Geospatial Land Administration

Geospatial Data Revolution is the Pillar for a Digitized Land Administration System in India | Sakshi Singh, AGI

Land has held immense socioeconomic relevance throughout the history of humankind. In modern-day India the access, ownership and documentation of agricultural and non-agricultural land impact a large majority of rural and tribal areas. At the same time, land policy and administration have a crucial role to play in residential and business developments, and management of natural resources.

Having said that, India has been struggling with complicated and inefficient land administration for decades. This has become especially relevant in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as India awaits global manufacturers and businesses to set up shops on its soil. While the Central and State Governments attempt to reform laws and processes governing the land market, there is greater demand for secure land and property rights for all – a critical component for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Establishing an effective and efficient land administration in the country will have to be based, however, on the pillars of accurate land information. India, like many other developing countries, is computerizing its cadastral records, paving the way for an exhaustive national database on land-related data. This database can then be used for reforming revenue, planning, service delivery, infrastructure development, and beyond.

Interestingly, it is the wave of Geospatial technologies and information that is fueling this paradigm shift.

The Meaning and Need for Effective Land Administration

Land administration systems provide countries with the infrastructure for implementing land policies and management strategies aligned with the principles of sustainable development. It comprises an extensive range of systems and processes to administer:

  • Land Records: the allocation of rights in land, Records of Rights (RoR), delimitation of parcel boundaries for which rights are allocated, the transfer from one party to another through sale, lease, loan, gift, or inheritance, and the adjudication of doubts and disputes regarding rights and parcel boundaries.
  • Land-Use Regulation: land-use planning and enforcement and the adjudication of land-use conflicts.
  • Land Valuation & Taxation: the gathering of revenues through forms of land valuation and taxation, and the adjudication of land valuation and taxation disputes.

Effective land administration caters to all, developing confidence and trust, promoting safety and security, and facilitating equitability and transparency in land value capture. It serves to make both rural and urban societies smart and resilient, while enabling multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral involvement of all stakeholders.

Sustainable Development and Land Administration, Source: UN FELA, May 2020

Sustainable Development and Land Administration, Source: UN FELA, May 2020

The United Nations Framework for Effective Land Administration (FELA) describes how land administration relates people to the land, informing on the “’how, the ‘what’, the ‘who’, the ‘when’, and the ‘where’ of land tenure, land use, land value and land development. It is an umbrella term covering the entire spectrum of rights, restrictions, responsibilities and relationships tying together people, policies, and places.

Needless to say, these relationships are ever-changing, calling for adaptability and dynamism when designing an efficient land administration system. This requires data on the many millions of parcels, spatial units, persons, and parties that are a part of the ecosystem, data on ownership and transfers, data on market trends from one location to another, data on utilities and land use, data on the environment, soil and agriculture – data that is accurate, interlinked and updated from time to time.


Where Geospatial Fits In

Revamping obsolete and ineffective land administration systems, Geospatial technologies are enabling faster, more reliable, and manageable collection, update and distribution of land-related data – a much-needed transformation.

Geospatial technologies like satellite imaging and mapping, drone imagery, positioning and GIS can help manage all aspects of land information and records, including land tenure, value, management and use. With such extensive information collated, stored and analyzed on easy-to-interpret visual platforms, Governments can improve land information management, property valuation and analysis as well as public communications from head to toe.

Deven Laheru, President, Scanpoint Geomatics Ltd, remarks, “Geo-enabled digital land records that accurately mirror the ground scenario, along with systemic interventions using Geospatial technologies for recording changes in revenue records in real-time have far-reaching impact on two fronts.

One, this will help unlock the economic value of finite resources like land assets, especially in rural areas. Two, it will usher in a new era for effective implementation of government initiatives and welfare schemes in the agriculture sector. Together, they can spur enormous growth in rural India and positively impact almost 65% of the population of our country.”

Land Records

The complicated system of maintaining land records in India dated back to colonial times until recently, required to be updated every 30 years through survey and settlement operations. Most of the data existing with authorities are inaccurate, sometimes completely far from reality.

Geospatial technologies have revolutionized conventional surveying methods. GNSS is being used in topographic surveys to determine precise locations in any weather conditions at any time of the day. Geodetic survey equipments have become smaller, faster and more accurate.

The SVAMITVA scheme has shown how lightweight, easy to handle drones can be used to obtain aerial imagery for accurate mapping of property boundaries, corroborated with manual inspection. Traditional land surveys are now being combined with advanced tools like 3D modelling, HD imagery, terrestrial scanning, and LiDAR for achieving greater accuracy and faster data collection for land parcels.

No wonder the volume of data collected is humongous. It is here that a robust cloud GIS architecture can power applications for data storage, transfer, analytics and visualization, besides offering easy scalability for evolving data types and volumes. Land registry information can be objectively monitored because Geospatial technologies are helping organize the so-far chaotic and scattered datasets.

Land Use Regulation

Geospatial platforms can prove valuable for local governance. Data collected, analyzed and interpreted on GIS can help authorities ascertain whether developments are in line with regulatory frameworks. Integrated spatial modelling using Remote Sensing data, GIS databases and positioning infrastructure can also help realize and predict spatial development and changing urban land use patterns.

Information on key aspects of land administration can be made publicly available for citizens and private sector participation, performance comparisons across units and sub-units, facilitating suggestions for improvement.

Land Valuation and Taxation

The determination of accurate property tax and value depends on relevant up-to-date information on the land parcel concerned. Land ownership information is of little use if not spatially referenced or when transactions such as mortgages and tax liabilities are not recorded. Geospatial technology helps fill such gaps in recordkeeping.

At the same time, it provides a reliable framework for precise identification and verification of data from multiple sources for accurate valuation.

Challenges to Effective Land Administration in India

The failure to realize an effective land administration system in the country so far needs to be viewed from a systemic, besides a technological perspective.

Data Quality is not Uniform

In the absence of any standardization for data collected by various stakeholders, it is difficult to assure expected outcomes. Most of the land-related data in India ages back by decades. Conducting surveys and re-surveys of these datasets is not happening at a uniform pace throughout the country for the preparation of a comprehensive database.

Different Types of Land to be Administrated

In India, land administration can be categorized into that for urban, rural and tribal areas. Each of these categories demands a unique perspective of administration, rooted in unique mapping technologies. While urban areas abound in vertical developments and multiple owners of the same piece of land, rural areas have different issues for agricultural and non-agricultural lands. The tribal areas demand an entirely different flavor interlaced with cultural, political and privacy concerns. A broad-based comprehensive policy keeping different regulatory approaches in view needs to be developed.

Corruption hindering Administrative Modernization

Most countries around the world are grappling with the issue of corruption that stems from institutional opacity. While land administration needs to be modernized on the pillars of a digital transformation, there has also been tremendous resistance against it because of the transparency it will bring about in terms of land records, ownerships, sales and purchases.

Misconceptions about Geospatial Technology abound

For a long time, governments and authorities have been viewing Geospatial technologies or even digitization, for that matter, as an unnecessarily expensive affair. While such misconceptions have prevented them from gauging the true return on investment that these technologies can offer, they have also resulted in lesser awareness and participation of Geospatial in the mainstream.

Geospatial tools and technologies have become widely indigenous, and their cost of implementation has reduced significantly. The ongoing SVAMITVA scheme by the Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India, is a vivid example, using modern Geospatial technology on a countrywide scale to benefit millions of rural property owners. The investments are sizable, but the scheme is completely transforming India’s decades-old rural land administration system.

What next?

Raghavendra Boyapally, Founder & Managing Director, Marvel Geospatial Solutions, notes, “Until now, GIS technology was considered too sophisticated, required specialist users, and seemed difficult to integrate into mainstream information technology. This severely restricted its widespread adoption by those involved in land administration.”

“As GIS and associated technologies have been liberated with the implementation of the new Geospatial Guidelines, the traditional challenges around Data Ownership, Data Protection, Data Quality and Adoption of Standards have either been eradicated or minimized. The result is that more data has become available in digital format, and the use of GIS for integrating land-related data has become more opportune.”

Existing land administration systems in the country require extensions into 3D and 4D functionality to better capture both horizontal and vertical developments on land parcels. The concept of the ‘digital twin’ holds tremendous potential for redefining the conventional land administration approach, enabling the integration of real-time data, reports, analyses, and user experiences for past evaluations, present observations and future predictions.

Advanced technologies like blockchain can be leveraged in tandem with Geospatial technologies for land administration in the future, for ensuring transparency and organization of transactions on a single, decentralized, corruption-free framework. A ‘Fit for Purpose’ approach must be adopted for addressing the most pressing needs at the moment through adaptable tools that can be gradually scaled up based on evolving needs.

Substantial work is being undertaken and completed on these lines by governments, private sector companies, global organizations and NGOs, and yet more needs to be done to realize the vision for an effective and sustainable land administration system in the country.