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Mirzapur: A GIS that works

Scott Gibbons
Municipal Management Adviser and city planner

GIS at Mirzapur allows testing of the full range of applications for identifying, diagnosing and resolving administrative problems that had been unresolved for decades.

In order to develop a pilot model city programme consistent with Uttar Pradesh realities, the Ganga Institutional and Community Development Project (ICDP) in Mirzapur was developed by the Governments of The Netherlands, India and Uttar Pradesh. This unique project provided a real world laboratory to develop and test a geographic and management information system for improving the municipal administration of a small Uttar Pradesh city. It was a remarkable achievement that even the basic municipal database could be developed and computerised. Quickly building on this foundation a complete property and infrastructure mapping programme was implemented to create the Mirzapur Geographic Information System.

Development of the first municipal geographic information system in India, not in a major metropolitan area, but in a small Uttar Pradesh city allowed testing of the full range of applications for identifying, diagnosing and resolving administrative problems that had been unresolved for decades. In the process misconceptions about the required database, development, operation and application of a geographic information system in India have been cleared up. In the process of establishing mastery over financial and infrastructure information the first steps have been taken to make Mirzapur a model city.

With a population of 200,000 the city of Mirzapur shares basic management and administrative problems with the many similar sized cities in Uttar Pradesh and India. In 1995 municipal staff could not provide basic financial or infrastructure information because of the near breakdown of administrative activities and the absence of any information management system. The city was bankrupt and conditions were getting worse with a widening gap between income and expenditure. At the commencement of the ICDP programme, the municipality’s current revenues were not sufficient to meet even the basic payroll, let alone to sustain the operation and maintenance of basic urban services.

In order to address this situation ICDP developed a successful intervention package that included immediate service improvements, property reassessment and investment planning. The primary programme objectives were the computerisation of property tax records, and the proper enumeration and mapping of all properties and infrastructure.

Computerisation of Tax Records
The first objective was to collect and computerise the critical property tax assessment registers for the 23,950 properties. The assessment registers are the only official property tax records and any changes in taxation should have reference to them. Moreover, even though the register may be disorganised and have not been updated for some years, they contain at least partial records of most of the urban property database. Any changes or the creation of any new registration system would need to be linked to the existing entry khatas to modern usable computer files as shown in figure 1.

Property Enumeration and Mapping
At the start of the project in 1995 the municipal tax department wanted to conduct a new property enumeration to register new properties. After existing records were computerised they were easily printed out to be used in the field as the basis of the property enumeration. Municipal staff conducted the enumeration between April and December 1996 under the supervision of consultants. At the start of the project the only property maps available were very dated and rough outline maps. From these, revenue ward maps were extracted by rough boundaries for use in the property enumeration. During the enumeration it was not difficult to include the field mapping of properties. Notional ward maps were taken to the field and used along with the assessment printouts to verify and update property information. Surveyors made current notations both on records and on maps in the field.

According to the enumeration the total number of buildings in Mirzapur is 34,278, with 41,134 individual units. Of these units 4,419 units or 11% are rented. The increase in properties that resulted from the enumeration was 44%. This benefit alone was sufficient to justify the enumeration. A property survey was conducted alongside the enumeration, based on a simple questionnaire, which emphasised location and basic property characteristics likely to affect property values. The key characteristics were: land use, type of construction, floor level of unit, neighbourhood, area, and front/back street access.

At the end of every day enumeration survey information was chec-ked, corrected and entered in computer files. Rough field notation maps were faired and fitted to the outline city map to create the first ever property tax maps for Mirzapur. Upon completion, the city property tax maps were scanned and digitised using MapInfo computer mapping software. After property numbers from the enumeration were added to the computerised maps, survey information was linked to establish the basic Mirzapur GIS as shown in figure 2.

GIS to Increase Revenues
The first use of the new Mirzapur Geographic Information System was to facilitate the municipal property assessment. There are few examples of successful reassessments in India largely because of the inability of manual recording keeping systems to manage and check the vast volume of data required in the process. With the Mirzapur GIS, a feasible reassessment methodology could be developed and implemented without concern for data management.

The methodology adopted was the representative neighbourhood approach where all the city’s 610 mohallas were classified into one of 7 neighborhood types based on rent values. Once this coding was done, values for owner-occupied properties were calculated. Mohalla and street coding form the foundation of assessment values, so the accuracy of these was checked visually. Properties with values significantly higher or lower than surrounding properties were reviewed in the same way. After application of a computerised assessment programme, property values were randomly checked. This checking was possible by pulling up the full property record with attached reference photo.

Property reassessment is by far the most critical use for the geographic information system. Almost all cities will have to conduct a similar exercise in the next several years due to the severe municipal financial crisis, even though it is generally mandated every five years. The magnitude of financial benefit is enormous. In Mirzapur, the increase in tax revenues already underway is likely to be many fold.

The GIS is also being used to make sense out of the unmanageable water tax/water charge system. Water connection records kept in separate registers with separate identification numbers are being matched and linked in order to determine what water charges and fees should be applied. Without a geographic information system this work would be just about impossible.

Linking Urban Infrastructure Data with Maps
Since the goal of a model city programme is to increase revenues to be spent on maintaining and improving public services, infrastructure information also had to be included in the geographic information system. Street drain, water supply and solid waste collection maps were developed and linked to the databases of conditions documented through physical surveys. Information concerning the construction, size and condition of street drains and water pipes was collected with reference to individual streets or street segments. Solid waste collection routing is also being documented and mapped to the street level.

The infrastructure system is linked to the initial property-based geographic information system to standardise the scale and reference for all records. Infrastructure maps were detailed as links, which correspond to individual streets. Individual street segments were given numeric codes, which allow a direct link between any individual property and the entire municipal infrastructure system.

With all core maps and databases linked, Multi-layer analysis can be used to prioritise investments so as to yield the highest benefits with the lowest cost. As a result, improved information management with the GIS is being combined with practical application in service improvement.

Water System
An example of this is the rehabilitation of the water distribution system in one city water zone. Limited project funds are available for investment in water system management. The objective is to allow the water department to make key improvements in the system to enable water connection registration and regularisation. Since the water supply is shared among several zones, identification of the basic required investment was difficult with only water supply system drawings. Computer system modeling was required, but for this specific information was needed. The basic water distribution system was needed along with node coordinates. Population for each node was used to estimate the demand. Without a GIS, this information would have been difficult to access and almost impossible to bring together quickly in the right format.

With the GIS, the water supply network was evaluated in addition to the property maps to estimate the population at each node. Coordinates for each node were easily identified. More importantly, since the water supply maps only showed recent system repairs and improvement, key elements of the system such as secondary distribution lines in neighborhood streets were not up-to-date. With the GIS physical survey information was mapped directly to the streets without creating a new water system map. This allowed a much finer grain of analysis than was possible with only the water system map. Planning investments with the GIS not only allowed quick analysis since all necessary information was ready, but also ability to prioritise among many needed improvements. An example of this is shown figure 3 where both water distribution pipe diameter and property assessment value per square foot are shown. Seeing these two types of information together is useful where the objective is to improve service conditions for weaker sections of the population.

Solid Waste Management
The most dramatic and immediate service improvement was achieved with a new solid waste collection system for the city. Solid waste collection depots have been constructed throughout the city in order to eliminate the secondary collection of solid waste. In order to supplement the 200-meter service range of handcarts, rickshaw trolleys were introduced with a service area from 200 to 400 meters. This technology allows collection depots to be located so as to serve a much larger area. This is especially important where there is very limited municipal land for construction of a depot. The deployment of over 100 rickshaw trolleys serving 10 solid waste collection depots has been responsible for a visible improvement in street cleaning.

This type of vehicle activity requires a more rational deployment of equipment. By linking sanitation department vehicles to each street, the volume of garbage and distance traveled can be estimated with the GIS. This has made it possible to begin a programme of route rationalisat-ion to reduce needless travel by department employees. An example of this type of planning is given in figure 4 where the individual houses served by each handcart and rickshaw trolley are identified. There is much scope for improvement from the old ad hoc staff deployment system.

Drain Prioritisation
Another very important urban service is street drains. If they don’t function there is stagnant water and collected rubbish. With limited funds for investment, it is critical to locate areas, which have deficiencies with the least cost. For example, investments where drains are only on one side of a paved street, and need only brick edging are likely to achieve the greatest impact. With the GIS these criteria can be evaluated at the same time within a single or from multiple linked databases. After the selection criteria were established candidate streets for possible investment were quickly identified for more detailed inspection. Initial cost estimates were determined from the length of drains and scheduled rates.

Approach Replicability
Administratively and operationally Mirzapur is representative of conditions in most other cities in Uttar Pradesh and in India. That made it an ideal city to test approaches that could be replicated in many other cities. If it can work in Mirzapur, why not elsewhere?

There was little information management capacity and almost no computer skills in the Mirzapur municipality. This made it necessary to teach the necessary skills to staff that could be seconded for project work. Eight staff, of whom most were community workers, and with one exception had no computer experience, form the nucleus of the project team. These staff were given technical and management training necessary to implement the computerisation work as well as to supervise the field and office work of ordinary clerks. Two fulltime management consultants and one short term MIS consultant provided advanced technical inputs and professional guidance. The project was supported by the latest in computer soft and hardware, operated through a local area network at the new municipal computer information centre. Although nearly one Pentium computer is available for each staff member, the data entry work volume is often sufficient to require a second shift.

Practical experience has shown that there is no major obstacle in the development of the Mirzapur type of geographic information system. Other cities can start right away through well-tested core activities so that a similar geographic information system can be developed there as well within two to three years.

With a municipal geographic information system tools are available to increase revenues and improve services within the existing institutions. Initially time is required for setting up the system, but benefits start even in the early stages. It is only when such a system is established that the public will wonder how it managed without it for so longThe barefooted rickshaw walla said to the well-shod vakil, “sahib, there is a lot of glass in the road.” The vakil replied, “I didn’t notice any.”