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Direct advantages of cadastral surveys and registration of rights

The first and most obvious advantage of a cadastral survey and record of rights is that together they give a true and exact description of the legal situation of rights in land at any moment. Only a cadastral map can provide the means of accurate identification necessary to this end and only a continuous and comprehensive record of rights can give an accurate picture of the position at any particular time.

Most of the advantages of the system of survey and record derive directly from the immediate availability of this exact information. The person legally recognized as possessing a right, the nature of the right, and the exact boundaries of the land concerned are at once clear, and any persons engaged in any transaction relating to the right knows at once how they stand. If the record is one of absolute title, the person whose name is recorded in the register, and no other, can dispose of the rights. If the register is one of possession only, there is at least a very strong presumption that the person registered as in possession is the person who can dispose of the rights and a virtual certainty that his or her interest in the transaction cannot be neglected. The possibility of fraud or of subsequent legal difficulties are thus either eliminated or greatly reduced.

Registration also provides adequate protection to all classes of rightholder, including absentees, persons with reversionary or pre-emptive rights, or those with dormant rights of any kind. It also protects any person or class of persons who have rights in easements or other restrictive rights. A public right of way is protected by registration equally with a right to restrict building or land use. Communal or private rights of grazing, extraction of timber, collection of forest produce, use of water, etc. whether on private or public lands, are publicly defined and safeguarded.

Registration also simplifies control over the acquisition of new rights. In cases where prescriptive rights accrue after a definite period, registration provides immediate evidence that the right has been established. It also prevents the acquisition of prescriptive rights where this is contrary to public policy. Generally it provides a ready means of regularizing all informal kinds of occupation or types of user. All dealings in land are greatly facilitated by registration. Boundaries are directly and accurately known, the nature and extent of existing rights are at once clear, long and costly inquiries into title are avoided, the need for the services of lawyers or other intermediaries is reduced to a minimum, and generally all transactions in land can be carried out with increased cheapness, speed and security. This applies, of course, not only to transactions involving a permanent transfer of the right, but also to temporary limitations and mortgaging. If, for example, mortgages are registered, then any persons intending to lend money on the security of land can quickly ascertain the exact position in regard to previous encumbrances. They will thus obtain a substantially greater measure of security for their money. Similarly, borrowers whose rights are registered can borrow money more easily and quickly, and probably also more cheaply, on the security of their land.

All classes benefit from the elimination of worthless documents purporting to be valid instruments establishing or conveying rights in land. This kind of document may be a real danger both to private and public interests at those stages of social and economic development where traditional systems begin to feel the impact of external influences. In the same kind of situation (and in many others) the publicity given to transfers of title by a system of compulsory registration greatly facilitates the protection designed to be given to economically weak classes of the population by legislation restricting alienation of land by or to specific classes of persons. One of the great difficulties of enforcing such legislation lies in devising a sure method of bringing apparent breaches of the law promptly to the notice of the authorities charged with the duty of enforcing it.

Generally the result of compulsory registration of rights in land is likely to be a very considerable reduction in the volume of litigation about land, with a consequent great saving of unproductive expenditure which the agricultural landholder can ill afford.

Finally there are the great advantages which the existence of an up-to-date and reliable map and record of all existing rights in land gives to every branch of the government that deals with the administration of land. Some of these advantages obviously follow directly from the existence of an unimpeachable record, for example the simplification of the work of the courts, increased ease in carrying out the acquisition of land for public purposes, improved administration of forests and other public lands, and so on. Other advantages are more indirect and perhaps less immediately obvious, but none the less very real. An attempt to summarize these will be made in the following chapter, but there is one group of advantages which, in a series of papers dealing primarily with the various aspects of land tenure and agrarian reform must be classified as “direct” and should therefore find a place in the present chapter. These advantages are those that good cadastral maps and a sound system of registration of rights bring to the appreciation of a national agrarian situation and to the elaboration of measures for its improvement and reform.

An unsatisfactory agrarian situation is usually forced on the public attention by the appearance of acute symptoms of malaise in the rural economy and especially by the depression of certain classes of the rural population and even by active agrarian unrest. These symptoms often become manifest only at a relatively late stage in the decay of the existing agrarian structure, or they may be brought to an acute stage by a sudden economic disturbance such as a worldwide slump in commodity prices or by the effects of a war which can place unusual strains on the rural work force which becomes depleted by the demands of military service. Or again the return of those who have been working in foreign countries and hence have experience of different conditions and practices may bring into prominence rural stresses and strains previously concealed.

Yet defects in land tenure systems and the agrarian structure generally do not develop like mushrooms in a night. They have been there latent but not inactive, for years or even for generations before a crisis flares up. Sometimes they have been well known and simply disregarded; sometimes they have been seen by a few officials and students of agrarian affairs and duly reported to the government, which however did nothing because the action necessary ran counter to established public policy. More often, however, they have not come clearly to the notice of the authorities because the latter had no ready means of obtaining exact and up-to-date information on what was happening in relation to the land and its occupants. There was no close and continuous contact with rural life and consequently no means of feeling the pulse of the agricultural community. A good cadastral survey and system of registration of rights provides the material for this close and continuous contact, both by providing an up-to-date picture of the situation and by ensuring that the government has a staff which is in constant touch with the situation itself. This is especially the case where registration offices are established in the villages or small towns and the register is maintained or checked by field inspections. The cadastral maps themselves and the information contained in the land registers also provide a good, and indeed the essential, basis for the preparation and execution of a programme of land reform or for any other measures taken to remove defects in the agrarian economy. Large-scale maps are, in fact, necessary to the success of any measure of land reform that involves either the redistribution of existing holdings or the settlement of new areas. If maps do not exist they will have to be made, and once a policy of reform has been adopted there may be little time for this. The registers provide the factual basis on which the reforms must rest. If this basis does not exist, it can scarcely be improvised and the reforms will, to a large extent, be a leap into the dark which may be full of danger.

This matter is of such importance that one or two examples may suitably be given. Many schemes of land reform which involve the expropriation of large landholders contain provisions exempting from expropriation land up to a particular maximum area held by a single landholder or land of particular types or used in particular ways. This kind of provision is obviously unworkable unless the boundaries and areas of individual estates, the type of land contained in each estate and the use to which the land is put are known. This knowledge can only be provided with the exactitude required by means of a cadastral survey. Again the distribution of expropriated lands among the new holders will demand a detailed demarcation of the new holdings which, in the absence of large-scale maps, can only be undertaken painfully and inefficiently by actual measurements on the ground. Similarly no tenancy legislation that involves the determination of rents of particular holdings or the grant of improved security to tenants can be enforced effectively unless the boundaries and areas of the tenancies are accurately known from good maps. The advantages derived from the existence of a cadastral survey in the administration of agricultural credit have already been mentioned. Perhaps the most obvious example of all is that of a plan for the consolidation of fragmented holdings which will be virtually impossible to carry out unless the precise boundaries and ownership of the individual plots and fields are known.

It is no answer to these arguments to say that in some countries agrarian reforms have been attempted and even carried out without good maps or exact information as to existing rights. In these cases the immediate result of the reforms has usually been a state of uncertainty and confusion which postponed their effectiveness for years or at the best, a slowing down of the rate of their progress to a politically dangerous and economically unjustifiable degree. Good work in agrarian improvement demands exact information of the kind that only a cadastral survey can give.

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