Land office becomes haven
Shahina Parveen was the land officer (AC Land) at Sirajdikhan Upazila of Munshiganj when she realised the extent of people’s desperation. She remembers running everything by the book at the sub district when one day an old man burst into her office. Clad in a threadbare lungi and kurta, probably the only decent clothes the elderly man had, the peasant grabbed her hands. His sunburnt face and hands clearly showed that the farmer spent many an afternoon under the hot sun toiling on his crops. The farmer shoved a Tk 500 note into Shahina’s hands and began sobbing. “He didn’t say anything, just grabbed my hand and tears rolled down his cheeks.”
All he had to say was, “I will give you this money if you want, but please settle my case. I have been coming here for three years now.” He was very direct about it and told Shahina that he did not really care whether he got the land. “If I am entitled to the land, give it to me; otherwise don’t. But, settle the case, please!”
The first point of consultation for anything related to land is the sub district’s land office run by an AC (Land). Cases with land ownership dispute, mutation and so forth, commonly known as ‘misc[cellaneous] cases’ are the most prevalent. The lawsuit is simple enough. It strives to correct errors that might have been the result of fraud. But typically, because of mismanagement, inefficiency and lack of information and personnel, these cases drag on for years. The citizens often do not even know how to file in application properly. Resorting to the predatory brokers becomes the only viable option once they have been rebuffed from the government office. It usually takes between 3 and 6 years to resolve these ‘misc cases’ but cost them a lot more in terms of money and energy than it should.
Shahina started thinking about the situation and wondered how she could solve it for the people. She found out the problems with a little research of the case applications after which she also got some training on innovation conducted by the a2i programme under the PMO. She then undertook a pilot project with small scale innovations. “My project was easy and swift trying to resolve those cases in 3-6 months.”
Shahina desinged a one-year work plan. She first developed a new application form that could be easily filled in. The system would notify applicants of the hearing through SMS. Her system launched a mechanism to secure reports and documents from the Union Land Office within a month that would help settle the case within three 3-6 months. Shahina also set down to developing a website with all the information of the land office and land laws.
Shahina found that many people still had to wait while their paper work was in process at her office so she had a waiting area built as well as a library of land information. Some age old documents and records were digitalised by year to be made available at the fingertips upon request.
The project changed the lives of the people dramatically. The same case that 3-4 years, cost Tk 6000-7000 and needed 30-36 visits now takes just 3-6 months. The cost is a paltry Tk 200-300 and needs 6 visits to the land office at most. Naturally the number of resolved cases has also risen. Whereas, not a single case had been solved in six months prior to launching Shahina’s project, the same office has resolved 81 cases in the six months following implementation of the innovation.
But it was not a smooth ride all the way. “There were some obstacles I faced such as the non-cooperation of some union land officials and some of my own staff. There was strong resistance from the brokers and we did not always have the necessary funds.” She said project took up a lot of her personal time, which is seldom an issue for her male counterparts. “I could not join many family occasions. But I did not stop.”
Shahina has felt rewarded after the project became a success. There were commendations and congratulations from superiors and even from the top most policy makers. There have been stories regional and national newspapers. Colleagues were cited her example as a leading innovator. “But it was the people’s love that has been most fulfilling.”
* Shahina Parveen is a civil servant in the Government of Bangladesh
Isfaqul Kabir Sarker is working as a freelance writer in a2i program