Adi's Journal

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Cadastral maps: backbone of land revenue system

Today, let’s build the first thing on our canvas of base-map. I think most of you might have seen something or the other form of this painting I am about to paint for you today. If you happened to be curious about the house you live in, you would have seen the architectural drawings of that particular building. In some corner of that paper inked with blue lines and grainy tint of old ammonia prints, you must have seen a miniature drawing. That’s the cadastral map. Cadastral map is the backbone of any land revenue system in the world. But let first understand what is the cadastre or cadaster in the first place.

Cadastre! What is the big fuss about it?

Land has been the prized possession of any rural since ancient times. It was the way to measure the greatness of the kind or the kingdom. However, there was one more important angle to getting more and more land under one’s control. It was also the source that filled the coffers of the kingdom. Taxes levied on people were always in connection with their landholdings. Earlier, it used to be in the form of the produce they grow on that land. Later it took the form of the currency. To calculate the amount to be taxed, one must know how much land that person owns. This led to the generation of land records.

English word “Cadastre” has its roots in Greek language. It came in English via French language. Greek word katástikhon means a list or a register.

Back in the glorious days of the Roman Empire, they created a record of state owned lands. Cadastral maps of Campania were done in 77 AD. William the conqueror has created a record book of the land which he won and annexed to his kingdom. In France, Napoleon has created the land record systems. In the Middle East, During the 18th century, land records used to get written on terracotta plates. One such plate is on display in the Ancient Orient Museum, Istanbul.

In Indian context, Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj created his own land records system called Rayatwari and a new tax system where his people could pay the taxes in currency or produce both. In Mughal Courts, during the decline of their power, land records and revenue collection was given to the East India Company and a new era of Indian Land Records began which continues even today.

A cadastre text written on a terracotta tablet. From the 18th century BC in Sippar, Iraq, and held by the Ancient Orient Museum, Istanbul. Photo by Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin, Copyright CC BY-SA 4.0

Cadastral Maps: important and fascinating document

Earlier days, the cadastral records were maintained in words describing boundaries of the property. Later, these details have been combined with a map. And thus, the cadastral maps started. Typically, a cadastral map shows the layout of various plots of the land labelled with survey numbers or plot numbers and the total area of plots. Some times, these maps also contain other features like land use, reservations and zoning. But that story is for some other time.

Now land record departments across the globe are digitizing the cadastral maps and integrate them into Geographic Information System (GIS) or Land Management System (LMS). About these new events, we will talk in our next chapter. These new systems store all the information about the plot in particular cadastre, like owner details, area, use, builtup area if any, tax status, etc. Every cadastral parcel get these attributes attached to it. Users of these systems can access this information easily with simple searches or mouse clicks on digital cadastral maps.

Sample Cadastral Map. Image Copyright Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping, Austrelia

In rural areas of Maharashtra, tehsildar or talathi holds these maps and records while in urban centres of the country, City Survey Departments house cadastral maps. In other parts of India similar authorities have the responsibility of preparing, amending and publishing the cadastral maps. So, tell me in the comment section if you have seen these maps somewhere? And if you haven’t seen the cadastral map of the plot of your house, go and get your copy from these offices. 


I’m participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. You can read my other posts about maps and map-reading here.

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5 thoughts on “Cadastral maps: backbone of land revenue system

  1. Interesting! I might just visit the City Survey Department to check out the cadastral map of the plot of my house. If not the current one, at least my ancestral home. Who knows what I might find 😀

    1. Property card and property tax are part of the Cadastral system to which we are more familiar with. Property tax is calculated based on the plot area, plot use and other details which are recorded in cadastral maps.

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