Sunil Kumar Joint Secretary DST Surveyor General of India

Interview: Sunil Kumar, Surveyor General of India (Additional Charge) and Joint Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, GoI

“The Geospatial Guidelines Issued in February 2021 were announced at an opportune time, facilitating multiple industry engagements there on. Drone rules have also seen a revamp. these policy changes do have a bearing on the execution of this scheme, besides opening more opportunities for contribution by the Indian Geospatial industry.”

This interview was originally published in AGI’s Jan-Feb 2022 Newsletter Edition on the theme of Land Administration. To download the full newsletter, click here.

For an initiative of such a vast scale as SVAMITVA, there are bound to be some challenges, one of which is data collection and processing due to lack of a robust IT infrastructure, inadequate number of drones, disruption because of the pandemic, and so on. How has the Survey of India planned to address these challenges and complete the ambitious project by 2024?

Survey of India (SoI) has planned for the execution of surveying and mapping works under the SVAMITVA scheme with a multi pronged strategy. the idea is to cater to timely augmentation of key resources, including manpower or material resources essentially required for the execution. However, with the scheme involving multiple stakeholders, the effective translation of any execution plan into tangible ground actions is a tough challenge. All stakeholders must demonstrate the same tenacity, commitment and vigour for accomplishing their targets.

Anticipating the resource gaps, SoI had started direct and indirect engagement with all Geospatial and drone related professional bodies, drone and Geospatial (product and service) companies and drone training institutes as early as March-April 2021, aiming to gauge the expertise and capacity available in the country. engagement activities included tendering under different business models [procurement of survey grid drones and data processing software], drone as a service on turnkey basis, end to end outsourcing, and engagement with GIS professionals.

SoI also conducted multiple workshops and seminars with the industry to understand the bottlenecks involved and strategize the timely completion of targets under the scheme.

Presently we are empaneling private firms to undertake future work execution activities. This was recommended by the industry itself to determine the best suited business model for scheme implementation.

As of date, SOI has already completed drone flying for more than 100,000 villages. This is a huge number considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges. SoI is also learning from the villages covered so far in different States and is now more stable in terms of resources and workflow.

For the land administration sector in India, the other key component is the DILRMP project of the Department of Land Resources [DoLR]. What initiatives and collaborations has SoI been involved with for this program? How can industry increase its engagement for fulfilling the objectives of DILRMP?

DILRMP program has been going on in the country for past 15 to 16 years and SoI has been associated with this program ever since its formulation as NLRMP (now DILRMP).

SoI is a key player in the Core Technical Advisory Group (CTAG) as well as Project Monitoring & Sanctioning Group (PM&SG) at DoLR. We have been extending technical expertise primarily covering the surveying and mapping aspect of the scheme implementation, focusing on using the best available technologies for cadastral surveying and mapping.

For example, SoI had presented for inclusion of the CORS technology under the DILRMP in 2015-16 itself, acknowledging the long-term significance and widespread application of Geospatial infrastructure in land records management.

CORS Survey of India

DILRMP has three major components, out of which Resurvey of Revision Survey has been covered under the third component. The other two components focus on digitization of the existing revenue records and creation of the physical, it and Geospatial infrastructure at state, district and tehsil level for modernization of land records in their respective state.

We believe that Geospatial companies and other commercial industry players have been engaged quite successfully so far in the scheme implementation for all components of powering resurvey. The prescribed business models stipulates that execution will be done by respective State Governments only, who have been focusing almost entirely on components other than resurvey, as it involves serious technical challenges and deeper technical understanding of surveying methodologies.

Some states like Bihar Odisha, and Gujarat, however, have executed works under resurvey component of dilrmp through outsourcing and by engaging with Geospatial companies, and must be lauded.

Do you have a timeline in mind to complete implementation of CORS projects for the entire country? Are there any plans to further densify the network, which is currently pegged at a 60- 70 km grid?

SoI had chalked out a clear road map for establishing a countrywide CORS network to modernize the National Spatial Reference Frame of the country (NSRF). About 40% of the country has already been covered. Tenders have been finalised for the remaining parts of the country for which work orders will be placed by mid February 2022. The entire country is likely to be covered before December 2022.

Almost all geographical areas in the country are being covered and outsourcing packages have been prepared considering the common challenges related to access terrain weather challenges etc. CORS is a positioning infrastructure, with its present density being worked out as a cost effective “Fit for Purpose” solution to meet the objectives of modernizing the existing NSRF and facilitating the foundation data generation, supporting on land and topographical surveying project works executed for various sectors by SoI or other agencies, facilitating the land records modernization and management in the country, and so on.

Further densification of this position infrastructure and promotion for widespread users in the future will be the primary focus of SoI. However, such future augmentations would be strictly in line with user requirements to ensure optimum cost effectiveness of the infrastructure we would like to explore all feasible collaborative participatory mechanisms for development, operation, management of this key infrastructure of the country.

SoI has witnessed a significant change in leadership, with an exciting year in the backdrop. There have been multiple on field and online initiatives, industry engagements, as well as commendable progress with schemes like SVAMITVA together with conducive policy changes. What will be the collective vision from this point on that SoI wishes to work towards?

SoI has indeed made considerable progress under the SVAMITVA scheme. An exercise of this scale has never even been thought of anywhere in the world, let alone undertaken or accomplished.

The Geospatial Guidelines Issued in February 2021 were announced at an opportune time, facilitating multiple industry engagements there on. Drone rules have also seen a revamp. these policy changes do have a bearing on the execution of this scheme, besides opening more opportunities for contribution by the Indian Geospatial industry.

Watch: Commemoration of One Year of Release of Geospatial Guidelines organised by AGI India in New Delhi, 15 February 2022

SoI has already started outsourcing the Data Acquisition (Drone Flying) activity, and more such activities are in the pipeline. Empanelment of Firms for Drone Services is under way, which would bring many firms on the list of SoI service providers.

What more can the industry expect from SoI in the days to come?

The Department of Science and Technology, GoI, issued the new Geospatial Guidelines with a motive to liberalize the Geospatial ecosystem and democratize Geospatial data generation and map making in the country. 

Keeping this spirit and the long-felt need to make SoI data/services available to all in view, SoI has planned more interactions with industry members to assess their potential and readiness for providing platforms and solutions for effective utilization of SoI data. SoI being a national mapping agency would like to take a leadership role and act as a facilitator in building a better Geospatial ecosystem in the country.