The COVID-19 global pandemic has created a severe economic crisis alongside a health catastrophe. This year’s Trade and Development Report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) suggests that the world economy is experiencing a deep recession amid a “still-unchecked” pandemic. The report says that the global economy will contract by 4.3% in 2020.
The picture isn’t too different in India. According to the World Bank, India’s gross domestic product (GDP) is expected to further contract by 9.6% this fiscal as a reflection of the economic slump it has suffered due to lockdowns induced by the pandemic. Further, global rating and research houses, such as Fitch and Goldman Sachs have cut their estimates for growth in India’s GDP, and the government has said that it needs foreign investments worth around Rs 60 trillion ($806 billion) to bolster the Covid-hit economy.
To tide over the current crisis, the government has taken a slew of policy decisions ranging from introducing reforms in some sectors to encouraging technology adoption in the others. One such measure involves the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) to streamline land management and dealings.
Towards the end of August, Piyush Goyal, India’s Commerce and Industry Minister, launched the national GIS-enabled Land Bank System, which is being developed by integration of Industrial Information System (IIS) with State GIS Systems. The project, which was launched for six states, is expected to cover other states and Union Territories (UTs) by the year end, and develop an effective and transparent mechanism of land identification and procurement.
The project endeavors to enhance industrial activity in the country, attract investment and provide better standard of living to the local populations. “This is a forward-looking initiative towards the transparent mechanism of land identification and procurement. Over the years, India has undertaken multiple reforms to move ahead in the ease of doing business rankings, by enabling transparency and single-window interface for all clearances for foreign investments. The use of GIS as an enabling technology is one of the most critical pillars towards realizing this goal,” says Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India.
Under the Land Bank System project, records of more than 3,300 industrial parks across 31 states and UTs covering about 475,000-hectare land have been mapped on the system. The information includes forest, drainage, raw material heat maps (agricultural, horticulture, mineral layers) and multiple layers of connectivity. “Land is always a scares commodity in highly populated countries like India. GIS-based technology intervention has a key role to play in land reforms. The creation of geo-enabled digital land records centrally at state level along with systemic intervention to update the change in revenue records in real-time will bring in the much needed efficiency in land allotments for various development and investment projects,” says Deven Laheru, President, Business Development at Scanpoint Geomatics Ltd.
Dheeraj Sharma, CEO, GIS Consortium India Pvt Ltd, explains that cadastre, or land parcel, is the basis of all the information pertaining to a piece of land. It covers details about the ownership, area and land use. “A clear land record title is therefore important not just to establish ownership, but to ensure the optimal usage of the land resources available. GIS brings together all the information pertaining to any land parcel which results in valuable spatial analytics.”
GIS technology can inherently connect the information and database at multiple levels of governance and decision-making, which can bring coherence and seamless exchange of information between micro and macro levels of planning. “Further, one is able to connect between the different types and levels of planning, maintenance and management,” says Sharma.
Earlier this year, the Indian government said that it will start a GIS-based land buying service on a pilot basis to attract foreign companies. The announcement came during the USIBC’s India Ideas Summit, and was aimed at enticing US investors to come to India. Speaking at the event, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said that India will identify land for setting up industries through a GIS-based tool. He added that the GIS system will have Google Earth view, and “a person sitting in Iceland will be able to locate land in India and buy it.”
“This is a great opportunity to promote the economic growth of India and generate employment opportunities. Foreign investment into various industrial corridors and manufacturing hubs will boost the local economy, local skills, trade opportunities and overall economic development for India,” says Kumar. The digital transformation of the land administration and management process relies heavily on GIS technology. So far, the use of GIS has been limited to a system of records — filing, recording and storing of information, though it needs to be further extended as a system of insight and engagement.
“As a system of insight, agencies can get a better view of the land banks, their possible land use and in identifying areas for economic development. With a system of engagement, agencies can drive citizens as well as inter-department engagement,” adds Kumar. In India, the capital in land is currently locked due to non-availability of accurate and digital information about the cadastre which has resulted in most of the land capital being unused.
“The introduction of GIS for land buying and selling will unlock all the information pertaining to the cadastre and the authenticity of the same can also be verified. This will result in transparent, fair and seamless land transactions, and will boost infrastructure development,” says Sharma. The use of GIS in land management can further improve land valuation through transparent information on land parcels.
Laheru feels that the GIS view of land parcels on a portal would help buyers take informed decision keeping in view multiple parameters. Apart from helping the overall GIS industry ecosystem in the country, it would help the entire economy by unlocking the value of the scare land resource.
Absence of a comprehensive policy and a nodal organization responsible and accountable for GIS use is often cited to be one of the main reasons for poor adoption. “Currently, different government departments call for tenders for their requirement, and the information is not shared with other departments, resulting in ineffective use of public funds. Then there are problems like poor technical understanding of the scope of work and unavailability of adequate investment,” says Kalyan Chakravarthy, Senior Sales Manager-Geospatial (India and APAC) at Cyient.
Echoing similar sentiments, Laheru says that a technology intervention of this scale needs shared vision right from the top till the last mile. Land being a socio-politically sensitive subject needs proactive approach in terms of right planning, awareness and concerted efforts. “Hence, a separate cell within state revenue departments covering officials at each level (state, district and block) should be formed to implement geo-enabled digital land records within specified timelines.” Laheru adds that the complexities involved in GIS data creation through any one or a hybrid approach among ariel, satellite imagery or ETS/DGPS survey is another area of concern.
The incredibly old land records are another hurdle in adoption — the last survey and settlement of land records took place decades ago. “Land records in India is a state subject. Although the Indian government had launched an ambitious scheme for modernization and digitization of land records in 2008, the results on ground are nowhere to be seen. That’s because land ownership in India is presumptive and not conclusive, resulting in ownership disputes in title and ownership. Over 65% of all civil cases are basically land related disputes,” highlights Sharma.
Considering the vast geographic spread of India, mapping and planning land management becomes difficult, feels Kumar. In his view, rapid urbanization and land use changes on the ground lead to several challenges, such as discrepancies in existing cadastral and historical records, loss of ground survey reference points, undocumented land mutations and ownership changes.