Retired district and sessions judge Masdar Hossain is most well-known for the iconic case of separating the executive from the judiciary. In 2007 he had been the Inspector General of Registration (IGR), controlling the sub-registry offices all over the country. On 9 November this year the cabinet passed a decision for mutation to be carried out within 8 days of land being registered. He speaks about this and related matters in an interview with Prothom Alo.
You were the Inspector General of Registration (IGR) in 2007. What do you say about the cabinet decision regarding land registration?
It has two sides. Firstly, I welcome the decision about digitization. But about the decision to have mutation of land in someone's name within eight days of the land registration, that is not possible. That is completely unrealistic. Let me make it clear here that I am expressing my view simply based on reports in the media. It will be possible to give a concrete opinion if an official explanation of the decision is available.
Whatever can be understood so far, the matter is very complicated. After all, the prevailing law maintains that the mutation must be carried out within 45 days. That is ineffective, but has anyone explained why it has not been possible to carry out the task within the 45-day limit? I simply cannot figure out how, what cannot be done in 45 days will be carried out in just 8.
I was IGR for around 7 months in 2007 and from my experience I can say that not even in 10 per cent of the cases is the 45-day time limit maintained in registering the documents. I may be mistaken, but I believe that even now the 45-day condition continues to be violated.
What did you observe and do at the time?
It can take from two to seven years even to obtain a certified copy of a document. Yet this document is necessary for all concerned, and for many purposes other than mutation too.
The cabinet had asked if the documents could be provided immediately. As IGR, I met with the law advisor Barrister Mainul Hosein and told him that a possible solution could be to prepare three original documents. The sub-registrar would register the land according to the rules and keep one of the documents in his office. The buyer and the seller would get the other two. He agreed to my proposal and we began working on this in Tejgaon. We worked for seven days and then suddenly I was transferred. That was the end of the project. Then this Monday the cabinet decision caught my attention.
There is another incident of that time. A total of Tk 50 million (Tk 5 crore) was recovered from a peon of the Sunamganj sub-registry office. They would deposit fake slips in the office and share the money they made. So I issued a circular that all payments must be made through pay order. This went on for seven days and then I was transferred. That project ended there too.
Cabinet secretary Khandker Anwarul Islam said that because the task was carried out by two ministries, it was difficult to coordinate the work and this created delays. There was a lack of clarity in the registration too and complications in mutation.
With all due respect, his statement is completely baseless. When a registrar registers a document, he does not do so without scrutinising the tax receipts and all information pertaining to mutation, that is, ownership. The mutation is carried out by the assistant commissioner (land). Then the document is drawn up. From what I have read in the newspapers about the cabinet decision, the registrar is being given a dual role. He will keep in contact with the assistant commissioner. The registrar has been told to gather the information from the assistant commissioner and prepare the document. But he does not have any information that the registrar doesn't know. Without the information he would not be able to register the document.
Again, it has been said that the assistant commissioner will be informed after the registration. The prevailing laws do not permit this. You may say that they will amend the law, but what is the logic behind this? This has nothing to do with alleviating the hassle and suffering that people face. It must be kept in mind that the law under which the documents are being registered is based on around 17 laws from 1781 to 1908. Despite certain minor hitches due to the passage of time, the 1908 law is still excellent and effective today.
There was nothing digital or mobile back then. The law must be updated with the advancement of technology now. But the emphasis being placed on coordination between two separate ministries for mutation within 8 days, is entirely irrelevant. It is most surprising that a decision is being made regarding this coordination, where the matter of coordination is entirely irrelevant.
But if the 8 day time is stipulated instead of 45 days and made compulsory?
(Laughing) We will not forget our experience. Prothom Alo and other media ran reports in this regard. But as to the consequences of such a law, if it is enacted, you may turn to the clauses of the special laws related to the speedy tribunal act. Some clauses called for trials to be completed within 120 or 180 days, but these provisions remain ineffective.
There will be software to coordinate land registration and mutation. This is being done in 17 upazilas and will cover the entire country in a year's time. Isn't that a good thing?
It is certainly good and I welcome this digital coordination. But you must understand what is actually happening in the 17 upazilas. I hope this project is a success, but I do not see what this has at all to do with mutation within 8 days. The land survey department has already placed 40.3 million (4 crore 3 lakh) records online. Say, for instance, you have land in 7 khatians and there is a mango orchard there. Tomorrow you may change that to a 'jaam' orchard. Then if you want to sell the land and go to the sub-registrar, you will have to sell it as a 'jaam' orchard. The assistant commissioner will do that first. But you will not be able to make the mango orchard into a 'jaam' orchard within the proposed 8 days of the registration of the land sale. That is why I am apprehensive that, in the name of coordination between the two ministries, the responsibilities of the assistant commissioner will unnecessarily be increased. It will complicate matters further.
How soon is it possible to carry out mutation?
Mutation is the assistant commissioner's task. It is important for the main copy of the registered document to be handed over to the assistant commissioner. That document will have all the required information. That is why I had made the provision for three original documents together. I think it is important to look into how work was done in 7 days at the central registry office in Tejgaon and a decision made accordingly.
In the year 2005, a good amendment was brought about to Section 63 of the 1908 law. Since then, during the time of registration, the past 25 years' history of the land is recorded and this provision is being followed with no exception. So I think it is important to ensure that the original document is sent as soon as possible to the assistant commissioner. The mutation of every document can be done within a short time from the registration.