Prof. V S Ramamurthy
DAE Homi Bhabha Professor
Surveying and mapping have always been an integral part of the professional tool kit of explorers and warriors. More recently, they also have been put to use for routine administration including assessment and collection of land revenues.
It is not surprising that surveying and mapping received high priority even in the early years of British rule. Survey of India, thus, came into existence. While the entire country spread over several hundred million hectares has been surveyed and mapped over a period spanning several decades, thanks to the sustained and dedicated efforts of the cartographic community, the technology of surveying and mapping itself did not go through any major changes.
Today, space based remote sensing technology has literally turned surveying and mapping upside down. Areal photography has been overtaken by ALTM. GPS has made position determination a child’s play, routinely available even in a cell phone. Computing powers and storage technologies have made large scale data storage and analysis routine. Display technologies are improving everyday with new capabilities like stereo pictures. The communication technologies make it possible to move large volumes of data literally across the globe. These developments have not only brought revolutionary changes in the technologies of surveying and mapping but also in the range of applications of the survey products. Spatial data today is a development tool in the hands of everyone in every walk of life.
The fast changing technologies also bring into focus the legendary disconnect between technologists, end-users and the policy makers. The technologists worry more about technologies than about the user requirements and often resent large scale repetitive assignments. The end-users on the other hand, want magic solutions and are more comfortable with known technologies even if they have been superceded. Often, the user requirements demand integration of data using multiple technologies and the users have difficulties in bringing the technologists together on the same platform. Often the source of information on available technological options to the users are other users and marketing literature, neither of which is complete and up-to-date. The policy makers are neither technologists nor end-users. They always play it safe when it comes to adopting new technology. In fact, policy making bodies across the world have difficulties in adopting to the fast changing technologies.
How do we respond to this? Cartographers need to bring in the latest technologies covering all operations of surveying and mapping and prepare data products in communicable forms relevant to the security and socio-economic needs of the day. They also have a role in policy making and help to bring together all the stake holders.
The two new initiatives of Survey of India, the dual series of maps and the establishment of National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), represent two major policy initiatives responding to the needs of the day. The NSDI is a mechanism that has evolved after several rounds of discussions among both national and international stakeholders to bring in uniformity, quality control and access to diverse data.
The dual map series is yet another landmark policy decision by the government. One is well aware of the difficulties in getting digital maps under the map policy in vogue. The dual series maps attempt to put at least some of the development maps in public domain in digital form after due security clearances. While we do have a long way to go, these are initiatives in the right direction.
We also need to reflect on one recent development, the emergence of Open Source maps like ‘GoogleMaps’ and ‘Wikimapia’, available on the net. These sites have put digital maps of the entire globe in the hands of the public not only to view but also to edit and use. While this has raised some security concerns as well as opened up an entirely new dimension of ‘personalized maps’. How do we cope up with these fast changes? I believe the cartographers should continue to upgrade their technical skills but should also interact strongly with the user community and the policy makers on a regular basis so that the best of technologies and data are available to the users.
The cartographic community, therefore, has a unique role. They need to bring in the latest technologies covering all operations of surveying and mapping and prepare data products in communicable forms relevant to security and socio-economic needs of the day.