NRIs who own estates/homes in foreign countries may know what it is to hold crisp, concise documentation for your investments. No encumbrance ever. Clear title deeds. Neat presentation. Slim portfolio. Sits snug in your briefcase. I did expect this to be the case of papers filed for properties bought and sold in the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. In the case of Asia, I expected such a neat work from the Asian tigers and Korea and Japan. But I happened to chance upon a title deed held by a Filipino in Middle east sometime, that was so concise, fitting perfectly in an elegant file folder. It was easy to handle and refer to. It didn’t seem to run to hundreds of pages. Computer fonts advertised that every single detail held electronic data proof. Ever since I have been wondering, where in India we went wrong. Like in India the filipinos do have language issues with a hundred dialects spoken from island to island in their scattered archipelago nation. But their government seems to have unanimously chosen the English language for official communication. When I looked at their impeccable presentation, I was reminded of the pages and pages of soiled title deeds punctured with staples and holed for tying with thick legal ropes, covered with smudged seals from indelible rubber stamps with no space to spare. Indian title deeds to properties are a riot of colours. Hardly there remains a margin for any notation or observation or comment. We register deeds invariably in local (state) languages and rarely is a documentation done in universally understood English. Which means, the mother or parent documents in a title deed may make no sense to someone from Delhi buying a flat in Chennai for instance. Stamp papers are the way we Indians pay court fees for registration of properties. The top one fourth of every document sheet is therefore reserved for the stamp value affixation. Small mercies: we switched over to A4 size finally with the turn of the century. You just can’t fit the old sepia-tinted papers of another age and time, neatly into a present day folder designed for the A4 culture. To me the documentation in foreign countries underscored the discipline that you found in these places that is lacking in India. Just like us Indians, our title deeds are chaotic and messy making no sense to third parties. There may not be relevance, but documents must be legible and comprehensible to whoever. I guess the title deeds you may find in other parts of the world may be decipherable to a great degree unlike our complicated Indian title deeds that come as a loose bunch mostly: of tattered papers with ends frayed and haphazardly tied up, ink or print blotched. Things are changing in India as well but India being India, do we even have an idea on ‘standardization’ ?! Years before, there was not even the need for the seller to present himself/herself to the registrar when someone sold/bought a property. We have come a long way since then. Now apart from solid admissible ID proof and third party witnesses, there are conscious efforts to adhere to legal parlance in entire documentation leaving no grounds for ambiguity. Loopholes are plugged in documentation process at every stage as much as possible. While bribes have not been completely abolished from registrar offices, there is the saving grace that the data are saved by the government and a lot of the registration process is well streamlined. The statistics garnered must help in future planning. Lot less hassles compared to what it used to be just a decade ago. So can we at all have a neat and presentable documentation of our title deeds?
There are a couple of interesting discrepancies or differences between how we Indians document and register our title deeds and how the rest of the world may be going about it.
Unlike some newborn nations, India has the longest history and living memory which adds to our backlog of attached documents. This is called the chain of title deeds that cannot be broken. We have reams of papers connecting the dots! Government mooted development projects or settlements are not as common in India as in the newly formed republics. In the latter’s case, there is very short history to be recorded formally which means least documentation.
Well for one thing, India seems to be one or one of the rarest nations on earth to have nonjudicial stamp papers for registration. Look at others. They are way too simple. That header is a huge space consumer for us. The stamp duty is calculated at about 7% of guided value of property in question approximately. Further registration charges apply. To that effect, the stamp papers are made in India wherein the title deed may be executed in front of the concerned registrar. This is the legacy from the British Raj understandably. But is it not time we do away with this cumbersome practice. Why cannot the stamp duties and registration charges levied be printed in the annexure to the documents. Or perhaps in the place of the wide header, a small and simple square stamp will do. When did world nations grow out of the stamp paper practice that India is still keeping up.
India has adopted a whole range of economic reforms in last few years. One more in the mode of documentation of our title deeds is the need of the hour. Sleek title deeds crystal clear and to the point can be possible. If I were the prime minister, I would constitute a legal panel to look into this matter. Simplification of procedures and uniformity of terms and conditions and styles of registration are a must. As nothing in India is standardized from our garment sizes to school bus colours, we are at a fix when it comes to grave issues like title deed uniformity and standardization. How would you go about the chain of links or the history of documentation.
The watermark authentication seal must be the only way a title deed can be verified. This will leave room for observations and foot notes if any, at the time of registration. The deeds in any case must not run over a couple of pages. We are not writing volumes here.
Postal addresses in India need to be contracted and regularized as having a distinguishable PINcode has hardly helped matters. Along with postcode, the residential/commercial addresses must not run over four lines. This is how addresses are printed in America.
Paying detailed attention to every entry in the title deed and rectifications and regularizations can make way for sleekest and slimmest document folders in future.
World is growing out of physical monetary system, physical ID proofs, physical certifications etc., and even physical board meetings, as we slowly transcend to the digital age. Soft copies cannot summarily replace hard copies and the original title deed documentation is one such an area where transit from physical form to digital can be slowest and unreliable. May be in future, there is the possibility when we can entirely shift to electronic documentation. One of the hurdles that prevents such a total transformation is the age old parent documents that have to exist to maintain the chain link and authenticity of title deeds. The clue lies in how we process these old papers and bring in a revolution in the documentation process. Is Pradhan Mantri ji listening. Have you given a thought to this ji. Further, will this be foolproof. Can the digital title deed lead to scams and forgeries. Or is this the way forward.
Just a thought. With this I set the ball rolling. Why not. When Aadhar is here, PAN is here, Rupay is here, PayTm is here, Smart family card is here, Smart driving licence is here, when futures trading can be done from the cool comforts of your home, when there is the cryptocurrency, why should not be there an electronic title deed at all. How do we assemble the jigsaw puzzle.
I am limiting the scope of this post to mere appearance and/or shape and physical volume of title deeds with no input for substance.