Land revenue is a pillar of resource generation for the country at both provincial and federal levels. According to a World Bank report, the total share of agricultural land in the overall area of Pakistan is almost 48 per cent, which constitutes almost half of the total area. To administer the revenue of such a sizable chunk of land, a highly efficient and meticulous framework is needed. If managed properly, it can make a significant contribution to the uplift of the abysmal economic situation in the country. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Punjab where a huge sum of land taxes is either maladministered or misappropriated. Corruption is pervasive and nepotism is prevalent from the top to the bottom of the administrative hierarchy.
In Punjab, the Land Revenue Act of 1967 is the guiding force behind the collection of revenue generation.
The Land Revenue Act of 1967 classifies revenue officers into the following:
- tehsildar at tehsil level;
- collector at district level; and
- commissioner at divisional level.
The Board of Revenue is the highest authority in a province from where all powers of these officers emanate. The paramount role in revenue collection is played by patwaris who work under the supervision of tehsildars. These patwaris have been assigned the basic functions of record keeping and girdwari (record of rabi and kharif crops on a particular land). Girdwari forms the basis of taxes on the land as it is the gauge for the assessment of taxes.
The Act mandates the assessment of taxes before their collection. Taxes are levied on the gross produce of a land and, in some cases, it may be fixed as well. The revenue officer of a tehsil, through the patwaris, accounts for the metrics of assessment. The patwaris do not usually spend their energies on the painstaking process of assessment. In practice, only fixed taxes are levied and the taxes which are to be assessed on the basis of girdwari are not allocated properly. In some cases, these are waived off by the patwaris, either by virtue of nepotism or gratification.
In the past, the patwaris were venerated and revered. The masses would placate and appease them in order to get their rightful shares, which was rooted in typical colonial mentality and the fear of inordinate delays to get even legitimate processes done. For instance, a mutation of land, totally at the disposal of a patwari, might not have taken place had the applicant been at loggerheads with the concerned patwari. Similarly, land related grants and refusals were also at the whim of patwaris and they often took heavy sums just to carry out their statutory duties. Almost all patwaris had a personal assistant (munshi) and being able to afford an assistant, when one is an official of BPS-9 (basic pay scale 9) oneself, speaks volumes about one’s commanding position.
With the establishment of a land record authority, records are being computerized. Many functions previously performed by patwaris are now being shared by the land record authority. This has somewhat limited the role of patwaris. However, they still have day-to-day interaction with landowners who are mostly illiterate. The assessment and collection of taxes is also done by them, upon which the amount of revenue depends.
The government did bring some reforms in 2019 to ensure the transparency of revenue administration, but how far have they transformed the system is still debatable.
Ascertaining the problem thoroughly is half the solution. The problem lies in the fact that people are not aware of their rights and the system has unnecessary complexities. There must be some programs conducted by the revenue department at the Union Council level to make people aware of their rights and duties. For this purpose, a permanent team may be hired by the department. Furthermore, the delays to get processes done must be taken care of by training the officers to recognize that they are the servants of the public, not their masters. Some changes must be made in the law as well to simplify it. The process of assessment should be made transparent through proper monitoring by a higher authority and the penalizing of evaders. This can go to great lengths in eliminating the abuse of process by corrupt patwaris and making the system more effective.
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