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Institute of Surveying & Mapping
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Sri Lanka is a topical island, lies southeast of the Southern
tip of India, and well known to travellers of many nationalities
from ancient times. Total area is 65600 km2 . Major climatic zones
are Wet, Dry and Intermediate. Population has increased from 2.76
million in 1881 to the present 20 million, recording a sharp increase
particularly after Independence. Population concentrates heavily
in the southwest and central regions of the island and in the
Jaffna Peninsula. The Dry Zone, in spite of state-aided settlement
schemes in recent decades, remains sparsely populated. Sri Lanka's
highest point is over 2,524 meters at Piduruthalagala Peak.
From the middle of the first millennium B.C. to well after the
first millennium A.D. Sri Lanka sustained an advanced hydraulic
civilization centered around village tanks and irrigation schemes.
The island was dominated by successive European sea powers beginning
with Portugal from the early sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth,
followed by the Netherlands until the end of the eighteenth century,
and finally Britain until Independence in1948. The great majority
(75 percent) of the people are Sinhalese. The Tamil population
accounts for 18 percent including those in the estate sector,
who are descendants of the workers from India brought to Sri Lanka
by the British in the nineteenth century to work on plantations.
The Moors, mostly Tamil-speaking, form the next largest minority
comprising 7 percent of the population. All other minorities,
including Burghers (descendants of Dutch and other Europeans),
Eurasians, and Chinese, account for less than one percent, but
remain as distinct ethnic groups. Most Sri Lankans live in villages.
The spoken language of the large majority of the people in Sri
Lanka is Sinhala, while Tamil is the dominant language in the
north and east regions. Use of English is most widespread among
urban and educated classes, while it serves as a link language
between different linguistic groups.
Current Political and Administrative
The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a unitary state
whose legal and administrative structure is based on its republican
constitution. The National Constitution (1978) forms the supreme
law under an Executive Presidency and a single house of Parliament.
Sri Lanka consists of 25 administrative districts and nine provinces.
The hierarchy of regional administrative divisions that supports
the central government now consists of Provinces, Districts, divisions
and Grama Niladhari units, in descending administrative order
and area. The Thirteenth amendment to the Constitution in 1987
provide for devolution of power to the provinces.
Historical Outline of Cadastral
After the occupation of the country by the British, several attempts
have been made for the establishment of a cadastre based on cadastral
surveys. The proclamation by Governor North in the year 1800 for
land owners to appear before the 'Land raad' (a judicial official)
produce evidence of title and get their lands surveyed is the
first attempt. This failed. Systematic cadastral surveys commenced
in three sub urban villages within the capital Colombo itself
(village names are Dehiwala, Wellawatta and Kirillapone) based
on an Act passed in 1877 for the purpose. However, this activity
was abandoned in 1891, after three years of operation, mainly
due to the high costs involved. Subsequent attempts in the form
of several studies, recommendations and draft acts prepared for
the purpose have not borne fruit. There is at present, what can
be described as, a limited cadastre. About eighty percent of the
country is covered by village plans prepared by the Surveyor General
demarcating State (Crown) land. These plans are on the scales
of 1/3168 (4 chains to an Inch), 1/4000 or 1/6336 (8 chains to
an Inch) and those prepared after the year 1910 have the parcel
corners marked on ground with statutory monuments. The subdivision
within the state lands, by way of alterations, are properly recorded
in these plans kept in the offices of the Survey Department and
also in the Land Ledgers kept in the offices of the Divisional
Secretaries (300 for the whole island). This record can be considered
as a legal cadastre for the areas covered by them. The town survey
plans prepared by the Surveyor General on the scales of 1/792(1
chain to an Inch), 1/1584 (2 chains to an Inch), 1/1000 or 1/2000
for assessment purposes together with the assessment registers
maintained in the Local authority offices form cadastral records
for fiscal purposes. Parliament has passed the Act No. 21 of 1998
for registration of Title to land and now it is being implemented.
By the powers vested in the Minister, some areas have been declared
for operation of the new Act.
Existing System:- Government Agent is the custodian of state land
in the District (25 for the whole country) and a variety of registers
under different statutory provisions are maintained by him. The
plans in respect of state lands are prepared by the Survey Department.
Records pertaining to proceedings under the partition Act and
those for declaration of title is filed in the courts. Records
pertaining to the Registration of Deeds (and the areas surveyed
under the act passed in 1877) are maintained in the Land Registries
under the Registrar General.
System under Act 21 of 1998:- Parliament has passed the Act No.
21 of 1998 for registration of Title to land and now it is being
implemented. By the powers vested in the Minister, three areas
have been declared for operation of the Act in 2002. A Pilot project
has commenced and offices have been established in these three
places. At present Land Commissioner's Department, Land Settlement
Department, Surveyor General's Department, Chief Valuer's Department
and Registrar General's Department are involved in the scheme.
Land Titles Registry offices are being established, to function
under the Registrar General's Department. The Adjudication process
is handled by the staff of the Land Settlement Department and
the survey work is handled by the surveyors of the Survey Department.
Private Sector Involvement:
Presently the cadastral surveys for private lands (except the
areas declared under the New Act) are done by the Private Licensed
Surveyors. There are about 890 Private Licensed Surveyors handling
cadastral surveys in the private sector and the records pertaining
to the plans produced by them are kept with the individual surveyors
who prepared them. Hence, any subsequent copies have to be obtained
from them. According to the new act, the Surveyor General shall
be responsible for the preparation and maintenance of all cadastral
maps to cover the entirety of Sri Lanka progressively for the
purposes of the Registration of Title Act, and for the purposes
of any other law. A cadastral surveys for the purpose of the Registration
of Title Act shall be conducted by a registered surveyor who is
employed in the Survey Department or who possesses an annual practicing
license issued in terms of section 41 and who has obtained a certificate
of Accreditation in terms of section 11 of the Act . The registered
surveyor duly authorized in that behalf by the Surveyor General
shall certify all maps and plans prepared by him based on a cadastral
Survey conducted for the purpose of this section.
Professional Organization or
The Surveyors' Institute of Sri Lanka (SISL) is the professional
body representing the Surveying profession in Sri Lanka. It has
been existence for over 75 years and is therefore one of the oldest
professional institution in the country. It is well established
in the international professional community dealing with the subjects
of Land Resources Management and Surveying, being a Founder Member
of the Commonwealth Association of Surveying and Land economy
(CASLE), and a member of the International Federation of surveyors
(FIG). Nationally, it is a founder member of the Organization
of Professional Associations (OPA). The SISL was incorporated
by Act of parliament No. 22 of 1982.
Under the Survey Act 17 of 2002, Land Survey Council has been
established. The Major functions of the Land Council are; Registration
of surveyors, Issue of Annual Practicing Licenses to Surveyors,
Maintaining standards and procedures relating to land surveying
and inquiries relating to professional misconduct and related
matters of registered surveyors. Survey Acts and Regulations in
each jurisdiction identify guidelines for licensing and registration
of cadastral surveyors and the undertaking of cadastral surveys.
The formal training of surveyors in Sri Lanka began in 1896, when
the first training class for Surveyors started on 19th October
1896. Until 1910 the surveyors were trained at the Technical College
in Colombo. In 1912 the Survey Department started a training school
to train the surveyors attached to the department. With the improvements
in the technology the Government decided to upgrade the Department
Training school to the Institute of Surveying and Mapping (ISM)
in 1967. Afterwards, the Institute has gradually taken over almost
all the basic training needs of the Survey Department and few
other State Organizations. They have been trained up to Diploma
Level in Surveying. Apart from this Diploma Course, a Post Graduate
Diploma course in Land Surveying has been conducted for Assistant
Superintendent of Surveys since 1971. In 1990, the Ministry of
Higher Education upgraded the Institute of Surveying and Mapping
to award the Degree in Surveying Sciences. In addition to these
courses the Institute conducts several Continuous Professional
Development programs for departmental and licensed surveyors.
Now the Government commenced a degree course in Surveying Sciences
at the University of Sabaragamuwa. Hence today there are two institutions
awarding the degree in surveying.
Purpose of Cadastral System:
Objective of the cadastral system introduced (as short-term project)
recently in Sri Lanka is to build the foundation for a long-term
land administration program in Sri Lanka which would encompass
the entire country in the next 15 to 25 years. In order to build
the foundation for this long-term program, the proposed system
would be implemented as a pilot learning and innovation program.
The objective of the long-term cadastral program would be to improve
the socio-economic and environmental conditions of the people
by increasing land tenure productivity. This increased productivity
is to be accomplished through a fully developed and functioning
system of land administration that is fair, efficient and sustainable.
Therefore, the objective of the proposed cadastral system would
be to assess and build the methods and techniques, and organizational,
legal and policy framework and capacity for making sustainable
and comprehensive improvements in the land administration system
in the long-run (parcel based cadastre, land titling and title
Types of Cadastral Systems:
In the existing system (except the areas declared under the New
Act), Government Agent is the custodian of state land in the District
and a variety of registers under different statutory provisions
are maintained by him. The plans in respect of state lands are
prepared by the Survey Department. Records pertaining to proceedings
under the partition Act and those for declaration of title is
filed in the courts. Records pertaining to the Registration of
Deeds (and the areas surveyed under the act passed in 1877) are
maintained in the Land Registries under the Registrar General.
The system under Act 21 of 1998 for registration of Title to land,
now it is being implemented for three areas support legal land
parcel identification of public and private rights. Further, all
parcel information will be computerized. Through computerization
of all land data, the system is undergoing integration to facilitate
wider land management and environmental planning. Today the aim
is to delegate with the responsibility of maintaining an up-to
date cadastral map of all land parcels connected to the land registration
function, with land use management and administration.
In Sri Lanka Survey Department should continue to be the organization
responsible for cadastral information. This organization should
also collect additional information required on such subjects
as land use and buildings on the surveyed parcels. Survey Department
has today the responsibility to maintain the cadastral records
of state land, but do not have sufficient information about private
land. There is a need to make required alteration in existing
legislation so that all land parcels will be recorded in a property
register. There should also be an office responsible for keeping
information about legal rights in land. At present legal rights
regarding land matters are registered in an office called District
Land Registry, which also register births, marriages, deaths etc.
Ideally the registration and survey functions mentioned above
should be performed by a single agency. Such an arrangement would
guarantee the best co-ordination between the two parts involved
in the whole operation. The solution would be to separate the
section within Land Registry dealing only with land matters and
bring it under the Ministry of Lands. Then it would be possible
to amalgamate it administratively with Survey Department.
Content of Cadastral System:
Sri Lanka is divided into nine provinces which are divided into
in all 25 Districts. It has been estimated that there are over
8.5 million parcels of land that have to be brought into the cadastre
which on average will mean more than 350,000 parcels per district.
Proposed Sri Lankan Cadastral systems typically comprise the following
- Textual component - the land register, maintained in each
Title Registry, identifies real property parcels, which includes
all land parcels and identifies owners' rights, restrictions,
and responsibilities, ownership, easements, mortgages etc.
- Spatial Component - Cadastral maps, prepared by Survey Department,
show all land parcels graphically corresponding to the registered
title with plan numbers and unique identifiers and accompanied
by a schedule. The boundaries of the different parcels unless
such form permanent features on ground are defined by landmarks
as provided for in the State Land Marks Ordinance.
- Additional legal, valuation, local government, utilities
and planning activities are involved in land administration,
and are heavily reliant on the fundamentals of the cadastral
system. In particular local government rates, land tax and stamp
duty (as a result of land transfer) on land parcels is a major
revenue raiser for the economy.
- State Lands Management have management and administrative
responsibility for public state owned lands.
Cadastral Maps for Registration of Title are required to fulfill
the requirements of section 11 of the Registration of Title Act
No. 21 of 1998. According to this Title Act, the registration
of Title to every land shall be in accordance with the cadastral
map prepared for that purpose by the Surveyor General. Registration
of Title is done systematically over an area such as Province
District or Division or any other administrative area, which the
Hon. Minister of Lands may from time to time specify and publish
in the Govt. Gazette. Once such area is gazetted the Surveyor
General will take action to prepare Cadastral Maps to cover the
declared area. Depending on the size of the area, each village
covering a cadastral map, may be divided into two or more separately
identified blocks. An area of about 50 Ha. or of about 100 land
parcels (which ever is small) may be considered as a desirable
area to be covered by one block. Once the initial compilation
of the Cadastral Map is completed for a village or part of a Village
in such declared area a certified copy is submitted to the Commissioner
of Title Settlement (CTS). The ownership of each land parcel and
any determined by the CTS after making the necessary investigations.
As a Cadastral map is a map prepared to fulfill the requirements
of the cadastre. It consists essentially of two parts, viz graphic
record and textual record. The graphic record essentially consists
location and boundaries and identification number of every land
parcel showing individual ownership. The textual record consist
of the identification number, area the details of persons having
ownership and other legal interests and land use of each land
parcel. This cadastral map will eventually be the base for a parcel
based Land Information System to be established for systematic
management of land in the country. All the old statutory surveys
that have been carried out for statutory purposes up to the time
of preparation of Cadastral map will be utilized for the preparation
of cadastre map.
The first step would be to have an analogue map, which later
on can be digitized. The Cadastral Index Map should show the boundary
around the village, the boundaries between the different parcels
as well as the parcel designations. This map has to be kept up
to date to show the existing parcels and their boundaries. The
plotting will be in the national grid system. Existing control
points should also be shown in the map. Every point which has
been co-ordinated should be numbered. Attached to the map or separately
in a special register there should be a co-ordinate list for every
village with unique numbers for the village.
Example of a Cadastral Map:
Role of Cadastral Layer in SDI:
The development of Spatial Data infrastructures (SDI) has increasingly
recognized the inherent role of linking land parcel components
as the fundamental layer underpinning the SDI model. The data
is all linked to standard parcel identifiers in the cadastral
layer correlating information from each of the data sets. The
content of digital drawing file is given below.
Content of digital drawing file.
- Boundary lines
- Boundaries of streams and water bodies
- Boundaries of roads
- Boundary points
- Boundary point descriptions
- Lot numbers
- Boundary descriptions
- Road directions
- Road descriptions
- Names of streams and water bodies
- Flow directions of streams
- Control/Traverse points
- Boundary point numbers
- Control/Traverse point numbers
The basic law under which both the Adjudication and the Land Titles
Registry operate is the Registration of Title Act, which was approved
by Parliament in March 1998. There are a number of problems with
this Act and amendments to it should have been made before titles
were registered and certificates issued. Proposals for an initial
set of "highly critical" amendments to the Act have been drafted.
There are numerous other laws that require amendment to facilitate
land titling activities. Some are more closely related than others.
As a first stage, several laws, including the Registration of
Documents Ordinance, the Land Development Ordinance and the Notaries
Ordinance, will be amended as these directly affect the recognition
of rights and the ability to make transactions. Proposed amendments
to these laws have been prepared. In order for the Registration
of Title Act to be used, a series of Regulations and Office Procedures
need to be developed.
The Survey Act is closely related to the Registration of Title
Act as it provides the authority and direction for conducting
the survey work required to produce the cadastral maps which are
an integral part of the Land Titles Registry records. Regulations
to accompany the Survey Act will start to be developed.
In order to get the full benefit of having clear title it is important
to remove existing restrictions to the land market. One aspect
is to enable land users with existing permits and leases to have
full ownership rights. This work will be carefully conducted under
the Policy Formation sub-component and will require specific legislative
changes to the existing State Lands Ordinance and Land Development
Ordinance. Some work has already been done by the Land Commissioner's
Department and this will be continued and draft revisions for
the laws will be prepared by the end of year 1.
A range of other laws that affect land titling activity or that
will be affected by the above changes also need to be reviewed.