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Home > Business > Special

Bhoomi: A revolution in rural land record system

Subir Roy | April 10, 2007

Virtually 24 hours before Rajeev Chawla, the IIT Kanpur graduate and Karnataka IAS officer, and the rest of the country came to know that he had been awarded the prime minister's prize (for 2005-06) for excellence in public administration for his role in making Bhoomi happen, he had been transferred.

From secretary, e-governance and special secretary, Bhoomi, he had been made managing director of Karnataka's food and civil supplies corporation. Post the award, his reliever has not yet arrived.

Chawla (45), father of Bhoomi, the computerised rural land record system which has put the state at the top of the third world's pecking order of e-governance achievers, has been at it for nearly eight years. "I salute the system for allowing me to do this," he says, underlining the need for stability of tenure for officials to be able to make a difference and unfazed by the vicissitudes of bureaucratic cross currents that his transfer underlines.

Bhoomi means that 7 million farmers in Karnataka can get any extract of land records for a flat Rs 15 in the quickest possible time, sans payment of 'speed money'. It is a network of over a thousand offices (including the latest privately run centres), linked via internet to a central depository to which all earlier physical land records have been digitised and transferred. The Karnataka government spent a one time Rs 17 crore (Rs 170 million), and incurs an annual cost of Rs 3-4 crore (Rs 30-40 million) to run it. User charges recovered till now total Rs 61 crore (Rs 610 million).

Bhoomi is not frozen in time but evolving and improving. It began in 2001 as a service provided at 177 taluka (equivalent of the block) headquarters where the data was kept in silos. Then came the network, centralised data storage and around 50 franchises to rural entrepreneurs to offer shared services at additional centres. These couldn't become self sustaining as, it was realised, the rural entrepreneur was quite weak himself.

"We realised that the weak can only be helped by the strong and took a leaf out of ITC's e-choupal book" which uses rural folks to run the system but shoulders all liability. Out of this learning came the latest avatar, the Nemmadi (peace or tranquility) rural tele-centre project.

The centres have been set up by a consortium of three firms, 3I Infotech, nLogue of the Madras IIT Tenet stable and Bangalore firm Comat.

They are offering Bhoomi and 42 other e-governance services (birth, death certificates and so on) for which they are now the front office of the tehsil. The farmer continues to pay Rs 15 per Bhoomi service, of which Rs 5 goes to the firms. This not just assures the corporates a minimum revenue but also footfalls and additional revenue from the other services. It must be a viable business model as 3I Infotech has invested Rs 46 crore (Rs 460 million) to set up the centres at government premises.

What makes Chawla tick? "I am essentially a technology person, the IAS is incidental." He began as an "IAS officer" but now sees himself more as an "IAS engineer". He has spent 20 years in Karnataka as part of its IAS cadre and never sought a central government stint. But his portly dimensions and Hindi with a strong Punjabi accent places him culturally firmly in Delhi.

Chawla acknowledges that he is doing this work and not pursuing a corporate career because his family supports his passion. He gets an incomparable stroke from the fact that today every Karnataka farmer knows what Bhoomi is. It is working, expanding, and nothing succeeds like success.

What could be the next challenge? He is keenly aware that urban land records in Karnataka are not computerised. But "give me two years, and I will deliver it," he asserts. He has what it takes with both 'vertical' knowledge of government and the 'technology' prowess.

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