies and Opposition parties that local MLAs and political leaders were usurping land.

Nevertheless, the BRS defends the Dharani portal, while the grand old party and the saffron party promise to scrap the portal. Intellectuals are divided over the ramifications of the land records system that could be triggered by the political fight.