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Getting smarter with smart maps

Dr. P. Nag
Director, National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation
Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India.

How could municipalities use the local expertise of research organisation to help themselves? Calcutta shows the way

Calcutta, in comparison to other urban centres in India, is fairly of recent origin. In 1990 it has completed its tercentenary . Within this period of slightly over three hundred years, this settlement has grown as one of the biggest cities of the world. Nevertheless, due to the teeming population, on one hand, it has its own quota of problems and on the other hand, the demand of the available space is alarming. The urban holdings are being sub-divided and new 'built-up' areas are being added every day. For any rational planning and development exercise, a realistic picture is required which has to be continuously updated. Such information is also required for municipal tax administration, extension of utility services. The basis for all these activities depends heavily on the spatial information in the form of maps. Such detailed maps with attached data base should be updated regularly.

NATMO's Attempts to Map Calcutta
The origin of modern cartography in India lies in the city of Calcutta. The two major cartographic institutions of the country, viz. Survey of India and the National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation (NATMO),were established in this city. However, it did not receive much attention of cartographers. The earlier attempts are as follows:

  1. Plan of Calcutta, 1784/85 by Lt. Col. Mark Wood
  2. Map of Calcutta and its Environs, 1792/ 3 by A. Upjohn
  3. Maps of the Suburbs of Calcutta, 1817 by Steepleton
  4. Plan of the city of Calcutta and its Environs, 1828-32 by I. P. Schalch and Capt. T. Princep (Lottery Committee.
  5. Portion of Topographical Survey of River Hooghly from Bandel to Garden Reach, 1841 by Charles Joseph
  6. The City and Environs of Calcutta, 1852-58 by P.W. Simmis
  7. Maps of Calcutta showing the latest Im provements, 1856 by W. Heysham
  8. Calcutta,1931 in Imperial Gazetteer of India
  9. Environs of Calcutta, 1931 in Imperial Gazetteer of India
  10. Smart Maps, 1903-10 in 856 sheets.

In addition to above, relatively recent maps have been prepared by Survey of India and NATMO. The Survey of India map is at 1:40,000 scale showing broad features of Calcutta and Haora. NATMO included following two plates in the Rational Atlas of India:

  1. Urban Land Use, Calcutta Metropolitan District, 1982
  2. Urban Land Use, Calcutta City, 1984.

Since the above two maps are very popular publications, they are being revised. Nevertheless, it has been felt that these maps do not always meet the requirements of all types of users. Hence, several other attempts are being made to map Calcutta. In 1990, at the time of tercentenary, NATMO brought out an Atlas of the City of Calcutta and its Environs. The second edition has come out in 1996. It contains old maps mentioned above. Further, in order to meet the requirements of tourists, a Tourist Map of Calcutta is under preparation. Furthermore, as a part of mega project on District Planning Maps, a district map of Calcutta is being prepared as well. In addition, a detailed Calcutta City Atlas in collaboration with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has also been mooted. Fieldwork is underway. A map on Urban Land Use of Haora is being prepared separately.

Digitization and Updation of Smart Maps
During early 1996, NATMO was approached by the Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) to update their old maps. These maps were prepared during the period 1903-1910 showing certain physical details as was prevailing at that time. Till now these maps are being used for planning, development, record, sanctioning of the building plans and tax administration. These maps are also accepted as valid documents in the courts of law.

All the new alignments, sub-divisions of properties, municipal services like water and sewerage are plotted on these maps. They are at 1:600 scale or 1"=50' and are popularly known as Smart's maps. Considering the great applicability of these maps it became essential to update the information.

The project on "Digitization of Old Smarts' Maps of Calcutta" has following objectives:

  • To scan the old Smart maps without making any changes
  • To keep film positive/negative of the original maps as backup
  • To incorporate the latest changes on a separate file
  • To attach data base required for record and tax administration

Since the Smart maps are considered as legal instrument, it became necessary to keep the scan image on a raster file (TIFF). Such scanned maps can be used to recall the information or hard copy. Further, in order to have a non-digital backup, it was also considered to have a film negative/positive of the maps at a reduced scale. These films can also be used for producing hard copies, and with the latest technology, can be scanned for having raster file.The latest changes are to be incorporated in a separate vector file using the available revised maps of any part of the concerned area or the CMC records. In some places field checks may also be necessary. In addition, all the new property will be having a data base attached for better record. However, in all the reports prepared by different development agencies little has been said specifically about the digital mapping requirements.

The digitised information will also be helpful for following activities:

  • Property records
  • Development and Planning initiatives
  • Revenue collection
  • Development of GlS
  • Decentralization of development and taxation process.

The objective is, not to develop GIS per se as the information is not exactly framed in the forms of layers. But, such a base will help in developing GIS for Calcutta if required at a later date.

The project is likely to support the basic objectives of the Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organisation's (CMPO) Development Plan for Calcutta Metropolitan District (1966) which identifies three tasks:

  1. to arrest deterioration,
  2. to make better use of the existing capacity, and
  3. to make provision for massive new growth.

Pre-Project Status
The surveyors in the CMC used to update the information on bound volume consisting of a set of Smart maps. Due to the overuse, these maps have become soiled and brittle. Further, only the experienced surveyors can transcribe the information from these fragile maps. Nevertheless, they contain valuable information. The condition of maps created a lot of administrative problems related to taxation, hence income of the Corporation. It may be mentioned here that only the old part of Calcutta is covered by the Smart map which is roughly 60 % of the CMC area. For the remaining part, the Corporation has to depend on 'Revised Settlement' maps which are basically cadastral/mouza maps at 16"=1 mile.

Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organisation (CMPO) and later Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) revised the maps of the areas which have attracted more attention and development. But these maps are for specific sectors and do not cover the areas according to the Smart maps. However, these maps can be used for the updating of the concerned areas as these maps are based on the original Smart maps. In addition, the Calcutta Municipal Corporation has computerized its land record data for taxation purposes. Hence, the data base in certain form is available which may not exactly match with the requirements of the objectives of this project.

Expert Committees and Sub-Committees
Many committees and sub-committees were formed to look into various aspects of the project as given in Table 1.

Modus Operandi
After having initial discussions on the possibility of working on this project, the question of funds required for this purpose became necessary, CMC and NATMO approached the Union Department of Science & Technology (DST) to share the financial burden. It was agreed that DST and CMC will equally share the cost. Accordingly, the tenders were floated and after studying technical and financial aspects, the Expert Committee appointed for this purpose, selected a Calcutta based company for this work. It was on a turnkey basis which included not only the jobs mentioned in the objective of this project, but also to supply hardware and appropriate software. An element of training of CMC staff was also necessary for handling and subsequently updating the data. Following three phases of the whole project were identified:

  1. Scanning and filming
  2. Digitisation and development of data base
  3. Installation and training.

All the 856 Smart maps were not available in acceptable condition in the CMC. Hence, the Directorate of Land Records, Government of West Bengal was approached to provide the fresh copies the maps. These maps were used for filming and scanning. A quick method of having such copies was searched. Finally in the M/s B. B. Sigma, New Delhi such activity with a very efficient Swiss technology is being carried out. Here the same film is scanned for having the raster scanned file. The raster data is being supplied in CDs due to the large volume of data. Hence, a CD reader became necessary to be attached with the proposed system in CMC. An internal committee was appointed to work out the quality control (QC) checks for such raster files. Some of the Smart maps are still to be received.

The procurement of the maps from various developmental agencies was difficult due to the formalities required for transferring the maps. Matter was brought to the notice of the highest authorities for this purpose. The information contained in these maps were matched with the CMC records as some of the maps were meant for developmental planning but the actual development is yet to be taken place. Hence, on one hand, there are old brittle maps; while on the other hand are the maps showing the planned layouts. The latter were not always on the same scale, i.e. 1: 600.

In the beginning, the raster files were converted to vectors and latest changes were introduced based on the information available from various sources. But, in the areas having high density of information such eye estimation was not good. However, the planned layout could be scanned and brought to scale and fixed on the required place. The best solution was however to trace the new or additional or changed features and then to put it on the right place. This work is being done part by part by adjusting the information locally.

An expert sub-committee was formed to check the digitized information. Following measures were considered for the QC checks:

  1. Reference points on the periphery of the maps and inside
  2. Latitude and longitude with UTM grids
  3. Overlapping areas and edge matching
  4. Depiction of the current features like roads, buildings, etc.
  5. Plot boundaries with sub-divisions
  6. Scale
  7. Introduction of information from maps received from CIT, CMDA, PWD, CMC, private de velopers and others.
  8. Clarity
  9. Cross checking by the original Smart maps digitally
  10. Cross checking with the assessment registers of CMC

This sub-committee is to submit report for each map. A proforma was developed for this purpose as well. Payments for this part of the job will be made based on the report submitted on this proforma.

Difference between old & new maps
Figure 1a Smart Map

Figure 1b Updated Map


The data base
Keeping in view of the objective, it was necessary to include the data base for each property. This was of course based on the information maintained in the assessment record of the Corporation. The broad classification of the corporation is (a) CMC property, and (b) other property. Following information is being stored for each property:
  1. Property number
  2. Road/street/lane/bylane etc.
  3. Ward
  4. Owner
  5. Land use: open space, residential house, market, etc.
  6. Number of stories
  7. Area
  8. Constructed space
  9. Tax per year
  10. Last tax paid

The above information can not only be used for the tax purposes but also to plot other information from the data base.

Other Applications: Land use Map, GIS and Utility Mapping
The best way to prepare a land use map of a city or its part should be based on the property lines. The proposed digital maps in vector format will have such property lines. The land use data will be attached with each property. Hence, plotting of the land use data on the digital map will not be difficult. A land use map thus prepared will be very detailed one and will have further scope of enlargement or even reduction. However such land use maps can be based on the standard urban land use classification scheme. Nevertheless, the land use maps so developed will be worked out on the basis of the records of the Corporation which may be different from the actual land use. Further, with the passage of time, the recorded land use will tend to be different from the actual landuse. Hence, a component of field verification is also involved.

Though the objective of this project was not to develop GIS, but this digital base can be used for GlS development as well. Nevertheless. the vector data creation is by layers using MapInfo software. There are other software available in the market where similar work can be performed. Further there is a scope of mosaicing of the maps which will also lead to prepare urban plans, metropolitan plans and regional plans. Recently, a sub-committee has already been appointed to study the application of such digital maps for recording the utility services such as drainage, sewage, etc. Earlier, in the conventional way, such information was recorded in Smart maps as well.

The experience in Calcutta may help in taking up similar initiatives in other cities as well. This case study perhaps provides all varieties of problems which many metropolitan cities face today not only in India but also in other developing countries. The issues are not necessarily limited to updating the old maps but also to continuously add new areas which are being included in the corporation or planning authorities boundaries. Obviously, a part of the urban area can not be kept aside for having maps of different nature. The technology does facilitate in making quantum jumps in mapping. The options and alternatives have to be weighed judiciously before taking up the action.

This experiment is not only a challenging excerise in the field of digital cartography for the benefit of the people at large, but also how the government, corporation and industry can co-operate with each other in solving day to day problems of the country. The progress of such projects depends much on such co-operation.

C.M.P.O. (1966), Basic Development Plan-Calcutta Metropolitan District: 1966-1986, Calcutta Metropolitan Planning Organisation, Calcutta.

Dasgupta, S.P. (1990), The structure of Calcutta: Morphology of a congested city, in Jean Racine (ed), Calcutta 1981, Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, pp. 131-50.

Kundu, A.K., and P. Nag (1989), The Atlas of the City of Calcutta and its Environs, National Atlas & Thematic Mapping Organisation, Calcutta (2 Ed, 1996).

Mitra, Ashok (1979), Where do we go from here? The problems of Calcutta metropolitan region, Nagarlok, Vol. XI, No. 2.

Nag, P. (1987), A proposed base for a geographical information system for India, International Journal on Geographical Information System, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 181-7.

Nag, P. (1992), Calcutta through maps, in P.K. Saha (ed), Calcutta: Land and People, Geographical Society of india, Calcutta, pp. 31-9.

Munsi, S. (1988), Calcutta: Problems of land use, Sci-Tech Focus, vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 7-11.

Munsi, Sunil K. (1990), Gensis of the metropolis, in Jean Racine (ed), op. cit, pp. 29-49.

Ray, N.R. (1979), The City of Job Charnock, Victoria Memorial, Calcutta.

S.P.B. (1990), A Perspective Plan for Calcutta: 2011, Development & Planning Department, State Planning Board, Government of West Bengal, Calcutta.

Only the old part of Calcutta is covered by the Smart Map which is roughly 60% of CMC area. For the remaining part, the corporation has to depend on 'Revised Settlement' maps which are basically cadastral/mouza maps at 16"=1 mile

Digitisation of Smart Maps
A joint venture of CMC and NATMO

Calcutta Municipal Corporation's Estate Management Department and National Thematic Mapping Organization (NATMO) have signed a contract for a joint project which aims at digitising the Smart Maps , details of digitizing facilities like water supply lines, sewers, etc. as well as property records fro the entire city. The project's initial cost was Rs.66 lakh, which has now raised to Rs. 1 crore , which is being borne fifty-fifty by both the companies. Two other important organisations, Calcutta Improvement Trust (CIT) and the Calcutta Metropolitan Authority (CMDA) also have been enrolled in the project

Underground Infrastuctrure Mapping
The Calcutta Municipal Corporation (CMC) has authorised two foreign companies, AWE Engineers from Germany, and Schlumberger from France to map the underground infrastructure of Calcutta City. The underground infrastructure of Calcutta is a jumble of electric lines, cables, water pipes, and sewers running into each other creating all sorts of problems and confusions which generally lead to accidents and damaged roads.

Using an advanced Radar-based technology, the first step will be mapping of the inner streets of the two selected areas, the area between Barrakpore Bridge through APC road to Sahitya Parishad Street in the north, and the Gariahat area extending from Ballygunge Station to Deshapriya Park in the south. AWE Engineers will be working in the northern part, and Schlumberger will take the southern part of the city. Estimated to cost Rs. 7 lakh for south Calcutta and Rs. 6 lakh for North Calcutta, the project is expected to reduce accidents, cost of digging of roads, trial and error of workmen and the entire hodgepodge.

Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) is also planning for a similar project, which, according to the sources, is in its conceptual phase. In India, almost every Municipal Corporation is unable to maintain the urban infrastructure and the complex network of the cities, and much has to be done to improve the present situation. Even the Indian GIS companies do not have enough facilities for such type of projects, and they have to depend on foreign agencies for technical & financial support.