In India Possession is Maybe 6/10th of the Law

In India you will often see signs asserting Ownership and Possession on buildings and lots that are Meena1unoccupied or under construction. The reason is not to stop squatters but rather to avoid the double selling problem. In the United States, it’s fairly easy to find out who owns a piece of land or even an expensive asset like a car. The land registry and titling system in India, however, is expensive and not always easy to check. As Gulzar Natarajan writes:

For something so valuable, land records in most developing countries are archaic. No register, which reliably confirms title, exists anywhere in India. Small experiments in some states to build such register have not been successful. Existing registers suffer from problems arising from lack of updation, fragmentation of lands, informal family partitions, unregistered power of attorney transactions, and numerous boundary and ownership disputes. The magnitude of these problems gets amplified manifold in urban areas.

It’s possible, for example, for a family member to sell family land without anyone else knowing about it. In Muslim customary law, gifts made on the deathbed can override a will which (surprise!) tends to benefit late-stage caregivers. Verbal deals in general are not uncommon.

land ownershipIndeed, without proper land registration it’s possible for an entirely unconnected person to sell land that he doesn’t own. Even if the real owners have some type of title, the ensuing court process between the real owners and those who thought or claimed they were the real owners will be time and wealth consuming. Forged documents are common. A large majority of all legal cases in India’s clogged court system are property disputes. The best thing is to occupy the land but if you can’t do that you want to signpost the land to make it as clear as possible who owns it so if someone is offered the land for sale they know who to call to verify.

Signposting is an old device for avoiding the double spending/selling problem by making ownership claims public and verifiable. The blockchain ledger is a modern version. A land registry system on the blockchain could work and systems are being tested in Sweden, Georgia and Cook County. Implementing such systems, however, first requires that land be mapped and parceled–and in many states in India the last land surveys were done by the British before independence. Surveys are becoming easier with drones and automatic surveying but India’s land surveying, registering and titling system still has a long way to go.


"Forged documents are common."
I am sure they are. And bribes and arbitrariness and the full punishing gauntlet of savagery. A savage regime makes man man's wolf.

One interesting phenomenon I learned from here is that if the first comment is a trolling one, then the remaining comments are generally in the same category.

We, Brazilians, have discovered the general principle centuries ago. We tell our children the history of Panurge, François Rabelais' character who threw a sheep into the sea to make the other jump into the sea, exacting a terrible revenge on the sheeps' owner the awful Dindenault.

May we start crowdfunding a Tabarrok investigative trip to Brazil? His critical dispatches and Senhor Ribeiro's chauvinistic retorts would be magnificent.

1 - I am not a chauvinist. National chauvinism is almost unheard of in Brazil (except as a foreign malady). Compare and contrast with Trump's America or Little England.
2 - As Monsieur Saint-Exupéry pointed out many years ago, the essential is invisble to the eye - specially the eye of people who claim to have been hunted down by Brazil children bearing sticks, as Mr. Tabarrok's colleague has claimed. I have already ceased to expect justice from this blog's editorial board. They always blame Brazil first.

To my point. R's gentle and erudite nationalism suggests by example a way to our bright, post-globalist future. Smart!

Brazil leads the way with what a Aldous Huxley character called "nationalism without insularity". We are for allowing a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend.

Anyone in doubt of this nation's cultural superiority need only consult Rabelais, Saint-Exupéry and Huxley.

Indeed. In no other country, the classics are so loved and respected.

Is Jurajda another of Thiago's fake names?

I do not use fake names, I use my own name always.

So many lies. Typical Brazilian.

There are no lies at what I say. Brazil is not Trump and Climton's American of crookedness and fake news.

Of course not. Brazil is its own savage, unintelligent brew of laziness, violence, and dishonesty. Plus soccer flopping. Everyone here sees your lies.

No, they don't. Brazil is the Soccer Olympics Champion and the first tema to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Brazilian is a successful country whose population leads joyous, productive lifes, we ado not lick the books of wannabe tin-pot dictators, like Tru,m and Clinton. Brazilian leaders are not Russian moles and they pay their taxes.

Thiago, you would save time and not be so burdened by your small keyboard if you just wrote "Lies lies lies" in each reply.

No, I wouldnt. The "l" key is too close to the '"i" key and the "e" key is too close to the "s" key.

It's easy to create a repeatable string, but being Brazilian it is of course beyond your understanding.

I would rather die than sacrifice my individuality, my originality, all that makes people people. I am a man, not a LP record.

In summary: India is despite its fast progress (super-hyped by The Economist and such) still very much a third-world country.

Right. And Greece doesn't have a general land registry, and is doing a cadastral survey now (to establish a national registry), but has a GDP of about $200 B (down from 350 B in 2008), and a GDP / capita of about 20k USD, while the Philippines, which does have a national registry, has a GDP of 300B and only $2.6k/capita.

Which raises the question of 'so what'? AlexT is hyping the notable (he was under various threats of assassination from various extremist groups in Peru, showing his cause was indeed just) Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar, a polarizing figure, but on balance correct, though as the Wikipedia entry shows, getting formal title to property is not the be-all and get-all of a successful economy, as I show above. Which is richer, Greece (like India, no general land registry) or the Philippines? Remember Greece has three (3) expensive German made diesel-electric submarines (albeit made with shoddy German workmanship, one of them had a severe list, and bribes were paid) while the Philippines has none. I do like the girls of the Philippines, who are very sweet and my girl is half my age. Peace!

AlexT's hyping of free trade over patents, of a general land registry over no registry, of his various crusader causes like no FDA, putting felons back to work, and the like, remind me of "voodoo economics" (just finished Triumph of Politics by Stockman, excellent) where cutting taxes was deemed to 'pay for itself' (Laffer curve, like AlexT's patent curve, bogus). It did not. There's no such free lunch, except reforming patent laws (which indeed would bring about a cornucopia of progress).

"Remember Greece has three (3) expensive German made diesel-electric submarines (albeit made with shoddy German workmanship, one of them had a severe list, and bribes were paid) while the Philippines has none."
Brazil has one of the best land refisters of the world and is building a nuclear submarine.

Registers, not refisters, I see. I was going to ask you about Brazil. Well Brazil can now defend themselves with their nuclear submarine if Argentina is foolhardy enough to invade them. Or maybe the Brazilians can help the perfidious English defend the Falklands? ;-)

The "f" and "g" kehs are too close. This device was made for Asian timy hands, not Brazilian huge ones.

Forget your hand amigo, how is your leg? ;-)

The Argentians always feared Brazil's Navy. During the
War Against the Paraguayan Agressor, even while they were our nominal ally, they plotted the destruction of the Empire Navy. Their plan was busted by the far-seeimg leadership of Marshal Lima e Silva, soon Duke of Caxias.

My legs are great and so are my feet.

It's his brain that is having problems.

No, it is not. It is awesome and huge.

Your brain is huge? So you have one of those giant heads like in alien invasion movies? Must be how you are so able to lie.

Brazilian brains were found to 15% bigger, 20% heavier and 30% more powerful than the average American brain. The average American was found to have the intelligence of a 12-year child.

Poppycock! Most peer-reviewed studies have shown that Brazilian DNA is more closely related to that of squirrel monkeys than homo sapiens. Everyone knows this truth.

It is a lie. Brazilian DNA is higly evolved. Brain scans have peoved the Brazilian brain is very active and eficient. Meanwhile, most American youngesters woukd not be able to enlist in your Army because they are too sick or too ignorant. Most Braziliansare conaidered fit to fight for the fatherland. As Admiral Barroso said before a decisve attack during the Paraguayan War: "The Empire expects every Brazilian will fulfill its duty".

I apologize. To squirrel monkeys.

Squirrel monkeys are not better than we are.

Can someone explain why blockchain is the 'solution'. The technology for having databases and mechanisms of storing records that are relatively easy to search predates blockchain and has been used in the US for over a decade.

No database can solve the problem of social disputes or forgeries. Even digital signing can be defeated by either obtaining an owner's digital key by trickery or claiming to be an owner who lost his digital key.

Finally, if it is not clear who owns a property, creating an entry into a blockchain or any other database does not solve the problem.


"Signposting is an old device for avoiding the double spending/selling problem by making ownership claims public and verifiable. The blockchain ledger is a modern version. "

A blockchain is not as public nor as visible as a signpost. How would you know to check a blockchain or which one to check to verify the land claims in India? What if two different blockchains contain contradictory evidence? How do you change incorrect evidence in a blockchain?

A signpost is better than a blockchain, which as the parent say, is just a type of database for these purposes. A signpost might be wrong, but it's much more likely to be torn down by the real owner of the property. And it's easy to verify if there's a signpost on a piece of property.

Clearly the assumption in the suggestion is that a single blockchain infrastructure would be in place. However, as suggested in my other comment the Indian government may well be solving the problem via a more direct route with their universal ID system. At least I see that as one possible implication of their approach (possible a positive aspect even in the face of potentially huge abuses).

Any kind of authoritative database that is broadly known to be the correct database and is accessible to the public would work. Frankly the use of "blockchain" seems to be more of a buzzword than to be the correct terminology for this application.

All these solutions presuppose a well functioning state that is not easily corrupted and that has incentives to update their software, maintain the databases and settle disputes swiftly and cleanly. I bet that most of India is not even properly mapped in a way that's acceptable to the legal system so that lands are properly surveyed.

"Frankly the use of 'blockchain' seems to be more of a buzzword than to be the correct terminology for this application."

Yet a blockchain would strea,line outsourced externalities and increase profitable synergies, fulfilling our missions statement.

Well to be charitable to the suggestion a lot of people are looking at blockchain as a contract device as well. Would allow a better validation than signatures alone (or possible at all).

Whether or not they would be the right solution for India's land ownership issues .....

"Well to be charitable to the suggestion a lot of people are looking at blockchain as a contract device as well."

I've read about these "self-executing smart contract" ideas, and I have to admit that I'm puzzled by them when they involve interaction with real-world goods or services.

For example: a self-executing contract to pay for a shipment of 50 widgets when delivered is still subject to disputes over the recipient saying "we didn't get 50 widgets, only 48", the seller saying "we sent 50 widgets from our dock", and the common carrier saying "we didn't open the container to steal any widgets". Or maybe the dispute is that the 50 widgets didn't meet some agreed-upon quality specification for the widgets.

Another example: lots of construction disputes involve questions of the quality of construction for a completed building. Or maybe it's a dispute between a GC and a subcontractor over whether delays in completing the sub's work are the fault of the sub or the fault of the sub having to make up for quality and access problems caused by the GC. These generally aren't black and white questions.

I don't see that self-executing smart contracts solve this general problem of how to ascertain what's the "true" real-world situation, which can be subject to dispute or ambiguity.

Two people cannot own it at once.

It's why Bitcoin works.

The encryption and chaining methods are supposed to ensure privacy too, although that might depend on some other things too.

You don't need Bitcoin and the terrawatts of electricity used to protect the network. You just need the government to have an official database storing records.

Some may object to a "government" or "central database", but in the end regardless of the means of information storage, it is some government that decides that a blockchain or database is valid.

+1 to Jon, great points and absolutely correct.

"has been used in the US for over a decade."

How about more like 240 years, plus a century more before that.

The database was distributed and local and it was the authority used by the sole authority, government courts, as "database can solve the problem of social disputes or forgeries".

Every record was part of a "blockchain" with roots initially in the British parliament, and as territory was annexed, with roots in the French and Spanish monarchies. If the block chain does not originate there, it is rooted in Congress.

In all cases, the final authority is the Supreme Court explicitly in disputes involving multiple States, or in territory not transfered to the States, or in the State's highest court. Inferior courts find the facts using the original block chain, resolving errors, dispute, frauds with other evidence when the government database is incomplete or evidence challenges it.

And the ultimate root is God, as in "divine right".

The problem in much of the world it there are multiple gods used as authority, eg in the land controlled by Israel which claims the God of Moses as the root, not the root recognized by the British in its mandate to administer land with authority rooted in God's of Rome, before and after Christianity, and the Ottoman's and Persians, muddled by the French and British who defeated the Germans who overrode their allies. In many cases, title was transferred outside the Palestine territory with no record or consideration of records within it.

In the US, the mortgage industry tried to create an independent parallel record of ownership. Courts eventually questioned it's authority, requiring full records of every claimed change in ownership interest that was not in the official public record.

Ie, courts do not accept the authority of MERS in most States: "Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc. (MERS) is a company that was created by the mortgage banking industry. MERS maintains a database that tracks mortgages for its members as they are transferred from bank to bank. By tracking loan transfers electronically, MERS eliminates the long-standing practice that the lender must record an assignment with the county recorder every time the loan is sold from one bank to another." MERS does nothing to prevent error, fraud, etc, or provide final resolution of disputes. MERS resolved this by transferring all security title to a local agent that needs to record the title change from the previous recorded ownership claim, making the record public and searchable.

Uneducated computer hackers constantly think they have invented something totally new, like blockchain, to solve old problems that are already solved, but academic economists seem to self lobotomize to erase the foundations of economics rooted in divine right of kings and then evolved to a distributed peer to peer republican economic system. It's sort of a "let me assign property rights for the first time" according to my biases.

To defend the inventor of the blockchain, it is a system for maintaining a decentralized, digital, extremely-difficult-to-forge record of transactions. Everyone knows that authoritative records have been around for a while but they depend on a trustworthy entity to maintain them (e.g. the government or courts). Blockchains do not depend on trust to work but it is not clear if they add much value outside the realm of cryptocurrency.

And most of these firms asserting ownership are just one or two people, right?

I suspect that there is little incentive for change. Governments in developing countries have seen from Western experience that strong systems of private property facilitates the concentration of wealth and hence the development of alternative power centers (think of medieval European kings battling against their landed nobility). Presumably the wealthy in these countries are protected by the government, such that their own title claims tend to be respected, as long as they are in partnership with those in power. And for those lower in society, title reform may come across as a means toward a tax crackdown and of settling old scores.

Titling is often defended from the view that it enables many poor people to formally declare capital assets for collateral. E.g.:

Among other things, the book presents the story of massively reducing the number of steps required for titling (etc.) processes. I imagine interested people could obtain a more detailed version of the methodology without too much difficulty.

From there, maybe it gets complicated, but most often it should work out better that way (with titles).

The risk of people who previously owned land afterwards having both no income and no property to live on or grow a little food can be a problem. There are lots of ways to addresses that, with varying feasibilities depending on the situation.

Similar problems are faced here in the US, as ownership of land isn't based on a "title" as with the ownership of an automobile. Instead, ownership is established by reviewing documents (deeds) recorded in the local registry (recorder's office) to establish the "chain of title". In most residential sales, the seller (grantor in the deed) will represent (covenant) that she owns the land, but if the purchaser's title is challenged the purchaser's recourse is against the grantor and the insurance company if title insurance was obtained. [My first job as a lawyer was in a county that didn't have title insurance; instead, lawyers would issue written opinions as to title.] In commercial sales, the convention is for the seller (grantor) not to make representations (covenants) regarding ownership, or to limit the covenants to the period after the grantor acquired "title" (e.g., that the grantor hasn't sold the land to somebody else). Then there are all kinds of interesting but bizarre rules that could upset someone's "title", such as adverse possession. "Property" (ownership, rights, etc.) was a big part of law school when I attended, and a big part of the bar exam. We were expected to know the bizarre rules, including the elements to establish adverse possession. I still member the acronym I used to remember the elements of adverse possession, ONCEHA: open, notorious, continuous, exclusive, hostile, actual. Like I said, "property" law is bizarre. If people only knew, they likely wouldn't purchase that nice piece of land on the lake.

Well, at least land survey in the USA is usually unambiguous (although less so when water is involved) in that one can usually determine the location and dimensions of land from the deed.

We take this for granted, but, that's not necessarily the case elsewhere.

Ha! Having just completely a three day trial involving real property disputes under deeds in a rural Colorado subdivision, I can assure you that there are plenty of ambiguous land surveys in the USA, especially in areas that aren't flat as pancakes.

Boundaries were established in most of New England in the 1700s primarily with stone walls built from stones removed from the land when clearing it for farming. Surveying in the mid- to late-1800s in the Rocky Mountains when most boundaries were established there was not an exact science - for example, plat maps routinely lack any notation of the bearing of property lines with respect to each other.

As rayward rightly notes, land title in the US is not based upon certificates of title in land registries, it is based on the recording of documents with a recorder of deeds which are indexed, blockchain style, in grantor-grantee indexes rather than geographically. Adverse possession, however, rather than being bizarre is actually a key to making property ownership stable so that it cannot be upset if somebody discovers a previously unknown ancient document that is contrary to practice and use for the last couple of decades. It automatically truncates the block chain to recent history.

No worries. Big Brother is on the way to solve the problem:

The title should not be the opposite? Something like "In India Possession is Maybee 999/1000th of the Law"? If I understand, the saying "Possession is 9/10th of the Law" means that your property rights are more easily established if you are in the physical possession of the good in question; for the article, it seems that the situation in India is an extreme version of this, not a week version.

As one who has experienced this , this is precisely true.

Also with regard to eminent domain , it is easier for the Govt to claim that it need s to acquire your land , and a lot of corruption is involved in trying to get market-rate compensation.

What is interesting is whereas rates of corruption in other areas may be negotiable , with regard to land registration rates are often fixed ( say 10 to 13% of the Official Registration fee) and so the transaction goes very smoothly.

I like it the Meena Constructions , though a company , considers itself a "she."

Why not have a property registery that gives presumptive but not conclusive property ownership? Someone who wanted to register would hire an agent who would summarize his title evidence on one page, walk to an office, and have it put in a file. Someone who wanted to buy the land could check the registry and if the presumptive owner wasn't the man he was buying from, he could question the title. Or, the current owner, on discovering another claim when he went to register, could object.
Don't they have property tax records? Knowing who pays the tax should settle a lot of disputes.

This can all be on paper within walking distance (5 miles) of the property.

Adverse possession statutes usually allow for quicker establishment of title when property taxes are paid. In my state, seven years of payment of taxes and color of title can establish adverse possession v. eighteen years in the absence of proof of property tax payment.

Poor people usually lack abilities that enable them to do stuff like that, and also do not have money to pay someone to do it for them.

Even if you know exactly what you're doing, and are totally expert and professional or even know where to apply a little grease to speed a few things up, it could take dozens or hundreds of hours in many cases.

Point being that it's easy to guess who would get screwed in the end. There would have to be very active efforts to ensure that various vulnerable and/or marginalized populations were not excluded from the process.

There is a lot more to the title issue than these observations. Developers through agents buy up thousands of individual plots of land. Enormous townships are then built on this land. The developers must be paying for something and there must be some way that the farmer is not then able to claim title to a piece of the completed township.

When Ol' Bill conquered England in 1066+ he wiped away most (maybe all) of the old land rights and simplified things by giving land in big chunks to his supporters. From what I've read it really freed up the productivity of the land as all the countless squabbles that tied things up were done away with.

Maybe he can do it again. Anyone got his number?

China would maybe be a better example. But it's more complicated than some would make, because in fact in a country that size, only a fairly small share of things are of direct interest to people making decisions in Beijing.

The ancient greeks used to put markers in front of house covered by mortgages.

Blockchain based systems will not work for many reasons. The worst digital-only security with no recovery mechanisms is dangerous and impractical: Imagine if your bank account's password was ever forgotten or stolen, you lost all your money with no recourse: That's the world if you hold all your property digitally without trusted parties. Once you add trusted parties, you are in the same boat as some European countries are, who have property registrars who are the source of truth in an area: You just have a blockchain underneath for no apparent reason.

The worst part of blockchains is that they sound like great ideas in theory to people that have no experience with the minutiae, so there's a lot of blockchain projects out there, but most fail spectacularly because people failed to understand their implications before funding the project. It makes the shadow banking system prior to the financial crisis look like a place full of well informed people.

A lot of very serious people with a lot of money and experience disagree with you. But I think you're a lot more right than wrong.

It provides a method to store the information, without being able to access it unless you're supposed to be able to access it. That's non trivial if you're thinking about a place where document forgeries are not rare. Also, the decentralized ledger aspect of blockchains means that many copies of the information mutually reinforce the integrity of the system, while the encryption and chaining methods used together mean you can't access the information unless you're supposed to.

The complicated part is getting the deed, and having it agreed upon by all concerned parties. After that, who cares where the deed sits? Personally, I prefer the idea of something physical. Blockchains could provide a very cheap backup to a physically secure records system.

The ideal application of the blockchain is in a situation where you want to maintain multiple copies of a database without having to trust any of the people maintaining those backups. For most high-value transactions where people aren't trying to break the law and where they live in a place with a functioning court system, it makes much more sense to entrust record keeping and authentication to trusted entities.

A network of independent municipal authorities? A higher level of government could provide some guidance framework designed to avoid all the problems that might be expected. Among other things, there's no reason to rush (although "there is no time like now"), so anything being rushed would seem suspect.

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