Swarna Subba Rao
Surveyor General of India
Survey of India is the oldest scientific department in India, set up in 1767. How has the organisation evolved over these years? What is the guiding vision for Survey of India?
When Survey of India (SOI) was established by the East India Company and controlled by the British Empire, it was meant to help British Empire to expand its territory and acquire new areas. After the independence of India, Survey of India (SOI) became the national survey and mapping agency and mandated to create the mapping infrastructure required to take up developmental activities in the country. In recent times, with the penetration of information technology and geospatial technologies like GIS in various walks of governance, SOI has donned the role of producer and supplier of geospatial data. Its primary duty and responsibility is to support the Government of India in its geospatial needs, advice about the future trends and also monitor various developments and activities in the field of surveying, mapping and geospatial technologies on behalf of the Government of India.
Surveying has witnessed lot of technological advancements in the last few decades and a shift from analogue to digital mapping. How is SOI using these technologies? How far has SOI digitised its data?
SOI, since its inception, has embraced and adopted new technologies. When photogrammetry came in, SOI adopted it in 1970s and extensively used this technology in its work. In recent times, it has adopted digital technology and converted all its mapping data into digital form. We now have all our data including the complete 1:50,000 mapping data in digital form. This was updated between 2005 and 2007. In its upcoming major initiative, 1:10,000 mapping, SOI is committed to produce all this data in digital, GIS-ready format so that both the government and industry can put this data to use immediately.
One of the missions of SOI is to promote the use of geospatial knowledge and intelligence by all sections of the society. What are your activities and initiatives in this direction?
SOI has converted all its data into digital form and a major portion of the database is in the form of open series maps which are available for all sections of the society.
SOI is organising various programmes to increase awareness and use of geospatial technology by all sections of the society in general and the student community in particular. Students, mainly from engineering discipline, are being allowed to do training in geospatial technology in various offices of SOI as part of their course and as requested by their institutions. This is greatly helping in building their intelligence and knowledge of geospatial technology which they can use in the future in their respective fields.
SOI is also involved in research. Can you shed light on some of the research activities of SOI?
The Geodetic & Research Branch of SOI is dedicated towards the research work in various fields of surveying and mapping. Various research projects in the field of geodesy, geomagnetism and other areas of mapping are currently being undertaken by this office.
SOI is engaged in surveying for a number of developmental projects in India. What are the key projects you are involved in?
SOI is presently engaged in executing the Integrated Coastal Zone Management project of Ministry of Environment and Forests, mapping of coal mines for Central Mine Planning & Design Institute Limited (CMPDI), mapping of cities on 1:10,000 scale with mapping core areas on 1:2000 scale under National Urban Information System (NUIS) project for Ministry of Urban Development, and some more works. Some more important projects are also being negotiated and these will be integrated with the 1:10,000 project. National GIS is also being integrated in similar lines.
What is the progress on the 1:10,000 mapping project?
Mapping of India on 1:10,000 scale is probably the biggest survey and mapping event in the history of the country. As everyone knows, SOI, with the present manpower strength, cannot handle it alone. In view of this, the Department of Space has been requested to participate in this for which the Department has consented. As the task is gigantic, involving various government agencies, IT industry and outsourcing of a number of services to other agencies, it calls for detailed planning. A team of officers of SOI and the Department of Space have been working on identifying various technical procedures to be adopted, areas where expertise is to be borrowed, services to be outsourced and systems to be put in place for supervising and monitoring the project. Soon after this team submits its report, the project will start in the real earnest.
As the implementing authority of National Map Policy 2005, is SOI looking at upgrading the Map Policy to make it more enabling for the fast growth of the geospatial industry?
National Map Policy 2005 is being updated as National Map Policy 2012. SOI has already submitted its proposals to the Department of Science and Technology. Everyone will find this to be more liberal and it will meet the requirements of the industry.
Are there any initiatives by SOI to facilitate cross-border geospatial data sharing, since several situations requiring timely geospatial data, like disasters or climate change, are not limited to geographic borders?
SOI is a member of United Nations initiative on Global Geospatial Information Management (UNGGIM). In view of the disasters that run across geographic boundaries, SOI is sharing necessary data with UN agencies and working with international groups on these issues.
Is SOI meeting the demand for geospatial applications on mobile platform that require detailed geospatial information with an extensive coverage?
As on date, SOI is providing data to a few vendors and service providers who will do some value addition and put them to use in mobile applications. But 1:50,000 mapping has several limitations in this direction. However, I am sure that the 1:10,000 map will meet all the requirements of mobile mapping.
Increasing location awareness amongst the public, both globally and in India, is generating new markets that NMOs must respond to, How is SOI responding to this? Can partnership with industry play a role here?
Recognising the awareness among general public about the geospatial data, SOI is committed to generate GIS-ready spatial data with limited GIS data content. In the 1:10,000 project, we are expecting a good partnership from the industry.
National mapping projects are capital intensive. Is SOI looking at evolving a model of profitability?
The contribution of SOI towards the nation by way of providing accurate and timely geospatial data yields greater returns on the national exchequer than what can be realised by commercialising this data or SOI services. In view of this, SOI is not looking at any profit-oriented model now.