Digital transformation in India

Jul 2024 | One Comment

The digital transformation in India has had a significant impact on the geospatial sector

Dr Siva Kumar Rachapudi

Managing Director SIBHU

Digital transformation (DT) is to use digital technologies in all processes, products and services of an organization. India made great strides in the recent times in DT as part of Digital India Initiative. Aadhaar and Digital Identities, Digital Payments and FinTech (BHIM, UPI), E-Governance and Digital Services (DigiLocker, Umang), Digital Infrastructure (BharatNet, GatiShakti), Smart Cities and Digital Urban Development, Digital Education and Skilling (SWAYAM e-Pathshala, National Digital Library), Digital Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 (Make in India, Samarth Udyog Bharat 4.0 ) Digital Agriculture and Rural Development (e-NAM (National Agriculture Market), Kisan Suvidha and Digital Healthcare ( Ayushman Bharat) are some shining examples of the initiatives taken by government and some of them have attracted worldwide attention and adoption.

While digital transformation in India has made significant strides, challenges such as digital divide, cybersecurity concerns, and the need for digital literacy and skill development remain to be addressed. However, the overall trajectory indicates a strong commitment to leveraging digital technologies for economic growth, efficient governance, and inclusive development.

Geospatial sector

The digital transformation in India has also had a significant impact on the geospatial sector, which encompasses technologies like Geographic Information Systems (GIS), remote sensing, and satellite imagery. National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSD)I, Digital India Land Records Modernisation Programme (DILRMP) are well deliberated initiatives. NSDI initiative started in the year 2000 helped in bringing all 17 agencies on a common platform agreeing to share the data as per NSDI standards. Standards for Metadata, Data Exchange and content for few themes were made and also formalized them through BIS. NSDI adapted GML and OGC standards in providing WMS and WFS through the National Geoportal. Though NSDI and DILRMP attained moderate success and programmes such as National GIS were nipped in the bud due to vested interests. Survey of India (SoI) has brought digital processes in various activities of geodesy.

Surveyors took the lead

It is not an exaggerated statement to say that Surveyors both in civil and military domain lead the digital transformation in India. When no other organization outside academic world even thought of computerization, survey agencies conceptualized the framework for digital processes. Since 1960s and 70s, SoI had been using medium and main frame computers for their geodetic and photogrammetric adjustment work, Using major computer centers (IBM 370 at IIT Madras, etc.), they formulated plans for total digital processes for various survey operations, though they had limited access to computers. Many officers went for studies in reputed institutions such as OSU Columbus, New Brunswick University Canada, University of Wisconsin Madison, Queensland Institute of Technology, Australia and most importantly ITC Enschede, The Netherlands.

Sometime in 1978-79 National Hydrographic Office (NHO), engaged in making navigational charts & maps, had to honour international commitment to share their charts inn digital format. For this purpose, they acquired an AutoChart system from M/s Systems House of Ottawa, Canada and an Auto- Map system for R&D directorate of SoI to explore possibility of computer assisted mapping to be tried in SoI. As SoI had no credible capability to maintain such systems, CMC was also involved. Accordingly, a team of officers of Indian Navy (NHO), Indian Army (SoI) and CMC engineers were sent to Canada for training in these systems. This is the first baby step towards digital transformation.

R&D Cell at Dehradun in 1980-81 received Auto-Map system which was configured around PDP11/32 computer with multiple terminals for digitization, editing and check plot on HP Calcom plotters. Also, there was a stand-alone Kongsburg A0 size plotter system with capabilities for fair mapping with scribing and photo plotting facilities.

The source codes were written using a modified Fortran IV language with modular and structured programming capabilities nicknamed FortranV.

This was the first time SoI had full access to a major computer H/W, system S/W and advanced graphics technology. The system helped to train and expose SoI officers at various levels in different stages of computer assisted digital cartography. Further, R&D had developed in-house to integrate photogrammetric output to Auto-Map system.

Military Survey of India (MSOI) have also started preparing ambitious proposals to modernize the total process of data acquisition, productization and dissemination. The proposals though initiated in early 80’s, were approved in 1988 by the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs paving the way for modernizing existing units and raising new units and equipment besides training personnel.

Meanwhile, considering the importance, the visionary leadership set up a Task Force to prepare a proposal for end-to-end digital technology for SoI to be considered by the government. The proposals prepared by MSOI were also studied and regular exchange of officers between SOI and MSOI helped the process. After much deliberations and interaction with various regional directors that Task Force proposed the following:

Three sub-systems were to be set up, each at Southern, Eastern and Northern regions to generate digital cartographic data using digitized fair maps, stereo digitized and field verified latest data from off line platforms to be integrated, tested and certified for digital map making.

Two major systems were to be set up, net worked with the regional centers, one at Dehradun and the other at Hyderabad to centrally hold 3-D spatial data for digital mapping and sharing such data with other agencies.

There was provision for future integration of satellite image data for thematic map making as the technology developed.

Officers were to be trained in Indian and Foreign universities in systems s/w, h/w, computer graphics, spatial data base creation and maintenance.

Government accepted the proposal in 1983. To start with two Digital Mapping centers were set up, one at Dehradun and another at Hyderabad. The systems were similar to the sub-systems of regional centers limited to 2-D map digitization and fair mapping, thus truncating the original goal of end-to-end digital mapping. Officers were mostly trained abroad on imported systems. Also, some augmentation to R&D Cell systems were made to facilitate future research work. These centers were operational in 1987-89.

At the same time UNDP supported a project under which Modern Cartographic Centre came up in Dehradun which had end to end digital mapping equipment, tools and software. This was managed along with Government of India approved Digital Mapping Centres.

Digitisation of land records

Another pathbreaking initiative by SoI was in digitizing land records. Most of the legal cases in India pertain to land and reraising the importance, GOI directed SoI to depict individual village boundaries in 1:25,000 scale topographic maps for whole of India. It was envisaged that in digital environment village maps could be integrated with surrounding topographic details to help planners to work out various developmental projects.

In 1991-92, a pilot project for Odisha state to create a digital cadastre for district Angul of Odisha was taken up by R&D directorate of SoI. The project emphasised a thorough revision of Settlement survey using digital/ semi-digital method of different stages of re-settlement operations to create a clean digital cadastre for ease of future maintenance. It also gave rise to the concept of Geo-coded cadastral boundary and concept of digital Plot map for each land holding. Learnings from this project helped in streamlining procedures for digital land records which ultimately paved the way for nation wide Digital India Land Records Modernization Programme (DILRMP) by GOI.

Digital Cartographic Data Base (DCDB) and Digital Topographic Data Base (DTDB)

Being a mapping agency, SoI had the objective of creating a DCDB for the country to enable quick printing of maps to suit the requirements of users whereas MSOI set its sights on DTDB to provide requisite data, products, solutions and services to various weapons, equipment, delivery systems and surveillance systems. SOI concentrated on 2D DCDB.

Thus, SOI lead the digitization of maps on 1:50,000 scale, largest scale on which the country is covered. SoI completed this humungous task quickly adapting the fast-changing technologies from the laborious tablet digitisation, heads up digitisation, raster vector conversion, feature based digitization, digital photogrammetry, LIDAR, Drones, standardization, Continuously Operated Reference Stations (CORS) etc., SOI has also modified the objective and now creating a National Topographic Data Bade (NTDB). Establishment of National Geospatial Data Centre in 2003 enabled in maintaining a single repository of digital topographical data.

Not lagging behind, MSOI was the first to use digital photogrammetry, mobile printing and also first to create a comprehensive Geographic Information System (GIS) for a very large area by integrating graphics (point, line and polygon) with non-graphic attributes such as tables, photos , videos etc.

Many other central and state organsiations took inspiration from these success stories and embarked upon their own digital programmes.

Way ahead

Still there is long way to go in achieving total digital transformation. SoI has a huge repository of data collected for over 257 years on various resolutions for which even metadata is not available thus duplicating efforts. A comprehensive metadata of all what SOI possesses will save efforts and time of the users. WMS and WFS for the whole country and nationwide CORS will enable users to make best use of available resources.


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One Comment »

  • Dr Prithvish Nag said:

    It is true that several initiatives have been taken for digital transformation under various mega projects of Government of India. Survey of India took major steps much before the current attempts. However, it met with various degrees of success. During the beginning of this century, attempts were made for total transformation of SOI. If early 19th century is known for its activites related to Great Arc, the era, exactly two hundred years later, will be known for the Digital Transformation of SOI.

    It was not only SOI which underwent such a transformation. Another national mapping institution, the National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO), also transformation its core activites. Not only maps and atlases were produced taking advantage of digital techniques, attempts were made to provide services based on Thematic Maps. As a result, the idea of Golden Map Services (GMS) was mooted. Digital and hard copy maps of several cities were made.

    Both the organisations are under the Union Department of Science & Technology (DST) which is responsible for implementation of the National Geospatial Policy 2022. Needless to say, these institutions alongwith different arms of DST, will have to take the lead. This liberalized policy expects greater participation from the geospatial industry as well.

    Dr Prithvish Nag, former Surveyor General of India; Director NATMO; & Chairman, Expert Committee, National Geospatial Programme of DST.

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