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Monday, April 17, 2006

Patwari - Zahid Shakil


Patwaris have enormous powers and an equally enormous duties. Will e-governance make a difference to this still seems a distant possibility

By Zahid Shakil

Patwari, originally a revenue collecting official in King Akbar reign, was assigned the task of arranging land record by the British Sarkar.

Today, 14,000 patwaris maintain the same monopolic position in the provincial boards of revenue as they historically did. He is the custodian of 17 registers containing various records -- like Register Haqdaran Zamindar, Register Khasra Gurdawri, Field Book, Register Inteqalat -- to maintain the record of rains, storms, thefts, dacoities and epidemics along with who owns which land and who sows what on a particular piece of land. In addition there is Roznamcha-e-Partal to maintain a record of officer's visits, Roznamcha-e-Hidayatee to have the record of the government's instructions on crop policy, land matters, revenue policy and so on, Roznamcha-e-Karguzaree to enlist his daily performance, Lal Kitab containing maps of crops and villages, Register Ujrat Naqool about the details of fees collected, and many other registers. All these registers need constant updating.

These registers are basic sources of data on livestock, crop production, average rains and even law and order. All these entries represent only the official side of his personality. There's another side to him -- the unofficial one. It's this side that cannot be overlooked to have a complete picture of his power and presence.

To begin with, patwari is the most vital figure of for all the fundraising at the tehsil level -- for lavish meetings of district authorities, for instance. Whenever some official of the revenue department or of district management needs to renovate his office in a grand manner, he assigns the Patwari to arrange money for that. The patwaris are also responsible for entertaining official and unofficial guests of the tehsil administration.

Before people start feeling envious of his immense powers, let it be stated that a patwari is actually a Grade-5 official with a monthly salary of around Rs 3000-3500. Only a tiny fraction patwaris has offices provided by the government (Tehsil Kharian of Gujrat district has 103 patwaris but only three of them have offices -- that too are about to collapse). So the patwaris are also expected to arrange for an office from themselves.

A patwari has a big patwar circle to take care of. Besides that he has has to be present at the tehsil headquarter for five days every month. But the government has not provided him even with a bicycle to perform these functions. Also, more often than not he is called upon by various courts -- like the district and the sessions court, the provincial high court, accountability courts, and anti-corruption establishments -- to present records for cases involving people living in his jurisdiction. On top of all that, he is given no extra travel or daily allowance for all these numerous appearances.

The patwari's method for meeting these needs is as direct as it is very well known -- he manges by being corrupt. He has nearly unbridled powers and people in his domain always need to be in his good books so that they don't fall on the wrong side of his unlimited authority. Which explains why they can be so easily used for extracting bribes.

One major venue for a patwari to earn some un-earned money is the farmers' or land owners' need to have every now and then 'fard' -- a copy of ownership record, an essential document for obtaining loans, for furnishing guarantee for obtaining bails in court cases, for obtaining a domicile certificate, for knowing about land transfers and for purchase, selling, mortgaging and leasing. With very few noble exceptions, every patwari charges heavily to providing this document. This price varies according to how easily or uneasily the patwari makes himself available. In most cases, it's with great difficulty that people can find him. They have to run from pillar to post -- from all over his patwar circle to the tehsil headquarter -- to get hold of him.

The second major source of earning for a patwari is 'manipulating' official fees to be charged at the time of land transfers. Provincial boards of revenue charge three per cent of the value of the land transferred and the district government charges one or two per cent of this value as fee. The patwari favours the parties involved in a land deal, assessing the value of the property in a way which incurs less than due fee. He thus decreases the government revenue and gets some portion of the money saved by the parties as bribe.

Tenants facing insecure land tenures due of his non-maintenance and non-updating of land record -- a practice which implicitly favours landowners -- are still another source of illegal money for a patwari.

With patwari having absolute power to play with land records with one stroke of a pen, most land records in Pakistan suffers from a lot of inaccuracies, creating ownership problems, leading to disputes over land rights, generating numerous property case, rendering official documents unreliable which at a macro-level complicates as big issues as obtaining aids and loans from international financial institutes.

The problem mostly pertains to how patwaris maintain their records. Since the colonial times, Persian digits and words have been used to make entries in his numerous registers and the tradition continues. In a country where more than half of the population cannot read and write in their mother tongue, deciphering a patwari's records as big an enigma as anyone.

It is generally said that a major reason for the failure of the 1973 land reforms lied in their poor implementation. Patwaris, in a very high number of cases collided with landowners and never informed the tenants that the reforms had changed their status. They continued to work on their fields as ever, without knowing that now they were the real owners of their farms, not someone else. Also, because of the poor maintenance of land record, the government was never able to crack down on those feudal lords who had frustrated the implementation of the reforms.

Successive governments have tried to curtail the patwari's influence. For instance, the government has curtailed patwaris' powers to determine Abiana, water revenue, by fixing a flat rate for its collection. This has come like a whiff of fresh air for poverty-stricken farmers, earlier vulnerable to the whims of a patwari.

E-governance is another issue that seeks structural reforms in a culture which revolves around a patwari. This reform has two aspects -- first, the computerisation of government functions and second is the provision of better interaction between the government and the people so that people may obtain direct access to records, rules and other official information. Under this reform, the government is computerising land records to thwart the patwaris' corruption.

So far, the impact of e-governance have been slow to emerge, where they emerged at all. The computerisation of land records, for instance, have been give a go ahead in Lahore and Kasur but no positive results have accrued from the exercise so far.

Perhaps it's time to offer all existing patwaris a golden handshake and make fresh recruitments in accordance with modern needs.

Even more important than that is creating awareness among people through 'mock exercises' about the processes of gaining access to official documents and government functionaries.


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