The Telangana government has mandated the submission of Aadhaar and caste details for updating non-agricultural property records, as part of a massive land records updation exercise. The state government has asked all non-agricultural property owners to submit such details, with plans to move all property ownership data to a new “Dharani” portal, which it expects to launch on Vijaya Dashami (October 25). The Aadhaar and caste mandate was reported first by the Times of India and The New Indian Express.

Earlier in September, Telangana reformed its Revenue Act, effectively abolishing the village revenue officers (VRO) the lowest rung of the then land records system from land-related duties in an attempt to address corruption. Instead, land records would be managed digitally and hence transparently, the government had said. All land registration is presently frozen in the state, and will only be resumed once the Dharani portal is launched later this month.

The government has asked all gram panchayats and urban local bodies, including the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, in the state to update non-agricultural property details by uploading them into the Dharani portal. Ground level staff that have hit the streets are using a dedicated application called TS NPB (Non-Agricultural Property Book) to collect the details.

What data is being collected?

Property owners are being asked for a number of sensitive details, without which the updation process seems impossible, as evident from a user manual created for officials using the TS NPB app.

From the application’s user manual, Aadhaar seems to be a mandatory field. Moreover, the application also asks for “Family Member Details”, which ask for information on residents (spouses, children and so on), including their names, gender, age, relationships with owner and Aadhaar numbers. They are also expected to submit their mobile numbers during the updation process.

Property owners do not seem to have a choice in whether they want to submit their Aadhaar. Rajat Kumar Saini, director of land administration at the Chief Commissioner of Land Administration’s (CCLA) office declined to comment, stating that only Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar could talk on the subject. Kumar, who holds full additional charge of the CCLA and is reported to be personally overseeing work on Dharani, couldn’t be reached immediately for comment.

GHMC Commissioner DS Lokesh Kumar, who is responsible for overseeing the updation exercise in the Greater Hyderabad area, also directed us to the chief secretary Kumar. When asked if he had issued instructions to any of his field staff on how to deal with property owners who refuse to submit Aadhaar or caste details, he said, “These details are fundamentally required for the generation of passbooks.” He said that GHMC was doing as directed by the government, which takes the final decision on these matters.

Apart from Aadhaar, the following data will also be gathered:

  • Utilities data: Property owners are asked to submit their electricity connection numbers, along with water supply numbers to officials. However, only the electricity number number is a mandatory field.
  • Caste details mandatory as well: The officials also asked to submit details of their caste  details. However, this is a drop-down menu with the broad categories of OC, BC (with various sub-categories), SC and ST. Distinct caste data isn’t being collected.

Aadhaar link with land records: Not the first attempt

Aadhaar details have been mandatory for registering and updating non-agricultural property in the state for several years. In 2017, the state carried out a land records updation programme (LRUP), through which it wished to “purify” all land records in the state, and link them to Aadhaar. However, the exercise has not been very successful. A report by The Hindu from June 2018 had note several issues with the linkage. Multiple farmers who didn’t have Aadhaar numbers at the time had submitted Aadhaar numbers of their family members of even close acquaintances to get pattadhar passbooks, which ultimately resulted in mismatches in the land records.

As of last month, around three lakh non-agricultural property owners have not submitted their Aadhaar numbers, reported Times of India. Some owners reportedly refused to give Aadhaar details, while others didn’t have them, such as NRIs, and hence they weren’t issued a pattadhar passbook. The current updation exercise seems to be another major push to ensure the Aadhaar linkage.

What can linking all details be used for?

State government officials have said that the Dharani portal will work as a one-stop junction between the Stamps and Registration, Municipal Administration and Panchayat Raj departments, who maintain separate databases at present.

However, there could be other applications to this aggregation of this data as well. The state government has a tool called the “Samagra Vedika”, which has access to around 30 departmental databases such as electricity bills, water bills, property records, pensions, vehicle ownerships and ration cards.

Jayesh Ranjan, the state’s IT secretary, had earlier told MediaNama that Samagra Vedika is being used to identify beneficiaries of welfare schemes. For instance, it has been used to filter through applicants for the government’s 2BHK home programme. The Samagra Vedika algorithm is used to check all antecedents: if, for instance, an applicant turns out to have a electricity bills or property taxes, they are not considered “poor” and hence ineligible for a 2BHK home.

By digitising all land records — not to mention linking them with Aadhaar — the state government will have an even richer dataset for the Samagra Vedika algorithm. This data could ostensibly be used even to identify people who are evading their property taxes.

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