Land revenue offices across the country do not have a good reputation. They are perceived to be one of the most corrupt government offices, thanks to nexus between government officials and middlemen to fleece service-seekers. Tasked with responsibilities like land sale, purchase and collection of land taxes, these offices have become a hub for corruption. Even government-conducted studies show corruption thriving in these offices.
Alarmingly, irregularities are rife in these offices despite a series of government measures to curb corruption.
Middlemen operating around these offices are one of the most visible indications of illegal transactions taking place there.
In 2021, the government issued a circular to prohibit middlemen from entering the offices to control irregularities there. But the circular largely remains unimplemented. Shyam Prasad Bhandari, Spokesperson for the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA), says there is a high degree of corruption in the offices related to land revenue and management.
According to the annual report (2021-22) of CIAA, of all government offices across the country, government offices in the Bagmati Province have had the highest number of complaints registered against them. According to the report, 33% complaints are related to the Ministry of Federal Affairs, including local governments, while land-related offices stand in the second position with 8 percent complaints.
As we receive more public complaints from those offices, we have managed a separate section with more human resources, Bhandari said. The operation of these offices is so cumbersome that service-seekers cannot get their work done without involving middlemen. The middlemen ‘help’ service-seekers with official work by charging certain fees, which they use to bribe officials and line up their own pockets.
Several irregularities like registration of public land in the name of individuals, ‘creation’ of fake owners by forging documents, and land plotting have been carried out with the involvement of concerned officials.
Former CIAA Chief Nabin Ghimire had once said that revenue offices would be without staffers if action were initiated against corrupt officials. This statement also paints an alarming picture of deep-rooted corruption in these offices.
CIAA frequently conducts sting operations at land revenue and survey offices. There are many instances of officials caught taking bribe. A few years ago, CIAA had field cases against officials of land revenue offices in Chabahil, Dillibazaar and Jhapa, en masse.
Public fed up
This week, ApEx conducted a survey at some of the land revenue offices in the Kathmandu valley. Findings of the study show that corruption has not gone down. Alarmingly, the study shows that both officials and middleman are using more cunning ways to line up their pockets by fleecing the public.
The lack of action against corrupt officials has dampened the spirits of service-seekers.
In course of the survey, some service-seekers confided that they have stopped complaining about bribes they give to officials and middlemen because they do not want to spoil their relations with middlemen. Due to public complaints and intervention from CIAA and other anti-corruption agencies, there has been some improvement in service delivery but corruption has not gone down.
Land revenue offices have a decades-long history.
The Mal Adda (Land Office) was established in 1953, while the Pota Registration Addha — land tax registration office — came into existence in 1978. The latter was responsible for approving written documents related to the ownership, sale and purchase of land, etc. The Survey Department and the Department of Land Revenue were established in 1957 and 1959, respectively. District land revenue offices were established after the political division of Nepal into 75 districts.
In terms of cleaning up their tarnished image, land revenue and management offices have a long way to go.
Of all government offices, offices in the Bagmati Province have the highest number of complaints registered against them, per the annual report (2021-22) of CIAA. Thirty-three percent complaints are related to the Ministry of Federal Affairs, including local governments, while land-related offices come second with 8 percent complaints.
An APEX survey has found that graft has not gone down in land revenue offices.
My stationery has been around the LRO Dillibazaar for the past 10 years. It’s been a while, the place is not as full as it used to be. It is because banks have not been giving enough loan, and there has been no kitta kat (land plotting). So, there are only minimal people visiting.
Dr Dhiraj Shrestha
I have been visting the LRO Dillibazaar for the past 2 weeks and none of my work has been done yet despite a lot of back and forth. I am on leave from my work and I have patients to look after. There are only a few people in the information desk, and no one is willing to help us out in times of confusion.
Because there aren’t many service-seekers, my work is going quite smoothly. Everyone has been helpful and I have not hit a snag so far.