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“Making SoI scapegoat will not solve the problem”

– Brig. A. S. Iyer

I retired from The Survey of India in 1986 after over thirty years of service in The Department, as we fondly call it. I recall every day of service with pride and happiness. I take strong exception to the focus on the SoI in the article written by Shri S. M. Mathur, on the Restriction Policy concerning maps, in your July-August 1999 issue. Whatever, the shortcomings of The Department may be and there are many, I would like to submit a few facts. I agree with Shri Mathur on the many issues he has raised, however making the Survey of India the scapegoat will not solve the problem.

Shri Mathur who must have relied heavily on SoI maps, which cost less than Rs 5/- per map, some years ago, surely had no difficulty in getting maps for his purpose. I once mentioned in good humour, to Dr Hari Narayan, then Surveyor General of India, who held office with grace and competence, that the SOI in spite of inflation all around, was the only one holding the price line. At one stage our priceless maps cost less than a haircut! The Civilian Secretaries could not even appreciate the worth of this great Department.

The same maps purchased from The SoI, by GSI or NRSA, with ” value addition” by the latter particularly, were considered as having very great merit, and the NRSA was considered a forward organisation .The SoI which provided base maps to these two departments was, considered, a ” non-profit organisation.”. Is the Surveyor General of India himself the budget allocating authority. Why does Shri Mathur blame him for not having modernised the SoI?

Secondly the following civilian officers, viz late Shri PR Datta and late Shri Nagar (peace be to their souls) and Shri Sanyal, were also Surveyor Generals. I recall my intimate friendship with them. Why did they not reverse the restriction policy? The Restriction Policy is formulated by Ministries other than the DS&T. The Home Ministry, the Directorate of Military Intelligence are the prime movers of the policy. Nobody denies that map information should be more easily available The question is how does one go about it in our country and context? I am surprised that Shri Mathur is unaware that civilians held the post of SG, and in all likelihood that they will do so more in future. He should know more about a sister organisation.

His comment that The NRSA is as different from the SoI, as cheese from chalk, is what prompts me to write this letter. Can Shri Mathur, constitute in himself a one-man committee to evaluate two Departments separated by decades of history? Since he has mentioned this, let me also state a few points. Where would be The NRSA be, if the SoI had not established the base maps over the decades? The NRSA charged monopoly rates working almost like a cartel, for adding “value” to SoI maps. How did the NRSA which started as a Remote Sensing agency, get involved in Phtogrammetry and Mapping taking away personnel from the SoI, when the Survey of India which had introduced Photogrammetry decades before, was denied funds and continues to be denied even to this day?

From my earliest days, long before the NRSA came into existence, the SoI was called by Civilian Secretaries (not the Army), as a non-earning and non-profit department. A map which cost us lakhs of Rupees to make and based on which, the entire National Infrastructure was built, could be had for Rs 5 per copy. Funds were denied for its growth.

I am very sorry to have to state these points. But, you have not hesitated to publish facts out of context, in an article on an organisation which is certainly in need of total restructuring. I am thankful to you for your excellent journal and highlighting the difficulties we professionals are facing. The entire profession, including the agencies carrying out cadastral surveys needs to look at the whole range of problems we are facing.

You have rightly said that we have debated and debated. The time for debate is over. My solutions of bygone years are no longer valid. We need to rake a fresh total look and in this matter. The Surveyor General of India could take the lead and he has a duty to do this. After all he has to play a part as the ex-officio cartographic adviser to the Government. I request him to do so. The civilian cadres have suffered in the past. The solution did not lie in carving up the Department at the top echelons, as though it was their paternal inheritance. The interests of the Group C and D cadre were neglected. The Army is trying, I understand, to build up ” its own Survey”. Defence and Development, in Industry and across the entire spectrum of production, has to integrate Civil and Military capability as never before.

The Survey of India, in spite of all its cadre problems was a good example of such co-operation. I once again invite attention to that overlooked book “Defence and Development” by Dr Subramanyam, former Defence Analyst. Getting together is more economical, effective and the only ones who will be against this are the ” empire builders” within our own country, and we have excellent examples in India.

I request you not to allow your journal to be used only to air private grievances (e.g. Mr Sanjib Ghosh, he should be invited to participate in the restructuring) He can be equested to contribute his ideas for today, irrespective of any unfortunate experiences he may have gone through in the SoI. Let us have constructive and creative suggestions. Let us not get mired in history and throw out the baby with the bathwater. I hope you will be good enough to publish this letter and not “restrict” it. I can substantiate in the interests of the country and the profession, every word of what I have said above. But it is said only to bring about changes for the better and not get mired in history. Brig. A. S. Iyer (retd)
Former Director, Survey of India, 3408, 2nd Cross 10th Main,
Indiranagar 2nd Stage, Bangalore 560038. Phone 080-5282744.