Taking geomatics to greater heights in India

Apr 2009 | Comments Off on Taking geomatics to greater heights in India

Thoughts on land information system, polices and reorganization

Till almost early seventies, Survey of India was synonymous with the surveying profession in India. That situation does not exist any more. The reason is not far to find out… Many new organizations, have carved out their own niche in the domain of the surveying and mapping. These new entities have been generally propelled either by the new technology eg satellite imagery or due to unmet demand of a particular type of information – example, Forest Survey of India.

The surveying and mapping (called Geomatics in this paper) have embraced many new disciplines and spread over a much wider span and taken a bigger and focussed name of Land Information Technologies – refer to Box-1. Many find it convenient to call these by one word-Geoinformatics or Geomatics.

A judicious combination of these technologies is designed for a given Geomatics project. This paper looks into the present technologies and policies to present a different view or suggestion for improvement. The views are not limited to only the technical and production process regarding Geomatics products and services in Indian environment but go beyond and touch the structure of the organizations in Geomatics sector. In order to do justice for the new thinking a model for change is first evolved. The suggested changes are then discussed. The paper also recognizes the presence of government organizations, namely, Survey of India (SOI), Naval Hydrography Office of Navy, MO-GSGS (Army Survey Directorate), National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and many other members of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), IIT (RK) and many private organizations. The State Cadastral Surveys Organizations are very much affected by the survey policies; hence, their requirements should have a place in the new thinking.

Model for change

Management of change in any organization should be governed by the `body of knowledge’ which has been accumulated over the years. The main thrust of this knowledge comprises of recognizing the `Factors for Change’ and most importantly, their `interaction / interface’ with each other and outside-of- Geomatics-sector, policies in India (for example, Restriction Policy of Mapping in India). Based on these thoughts, a heuristic (based on experience) model for change is depicted below (Figure-1).

Let us discuss these factors, shown in Figure-1, in more detail. It follows from the figure that any suggested change in the policy is bound to impinge on the existing equilibrium reached between Technology, Organizational Structure and the Staff.

Box-1: Land Information Technologies

● Field Surveying, Control By Total Station, Type of Equipment

● Global Positioning System (GPS)-for field control

● Aerial Photography and Photogrammetry

● Satellite Imagery and Remote Sensing

● Geographic Information System (GIS)

Some New Technologies:

● Air Borne Laser Terrain Modelling (ALTM)

● Radar Interferometry

● Technology available for digital printing of maps instead of `offset’ printing

● Transmitting graphic (map) information `on- line’

Application of internet, compression of data



In business, especially in the marketing sense, the products are evolved and designed keeping in view the demand of the users. In other words, the market domain of products is `segmented’ into different categories of users. For example, the type of maps required by a tourist is going to be quite different than, say, an engineer. While a tourist is mostly concerned with the terrain features and ease in their interpretation, an engineer requires the finer details and map should be accurate enough for his design and measurements. The same concept can be extended to other users of the maps and spatial data.

Users require different products:

In our case of Geomatics, the requirement of the various users can advantageously be converted to scales and main specifications of the product whether it is digital or analogue (paper map). Table-1 below provides details of these requirements and scales:

Further, some important characteristics of a map are described in Box-2 to establish a basis for making suggestions pertaining to the preparation and Updation of maps.

Suggestion one:

Ground Control to remain with Government Agencies

The geometry of the maps, namely, establishing accurate (geodetic accuracy) control stations should `continue’ to remain with the Government Organization(s). This is the area of effort which should be motivated more by scientific / professional and national needs rather than the market-driven hasty procedures. The ultimate responsibility should rest with the government although the actual technical work can be outsourced to the capable organizations in India having the necessary know-how.

It is quite natural to believe that technically the job will be based on GPS technology.

Suggestion two:

Contents of the Map to be prepared by Public-Private-Participation (PPP)

The contents of the map ie topographical features will continue to be produced by the aerial photography / photogrammetry. But once the accurate contents are produced, its updating etc can depend on the satellite imagery the resolution of which will be commensurate with the accuracy of mapping.

The contents of the map could be prepared by the combined efforts of government and the private organizations. This policy will not only provide a quantum jump to the productivity of mapping organizations but will open the market for a large number of private organizations and consequent job opportunities.

Suggestion three:

Updating of Maps to go to private sector

Professionally there is no difficulty of updating the existing maps by the private sector. Not much equipment is needed towards this activity and this phase of work can be undertaken at a very low cost. In many cases the user-department can also undertake the revision.

At the initial stages this activity can be confined to the non-restricted areas and large scale Town Guide Maps of SOI and other area like cadastral (revenue) maps.

Some other suggestions pertaining to the improvement of maps and services have been mentioned in Box 3.

Structure: Linkages of existing surveying organizations

SOI is very much central to the overall network of the survey organizations in India. As mentioned earlier, there are presently many new organizations, which have carved out a niche as important members of the Geomatics community. It has also been suggested earlier (Suggestion One) that ground control stations and BM’s should remain with the Government.

The following suggestions are being made further as an extension of the same theme. The prevalence of Restriction Policy is also very much kept in mind while making these suggestions.

Suggestion four:

Reorganization; Survey of India; Area of responsibility

All non-restricted areas of India should be the responsibility of SOI for all the mapping activities. This division of responsibility will be done on the basis of 1:250000 sheets (sixteen 1:50000 sheets). All GPS control activities, aerial photography, photogrammetry and mapping on 1:50000, 1:25000, other large scale up to 1:10000 scale e.g. urban mapping and support to cadastral mapping will, in concept, be the responsibility of SOI.

Surveying and mapping of scales larger than 1:10000 should be left to the private sector or Public-Private-Participation (PPP) as mentioned earlier.

In addition, SOI will manage Geodetic & Research Branch. Survey Training Institute will also support the other sister organizations, namely Army Surveys and Naval Hydrographic Office.

Restriction Policy is mainly concerned with the northern borders and coastal belt. It is, therefore, suggested that all restricted mapping at the border areas be made the responsibility of Army Directorate of Surveys. In this, they will look after the production of maps on scales 1:50000, 1:25000 and 1:10000 (town maps). This will include establishment of control (upkeep also), aerial photography, photogrammetry and map printing.

Geodetic & Research Branch, Survey Training Institute (under SOI) will provide full support to the Army, Directorate of Survey and Naval Hydrographic surveys.

Similarly, Naval Hydrographic Office will look after the coastal belt (restricted areas) with all the responsibilities of mapping as mentioned above for the Directorate of Army Surveys.

Because of the restriction policy, the mapping activities involving scales larger than 1:10000 will be done under the variant of the formula for Public-Private-Participation.


Figure-1: Model for Change-Management

Role of the Ministry of Science & Technology

Ministry of Science & Technology should continue the policy embracing all the surveying and mappingactivities in India through the modified structure of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI).

The Surveyor General and his staffsupport should be a part of the Ministry of Science & Technology. In fact, it is visualized that NSDI with little change in its constitution can act as an Advisory Council on technical, administrative and strategic matters pertaining to Geomatics. Also, there should be an Advisory Council to assist the Ministry.Some private professionals and NGOs could also be invited to become members of the Advisory Council. The advisory Council will be so structured that it is able to provide continuity and improvement of the policies. The transfer and change in bureaucracy and government organizations will then have a minimum effect on the major policy issues.

Summary of the suggestion four:

The purport of the above suggestion is that three government organizations, which are quite capable of delivering the results based on the latest technologies, will be responsible for the surveying and mapping. The coordination of the policies will be carried out by the Ministry of Science & Technology.

Scales larger than 1:10000 scales will wholly go to the private sector in nonrestricted areas while in restricted are a PPP will be resorted to. Following organizations will thus function as the main government organizations in Geomatics sector:

• Survey of India – in Non- Restricted Areas

• Army – Directorate of Surveys – in border areas

• Naval Hydrographic Office – in coastal areas

It may be noted that this division of responsibility will give a big fillip to the professionalism of Geomatics in India. Incidentally, it may also reduce some of the organizational and cadre oriented problems of these organizations!

Box-2: Characteristics of a map

A Map will have the following characteristics in general:

● Geometry (Accuracy of Position and Height)

The geometry of a map is achieved through a set of ground control points, called stations and levelling Bench Marks (BM’s). These stations may have the utmost accuracy of a geodetic station. BM’s are, presently, being provided by the SOI. The position of these stations is given in the

form of coordinates expressed in terms of Latitude and Longitude. In most of the cases, accurate information about the stations and the BM’s is restricted.

● Contents of a Map

The earlier technology of the ground based methods (plane-tabling etc) has been replaced by the aerial photography (photogrammetry) and satellite imagery. The resolution of the modern day satellites has reached a level of one metre. This enables contents of the map to be based on high-resolution satellite imagery on most of the scales of mapping.

● Updateness of a Map

It is a natural desire of a map user that the map, which he is using, is reasonably updated. Here also the satellite imagery is of great utility because satellite visits the same spot at a regular interval of say, one month or so. Therefore, technologically the problem of updating the maps, to a large extent, can be solved.


Benefits that would accrue to Map Users through small changes in Land Information Policies in Indial:

● Suggestions made earlier

Let the control/geometry be with the government and contents in the private sector.

● Bench-Marks should become Control Station for X, Y also

The above argument can be easily extended to the provision of X, Y coordinates to all the precision levelling BM’s (top accuracy BM’s of SOI). This suggestion is being facilitated and motivated by the evolution of the technologies which are harnessed to provide X, Y precision coordinates. Differential Global Positioning (DGPS) can determine the high accuracy first order points at the existing BM,

avoiding the difficulty of line-of-sight condition and vagaries of weather.

● Maintenance of Old Great Trigonometric Survey (GTS) Geodetic Stations

The Great Arc was a great scientific achievement and there should be a policy on maintenance of these spatial temples of SOI. The maintenance should be taken over by SOI from the local officials who do not appreciate the tremendous value of the GT stations which are a great historical legacy and are in a very bad state of upkeep. NRSC, Hyderabad should also similarly start thinking of maintenance of their Ground Control Points (GCPs) for the same reasons.

● Image Library of the Control Points

It is the technical requirement of the photogrammetry technology that all the GCP’s must be very accurately transferred to the aerial photograph or satellite imagery for further processing. The concerned departments may consider developing an Image-Library of their control points. The Image Library will be a very useful input to the photogrammetry (or image-grammetry) firms and they may pay for this valuable service.

Role of National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI)

The role of NSDI in building the greatness in the Geomatics profession is and will remain vital, indeed irreplaceable by any other contemporary organization in the government. Yet another factor which imminently goes in favour of NSDI is its dimension within the structure of the government. NSDI will be looked to by its constituent organizations (even if these are from different Ministries) for managerial guidance and its immediate interface with the professional factors. As a matter of ambitious thinking, NSDI will be an excellent `surrogate’ advising forum for all its members. Such a forum is bound to play an important part in the growth of Geomatics in India.

Polices affecting Indian Geomatics

Einstein once said: “only the insane can expect radically different results by doing the same thing over and over again”. In the realm of Geomatics there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that if there is one policy, which has had a profound impact, it is the Restriction Policy. Historically, almost the same policy is in effect since independence. The details are not being given for the sake of brevity of paper. This Restriction Policy has to be made congruent to the growth of technologies like highresolution satellite imagery and GPS.

Suggestion five:

Changes in Restriction Policy of India Some workable changes are suggested for consideration. These are motivated because of:

• Tremendous improvement in resolution of satellite imagery. 1 metre – resolution imagery of any part of earth is commercially available.

• Global Positioning System (GPS) is able to provide x,y,z coordinates to


fairly good accuracy of a few metres. By using two GPS instruments in

Differential mode, one is able to achieve survey level accuracy.

• Some private firms abroadhave started supplying large scale maps to any user. The above mentioned factors lead the Geomatics professional to suggest the following:

• Make all satellite imagery as Un-Restricted. Cartosat of India will give a big fillip to the mapping business in India.

• All aerial photography on scale 1:50000 falling in non-restricted

map area of India to be declassified (from SECRET category).

Photogrammetric processing based on 1:50000 scale aerial photography will be able to strengthen the geometry of mapping up to 1:10000 mapping. The author, in a separate paper, has been able to conclude that a market of about 100 crores per year is waiting to be tapped in case Restriction Policy is diluted to some extent. The suggested relaxation of the policy will generate business and consequent jobs for the geographers and other persons in the Geomatics profession. Public Private Participation (PPP) A model of photogrammetric production employing private photogrammetric firms working in the premises of NRSC is very commendable indeed. The other government organizations, namely, RITES, NIC, WAPCOS etc can replicate `NRSC-Model’ to generate survey data. Suggestion Four endorses the practice of PPP for larger scales i.e. 1:10000 by involving private sector in a big way. This in fact has become necessary as almost all GIS projects need digital database and density of data, which is provided by scales larger than 1:10000.

Professional Staff (People Factor)

The staff is the most valuable human capital, which alone will support the profession by way of vision, values and absorbing new technologies. Their education, therefore, becomes very important as well as urgent.

Unified Education in Geomatics

at Manager Level At present, a Geomatics specialist, especially at the manager level is being trained and educated from a narrow point of view of the organization with whom he is serving. For example, a manager of Survey of India will know more about surveying. The other
subjects e.g. satellite remote sensing and GIS etc may be picked only by his own effort. The reverse is true in case the manager belongs to the GIS community, he may not know about a total station or photogrammetric model. This state of education and training, calls for a unified approach in education of a Geomatics-Manager.

Suggestion six:

A Course for Professional Geomatics Managers A manager in Geomatics profession should have an in-depth exposure to whole gamut of Land Information Technologies, as mentioned in Box-1.

Presently two major training institutes namely, Survey Training Institute of Survey of India and Indian Institute of Remote Sensing are the key players in training and education of officers. In addition some universities are also in the Geomatics field in a small way. It will be a synergistically strong move, if both these institutions jointly create / evolve an integrated program for the Geomatics Professional Manager. Such a program will have `takers’ coming from the private organizations (and abroad) because the activities and projects embrace all the disciplines of Geomatics. It is a wish that, eventually, the model suggested above may bloom into full fledged Geomatics University of India with two campuses, one at Dehra Dun and other at Hyderabad.

Conclusion and summary

This paper primarily concentrates on a few, yet important, changes which should be brought out sooner than later. The advantages of the suggested policies have been shown with the help of a `model for change’. Let it be emphasized that greatest impetus to the whole gamut of Geomatics will take place in Restriction Policy. It is almost certain that without the change in the Restriction Policy the recipe of the NSDI will remain salt-less. The other change in the products and services are well within the ambit of the decisionmakers who should definitely present the sweet face of the Geomatics to the users.

There is a great possibility that potential private market which is bottled up presently may open up. Any small or big company can contribute to generate `contents’ and updateness of the map. Thanks to orbiting satellites and their available (!) imagery.

The changes suggested in the organizational structure will hopefully bring better production, healthy competition and ease of cadre problems. The coordinating role of the Ministry of Science &Technology consequently will increase for the betterment of the profession and cannot be under estimated. It is through these measures that we, belonging to the Geomatics profession, feel that greatness will be bestowed on the profession of Geomatics.

Prof P Misra

Consultant, Land Information Technologies
My coordinates
His Coordinates
Steve Berglund
Mark your calendar
May 09 TO DECEMBER 2009

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