The office of Patwari has always been of focal importance in the revenue administration of the country. The government’s decision to upgrade this office and change its nomenclature to “Village Officer” is a welcome move and would do the revenue administration a good turn. Unfortunately, this office has come under bitter criticism and it is believed in certain quarters that Patwari is responsible for all the ills attached with the dismal performance of our revenue system. It is also said that with the computerization of land record, the office of the Patwari will lose its utility and become redundant. This is an under-statement and only shows lack of appreciation and understanding of his role in the system. At one stage the Punjab government almost decided to do away with this office. Thankfully, it did not come through otherwise it would have created a void akin to the arbitrary abolition of the District Administration System which has given rise to serious governance issues. The position of Patwari in revenue administration, his strong presence in the rural community and the fact that he performs an umpteen number of chores of important nature warrants that he should, at least, be given a fair assessment.

It is difficult to catalogue whole lot of responsibilities he is supposed to discharge yet broadly there are four major areas where his role stands out prominently. First and foremost is his position as a government vigilante or whistle- blower in his revenue estate (comprising one or more villages). He has to be watchful about encroachment of government properties or damage caused to its assets such as canals, water ways, public buildings and other national endowments. In case of breach of canal, for instance, he is duty bound to immediately get in touch with local irrigation officer in whose jurisdiction his area falls and in the event of encroachment of government property he is obliged to bring the facts to the notice of the District Collector through his supervisory revenue officers. As regards other matters of importance like outbreak of epidemics among the humans or cattle as also other natural calamities like hailstorms, excessive rains, flooding and infestation by the pests, he is required to share this information with the concerned departments for initiating necessary remedial measures. Under the revenue rules, he is duty bound to record all important incidents, taking place in his estate, in the Daily Dairy Register which he is supposed to maintain and update every day. The Daily Dairy Register also contains information on mundane affairs like thefts, burglaries, visits of revenue officers and representatives of other nation building departments etc. to his area. He is also obliged under the police rules to assist the local S.H.O in the investigation of crime committed in his areas of jurisdiction. Then, he has a very important role in the recovery of government dues not only relating to the revenue department but also others such as Railways, WAPDA and FBR etc.

His next important duty is the maintenance of record of rights whereby he is required to incorporate any changes in ownership, partition of joint properties, mutations, assessment of loss of land due to natural calamities and a number of other revenue related activities in his estate. This aspect of his role is of critical importance as he provides the basic record to the courts to adjudicate on the contending issues between the parties. The revenue record prepared by him has a presumption of truth even at the level of the highest court of the country. Nobody can make changes in the entries in the revenue record maintained by him, except in a manner provided in the Land Revenue Act/Rules.

His third important role is that he serves as a bridge between the village and the District Collector and of course, other departments of the government. If one looks at the history of rural society in Pakistan, one realizes that local government system at basic rural level actually never took roots. The office of Patwari has all along filled up the vacuum and provided an important linkage between rural communities in far flung areas and different departments of the Government. He is in fact, the man on the spot and is responsible for the dissemination of information to and from the remote areas.

The Village officer can, in fact, be helpful to expedite the process of computerisation of revenue record as the information collected under his supervision would be ultimately fed to the system. He through crop inspections (Gardawari), compiles important data regarding area under cultivation, different crops sown and average yields therefrom. The statistics compiled in this way are consolidated and used for policy formulation and planning purposes at both provincial and federal government level.

The question arises that despite all this, why does he get such a negative perception? Actually this is one of the most grossly misused offices by the people in power in pursuit of their petty interests. It is a pity that he along with other functionaries of government is expected to look after the visits of the politicians and the government functionaries on their tours, gather crowd for the public meetings right from prime minister to the lesser mortals, and fudge entries in revenue record to safeguard the interest of big land lords, their cronies and agents. It is a well-known fact that the office of Patwari has been manipulated by the people in power to frustrate successive land reforms in Pakistan by fudging and interpolation of record. Actually, the people in power who came mostly from landed classes did not allow this office to function freely and kept it subservient to their whims and caprice. This is where the fault lies and not with the system or the office as such. The present upgradation of the office will definitely improve its image.

An impassionate view of the matter is that the office of Patwari (now Village Officer) is a very useful institution in the revenue administration of the country. It is deeply blended in our rural culture and looks after very important areas, affecting the lives of people. Looking at it futuristically, its further development should be synchronised with government policy to improve quality of rural life in Pakistan. Its scope can be further enlarged to cover issues like computerization of revenue record, extension of civic amenities to the rural population and mobilization of local revenues for development purposes. The Village Officer can also be instrumental to levy agriculture income tax on the income derived from different categories of land in his revenue estate and help agriculture sector contribute to the revenue generation of the country.

The writer is Former Senior Member Board of Revenue and Federal Secretary.