Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Doubts and fears

The possibility of popular doubts and fears as to the effects of the introduction of a cadastre has already been mentioned. Governments also may have their doubts and fears, especially as to cost. In the present chapter it is proposed briefly to discuss these matters.

Governments depend on public acquiescence in their acts. Acquiescence may be induced by force or by persuasion, but among free peoples attempts to secure acquiescence in which force may be applied are strictly limited; the institution of a cadastre will seldom be one of these, so that governments must ordinarily rely on persuasion. In these circumstances public doubts and fears not only deserve full consideration but must receive it. Many causes may give rise to public objections to the introduction of cadastral surveys and registration of rights. Some of these will be purely imaginary and due to simple misunderstanding. Others will be factual and practical. Others again will rest on ancient and deeply rooted religious or social ideas which, though the reformer may be inclined to regard them as mere superstitions and prejudices, may well be the most important obstacles of all.

Reliance must first be placed on the assistance of the administrative and technical officers of the government, and especially on that of those officers whose work brings them in close and constant contact with the people. Many of these will be subordinates whose educational level may not be much above that of the rural people. Great attention should be given to the education of such officers, partly because people usually, though not invariably, pay more attention to what is said by those of their own kind than to the words of experts and high officials, but mainly because these subordinates have opportunities of introducing subjects into ordinary conversation with members of the public that are denied to members of the higher grades of government service. Subordinate officers often live in the villages, or stay in village houses in the course of their tours. There is always plenty of scope for talking in villages (indeed talking is usually the principal occupation of leisure hours) and casual conversation is one of the most effective methods of educating public opinion.

Every community has its natural leaders, and every effort should be made to convince these first of all, partly because, being usually more intelligent, they are easier to convince, but mainly because, when convinced, they will themselves become the most effective educators of public opinion.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that where strong public opposition to the introduction of a system of registration of rights exists, every endeavour should be made to overcome it by sensible communication and educational measures. The objects and effects of survey and registration should be clearly explained and their advantages, especially the advantages to individuals, well stressed. On the other hand it will seldom pay to disregard or slur over any private disadvantages which may follow: to do so will merely intensify opposition.

This is not the place for an essay on methods of propaganda, and moreover the effectiveness of these methods varies so much in different conditions and states of society that to attempt any general recommendations would be a mere waste of time. The education of public opinion among a largely illiterate population, however, presents certain special difficulties and a word on methods in this case may not come amiss. Written promotional material is usually ineffective, because such a form of communication usually reaches the illiterate in a very garbled form, and especially because in these cases the assistance of the press can seldom be satisfactorily obtained. Education must therefore proceed largely by word of mouth, except to the extent that “visual” methods can be used, and in this particular case the scope for these methods may be somewhat limited.

Education should, moreover, be a two-way process: the same means employed to explain the proposals to the public should be employed to inform the government of the exact nature and degree of public objections to the proposals. Much opposition can be overcome by minor adjustments in the proposals themselves, and explanations will be the more persuasive if the precise nature of the opposition is known.

Popular doubts and fears are thus overcome in two ways, first by explanations of precisely what is to be done and its effects on the individual and on the community, and second by adjusting the proposals as far as possible to public prejudices and sentiments.

It is perhaps worth repeating that opposition seldom comes from individual landholders, at least insofar as their own holdings are concerned. This fact is important because it suggests that, where such opposition does exist, it should be relatively easy to overcome it. There is, however, one important exception to this general statement.

Opposition frequently arises from a fear that information recorded will be used for the purposes of taxation. The objection is usually well founded; if it is not - if there is no intention of introducing land taxes - then the government can, of course, say so categorically and emphatically. Such a public declaration is not, however, to be recommended since, in a developing agricultural community, taxation of the land in one form or another is almost inevitable sooner or later. If a declaration that there is no intention to tax has been made, the government can reasonably be accused of breach of faith if it subsequently imposes a tax on land. If public opposition on this ground is considerable, it will usually be best to face the situation boldly: to point out that the development of agriculture and the improvement of rural living conditions by governmental action can only be effected if funds are available, and that the government can only obtain funds by taxation; and to explain as carefully and fully as possible that the fairness of any system of land taxation depends on the accuracy of the information on which its assessment and distribution are based. In fact the efficiency and ease of collection of a tax based on proper maps and registers will certainly permit lower rates of tax to be fixed than would otherwise be necessary to obtain the same revenue. The superiority both in fairness and in dignity of taxes on land over such primitive forms of taxation as capitation, house or poll taxes may also be stressed where these taxes exist - especially if they are already unpopular.

To a more educated public the greater fairness of land taxes as compared with export taxes or excises on produce may also be stressed. Where a system of land taxation already exists the task is much easier, because the disadvantages and unfairness which will certainly be found in a system that is not based on exact information can be used as practical arguments. A sound system of taxation of land should be based on accurate measurements of the land and should be graduated according to a valuation of the land, or of its produce, per unit of area. Taxes based at flat rates on valuations of the gross area of a holding are invariably bad and graduated taxes based on such valuations will usually be worse. Not only are they inequitable, but they are usually incomprehensible to those who are assessed. The great merit of accurate maps is that they permit the assessment to be made in terms of values which the farmers recognize and in a form that they can understand. Full use can be made of this fact when a change in system is contemplated.

A very real and substantial objection may be the fear that registration may introduce some unwanted change in a traditional system of tenure, or may create a right where no rights previously existed. This fear is especially important in the case of traditional, communal or tribal tenures, where there is very real danger that registration of rights, especially if the system is based on European ideas of registration of individual titles, may create rights inconsistent with the existing social grouping. A means of obviating this danger has already been suggested above, which if adopted intelligently will confirm and strengthen rather than weaken the rights of the community or kinship groups and prevent rather than facilitate the growth of an unwanted individualism. In such communities, registration of rights may help to mitigate the confusion sometimes caused by the existence of two parallel sets of rights, for example rights derived from membership of a kinship group and rights based on cohabitation of the same villages. It may also help to prevent usurpation or infringement of communal rights by tribal chiefs or village headmen, and act both to safeguard prescriptive rights of occupation where these are recognized and to prevent the accrual of such rights where this is contrary to public policy.

Governments should take every precaution that accidental changes are not made in a traditional tenure system by registration and that existing undesirable tenancies are not encouraged. If this is done, and can be shown to have been done, public opposition will probably be readily overcome. Registration in these cases should not introduce new features in the tenure system, but should aim at being a crystallization of the public memory which is the traditional record of rights. Mutations also should be made in the villages and only when village opinion accepts the changes and the customary forms and ceremonies have been duly observed.

In the case of these traditional communities, registration should be carried out as speedily and widely as is practicable, because there is always a risk that the fact that rights have been registered in one area may cast doubts on the validity of the rights held in areas still unregistered. This risk is, however, minimized if registration demonstrably does no more than record an actual situation and creates no new rights.

Another very important cause of opposition to registration of rights among primitive communities may be found in religious or traditional beliefs as to the ownership of the land, as to restrictions on its use or as to ceremonies necessary before it can be used. These beliefs should be given full and sympathetic consideration. They often have valuable social and agricultural implications and must certainly never be dismissed as mere foolish superstitions. In many cases land is regarded as belonging to some long-dead ancestor or collectively to a long line of ancestors. The rights of generations unborn may also be recognised.

Where this state of affairs exists there are obvious objections to recording the land as belonging to some living individual or group. Some satisfactory way out of this difficulty can usually be found. If the name of a dead “owner” is known or if a collective appellation for the dead and unborn right holders exists, these names can be given as a description of the land in the registers and the rights of the living thus explicitly subordinated to those of the dead and unborn. Alternatively, some other device may be adopted to make it clear where the ultimate right lies, without preventing the recording of the rights of living persons. The Polynesian “tapu” and corresponding prohibitions on the use of land by particular persons, or by anyone at all, present another set of problems, which may be very obstinate. There are obvious objections to placing on permanent record a taboo which a subsequent change in social or economic circumstances may cause to be relaxed, but so long as the taboo exists it is very real and cannot be disregarded. In the mountainous areas of southern Asia and in other parts of the world, sanction is provided for a traditional system of rotational use of land by communal religious ceremonies which are regarded as essential preliminaries to cultivation. Clearly no system of registration should give countenance to anything which disturbs this sound agricultural arrangement.

These are only examples of the kind of problem which may give rise to very real doubts and fears on the part of the people, to which the most sympathetic attention should be given. Only occasionally, as in the case of the religious objection sometimes found to measuring the land at all, will it be necessary in the public interest to disregard objections of this kind completely, and even in this case the development of air surveys may prove to be a solution.

The doubts of governments, to the extent that they do not reflect popular doubts and fears of the kinds already mentioned, are mainly based on considerations of finance and personnel. Large-scale surveys of wide areas are certainly expensive, but no modern country can afford to be without proper maps, and if these are to be made at all the extra cost of surveying each part of the country on a scale suitable to the needs of cadastral maps in that area is likely to add a fraction to the initial cost of a national survey which will be fully recouped by much greater savings at a later date when the demand for large- scale maps becomes irresistible. The cost of surveys varies so greatly in accordance with local conditions that no generalized figure will have much meaning. The principal causes of variations in cost of initial surveys are wages of the personnel employed, variations in topography, type and cost of equipment used, the limitations placed on surveying time during the year by local weather conditions and the scale of the maps to be produced.

It is not very useful to seek examples in North America or Western Europe. Both the United States of America and Canada, though so large that their surveys are still far from complete, are rich countries, whose governments can afford to spend large sums on their activities. The United Kingdom is a small, compact and still wealthy country, in which the necessity of large-scale maps has long been recognized and whose efficient survey department has long been an accepted institution. The cadastres of most of the Western European countries date from the earlier years of the nineteenth century. Most of these countries, moreover, have the advantage that they can manufacture most of the equipment needed for both ground and air surveys and have full facilities for training technical personnel.

It is not beyond the capacity of even small and not very wealthy countries to establish and maintain satisfactory cadastral survey and records of rights. Actually the separate cost of the cadastre, as evidenced by a country such as Myanmar may be nil, because the record is required for revenue purposes. The total cost of the land Records Department in Myanmar was treated as the cost of assessing the land revenue. It amounted to about 6 percent of the net collections, which in comparison with the cost of assessing other kinds of revenue was very reasonable, even without consideration of the fact that the same staff maintained the record of rights, prepared crop forecasts, collected crop statistics, statistics of tenancies, sales of land and mortgages and did much other miscellaneous work.

Three lessons can be learned from countries such as Myanmar. The first is the great advantage of making the register of rights into a true cadastre used for revenue purposes. The second is the great administrative advantage of having a considerable local staff in constant contact with the land and the rural people: there is practically no kind of agrarian information which cannot be collected at reasonable notice by the land records staff. The third is the great advantage of starting the geodetic survey at the earliest possible date and of completing it with all convenient speed. If the Survey of India had attempted to cover the country with maps without having the firm foundation of a rigid primary triangulation the result would now be complete confusion.

This last advantage, though of great weight with professional surveyors, should not be insisted on too dogmatically. There will often be circumstances, especially in a large country, which demand that mapping should be carried out on a regional basis, and if this is carefully done the maps made will serve their immediate and essential purpose. This happened in New Zealand where the early maps were based on regional surveys in connection with land tenure and the needs of a rapidly expanding population. Discrepancies in the boundaries of regional surveys will, however, be inevitable and the task of subsequently correcting these will be costly and difficult. A country which has an urgent need for large-scale maps but no geodetic framework may be well advised to survey the areas where the need is greatest without waiting for the completion of the primary control network.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page