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Geospatial Powering India's Development

The Government of India has been using geospatial technologies to implement its flagship development schemes and missions that have the potential to support economic growth and sustainable development.

By Nibedita Mohanta & Snehil Manohar Singh

A slew of development projects announced by the Government of India over the past few years have demonstrated the growing value of geospatial technology in the country’s thrust towards sustainable development. Several schemes, such as SVAMITVA, Namami Gange Programme, and PM Gati Shakti Master Plan, along with missions, such as Har Ghar Jal, Bharatmala, Smart Cities, among others, are a testimony to the fact.

Comprehensive land records

The SVAMITVA (Survey of Village Abadi and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas) scheme is a reformative step towards establishing clear ownership of property in rural areas by mapping land parcels. The scheme will facilitate monetization of properties, reduce property-related disputes, and ensure comprehensive villagelevel planning. It is being implemented with the collaborative efforts of the Ministry of Panchayati Raj (MoPR), State Revenue Departments, State Panchayati Raj Departments, and the Survey of India (SOI).

“The National Informatics Centre (NIC) is acting as program manager for SVAMITVA scheme. NIC is supporting MoPR in developing SVAMITVA dashboard for monitoring various key performance indicators and integrating processed drone data into Gram Manchitra Application and creating GIS-based tools which helps in Gram Panchayat development planning,” says Dr. Udaya Kumar, Deputy Director General, National Informatics Centre, and SVAMITVA Project In-charge.

SOI, which is the technology partner in the scheme, uses drones to carry out surveys and prepare high-quality Gram Panchayat Development Plans (GPDP) by making use of Geographic Information System (GIS) maps. Drones capture data of an area through sensors, affixing each image with coordinates. This data is then verified with the data collected on the ground, and on this basis, high-resolution maps are developed. Once the surveying is over, the data is processed by SOI, and a spatial database is created. Attributes are linked with their features and SOI takes the responsibility for the affirmation of data, its quality, and ground truthing. Every property is allotted a specific identifier.

The pilot project of the scheme has a budgetary outlay of ₹79 crore ($10.7 million). It was started in 2020, and as of today, work is underway in 14 states and four Union Territories, with drone surveying complete in more than 77,200 villages and close to 56,000 completed village maps handed over to states. “The use of geospatial data and technology brings in the much-needed transparency in project planning and governance by creating a single source of truth for all stakeholders. Integrated use of technologies like GIS, Remote Sensing, Building Information Modeling, drones, etc. in project management enables near real-time monitoring and control of project progress, resource management and proactive intervention for mitigating risk,” says Deven Laheru, President, Scanpoint Geomatics Ltd.

Streamlined infrastructure development

Infrastructure building in India has been marred by poor planning and execution for decades. To address this concern, earlier this year, the government launched the PM Gati Shakti Master Plan, which aims to create an integrated framework for infrastructure development in the country. “Earlier, the fragmented nature of decision-making, with each department working in silos, meant that a disjointed industrial network was created. While several pieces of the puzzle were in place, many remained unconnected as well,” said Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog, at the launch of the Master Plan.

The ₹100 lakh crore ($1.33 trillion) project will see the development of a comprehensive geospatial digital platform through which the entire network of infrastructure projects ranging from telecom networks, gas pipelines to road and railways will be laid out for the near future. It will be accessed by government departments and ministries and will provide over 200 geospatial data layers and satellite imagery to support government projects in the critical areas of rural and urban infrastructure, utilities, logistics, among others. The project is structured to prioritize all mega infrastructure and connectivity targets by 2024-2025. In economic terms, this would translate to reduced expenditure for the government.

India’s focus on infrastructure is in line with the global trend. On November 15 this year, U.S. President Joe Biden signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law, a move that is being viewed as a bipartisan victory that will pour billions into the country’s roads, ports, and power lines.

Under the PM Gati Shakti Master Plan, a comprehensive geospatial digital platform will be built through which the entire network of infrastructure will be laid out for the near future

Rejuvenation of rivers

An integrated conservation mission, the Namami Gange Programme under the National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), focuses on the abatement of pollution and conservation, and rejuvenation of River Ganga. With a budget outlay of ₹20,000 crore ($2.67 billion), the program has been recognized as one of the flagship government schemes using geospatial technologies. The adoption of geospatial technologies began with the preparation of a basemap, a high-resolution digital elevation model (DEM) and a GIS-ready database of wetlands, springs, and floodplain with 10 km buffer on both sides of River Ganga using LiDAR.

“NMCG is also using geospatial technologies in several other areas, such as the citizen-centric Bhuvan Ganga mobile app to get information from ground zero, GIS-based dashboard to monitor NMCG interventions and water quality, river corridor mapping by LiDAR technology, biodiversity mapping, fisheries resource mapping, wetland mapping, water bodies mapping by UAVs, microbial diversity mapping, cultural mapping, rivulet mapping, urban river mapping, aquifer mapping, high-resolution climate scenarios for basin scale, and spring rejuvenation mapping,” says Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General, NMCG.

NMCG has tasked Geokno with creating a DEM, with a vertical accuracy better than 50 cm, processed orthophotos (25 cm Ground Sample Distance), contours of 0.5/1.0 m, and topographic maps (1:10,000 scale) using aerial LiDAR to aid Ganga River basin management planning and implementation at the national/state/local levels by providing map data. “In this project, Geokno has delivered fine-resolution topographic maps using LiDAR technology, which allows surveys to be completed on time, while maintaining horizontal/vertical accuracy of 10-15 cm. In essence, our technology provides highly accurate survey data for mapping in a shorter time frame (9-10 weeks) than a ground-based survey (6-8 months),” says Dinesh Babu, Vice President, Technical & Presales, Geokno.

NMCG is making extensive use of geospatial technologies to clean Ganga

On the fast track

With the objective to develop a seamless and efficient transportation system, especially for freight, the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) was instituted under the Ministry of Railways in 2016 to develop and manage the high-speed rail corridor in India. NHSRCL uses a combination of laser data, GPS data, flight parameters, and actual photographs to give accurate survey data. Based on the findings of the survey, designing of the vertical and horizontal alignment, structures, location of the stations and depots, land requirement for the corridor, identification of project affected plots/structures, etc. are decided.

NHSRCL has decided to conduct FLS (final location survey) surveys of all six upcoming corridors using LiDAR services provided by Geokno. “Geokno provided aerial LiDAR services to NHSRCL for FLS of its first project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. They will be using our services again as they are pleased with the results and the overall project execution,” adds Babu.

The larger impact

Geospatial technologies are making an important contribution to India’s development projects. The process has only accelerated after the government announced liberalized geospatial guidelines earlier this year. These technologies not only save time and accelerate processes, but also allow for unprecedented levels of precision. They also help in breaking silos and integrating the various stages of planning and execution of a project.

Dr. Kumar sums up, “The new geospatial policy has enabled SOI to conduct survey without prior approvals. It has also facilitated exchange of spatial data between various stakeholders SOI, State Governments, and MoPR easy. The final published maps sharing has become hassle free.”

The deployment of geospatial technologies has also given a boost to public-private-partnerships, with both the government and private organization sharing resources and working towards the country’s social and economic development. “The new geospatial guidelines have opened up a sea of opportunities for Indian companies and given them the power to acquire, curate, disseminate and monetize geospatial data, benefiting diverse sectors of the economy and providing the opportunity to compete in the global mapping ecosystem,” says Brahmam Gorugantu, Head of Operations, South India, NeoGeoinfo Technologies Pvt. Ltd.