Monday, April 21, 2014

Cartography- the Art and Science of Map Making that India Seems to Neglect!

Cartography is all about making maps. It is an advanced science as well as an art. Unfortunately, there is not any institution of higher learning where Indian students interested in learning this specialized topic can get trained. 

Any one who is interested to know about cartography should think of visiting this website

Accurate cartographic maps gives much information about the geography, topography and other physical features of the lands where we live. Now-a-days, advanced survey techniques and cartography techniques have combined with the help of digital computer techniques to become what is known as the Geo Information Systems (GIS). Such information is very essential for city and country planning, development of infrastructure (such as road, railways, bridges, airports, buildings, towns, cities, industrial zones, harbors, special economic zones (SEZ), factories, mines, etc) demarcation of private and pubic lands, demarcation of state and national borders, demarcation of forest lands, etc.


Yet, the common citizens and those who wish to undertake any business venture in India are both frustrated with the lack of getting some essential services from the government departments with regard to the exact survey maps of the land property they own or intend to procure. The governments charge hefty sums from people as registration fee from some one who proceed to buy a piece of land. The costs towards property registration is as high as 15% of the the market value of the property. If you buy a landed property worth Rs.50,00,000/- you have to shell out another Rs.7,50,000 towards registering that property in your name. By just one transaction the property cost has gone up by 15%!

Yet, the government departments do not do the job properly. The existing system of property transaction in India so complex and erroneous and differ from state to state. There is neither any standard procedure nor any system that ensures accuracy to the property identity. The buyer is not entitled to get an accurate and authentic survey data of the property to safe guard his titles! The democratic governments in India post independence have done pretty nothing in this regard from what existed in the erstwhile princely states or British India earlier!

The lack of such information also makes land acquisition for public projects a cumbersome thing which could later get embroiled  in various kinds of legal complications. Project delays of years take place on account of such things.

One of the reason for such a thing in India is the lack of trained man-power in the field of micro and macro survey and the lack of trained man power who could transform such survey data to accurate land records and maps. In India various government departments work in total disharmony. There is no co-ordination and most often these government departments work antagonistic to each other with their concerned systems and procedures not understandable to their own officers and staffs.

For example, the functions of the Survey of India is not synchronized with the state level land records or revenue authorities. (Read the wiki article about survey of India here!) Some states like Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have reportedly gone ahead with digitization of land records and adopted some superior methods in land survey and land record management. (Read about some salient information about the survey department of Kerala here!) Some countries such as the USA has national level land record information systems in place.(See the website of the US Land Records here!)  

Land sale or mortgage deeds have to have authentic and accurate survey or engineering identity information as part of the deed. This can be done only when the people who deal with these are properly trained in the technical matters concerning these.

The dilemma of the land survey and mapping system together with the land record system is the complexity that has been evolving while technology advanced. Unfortunately the law makers are not well informed as the technologists and as a result law and technology do not move cohesively!

Adding to the problem is the lack of training and placement of trained personnel in the concerned departments and organizations. Unfortunately, in India there are not many training institutions to train technical people in the fields of surveys, GIS, cartography, etc. Apart from a few institutions that offer post graduate diploma or degree courses the elite engineering institutions such as the IITs or NITs etc do not seem to think it prudent to offer such courses in India. There seems to be a discontinuity in the lower level knowledge and the higher management level knowledge and competency in this field.

In case the governments, both the central and the states, become a bit serious about this matter, there is a huge potential for job creation in this area. Not only it would generate higher employment potential, it would also enhance the quality of governance in India with regard to land resources management.

I am not an expert either in survey or in cartography. But as a technical person, I have seen the problems created by the lack of proper survey and cartographic information in India. I have also seen the continuing neglect that has been taking place in this field in this country. I have also seen the rise of the new wave GIS technologies imported from western sources and the piecemeal developments that have been taking place without much understanding even among the so called technical people.

The Indian technical planners are now depending heavily on google map service and Google Earth service. No doubt, it has given tremendous advantages to many while the centuries old Survey of India limped behind with their conservative approach. But no one in India has thought of the cartographic technologies and the great work that went behind Google maps and Google Earth that made these services work efficiently. Advanced cartography with the help of aerial and satellite imaging techniques has become highly beneficial to professionals and laymen alike. For example view this site which provides the aerial maps of all airports in the world using Google Maps and Google Earth.(You have to click on the hyper-linked airport position coordinates to open the map which you can view at different angles and elevations)

There is a need to integrate map making technologies with land record management and both need trained man power. It could perhaps make India advance and assimilate the technological developments faster. Let us only hope that the technical advisers to the political bosses of India think of it and make such things possible!

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