Home Articles ‘We treat GIS as a platform rather than application to ensure interoperability...

‘We treat GIS as a platform rather than application to ensure interoperability between different functions’

Sheshadri T.
Advisor and Head – IT
Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike

Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike is effectively demonstrating the benefits of GIS in enhancing efficiencies in existing processes, bringing in new reforms, enhancing revenue and reducing expenditures. Sheshadri T tells us more about the benefits of GIS in municipal governance, the requirements for taking it to the next level, as well as future plans while establishing BBMP as a leader in use of geospatial technology

With growing urbanisation, what are the issues that city municipal bodies need to address, especially in a city like Bangalore which is a highly attractive destination not just in India but globally too?

One of the key issues we face is providing proper basic infrastructure. The two core functions of municipal bodies are providing basic infrastructure and services. Basic infrastructure includes roads and related infrastructures like footpaths, parks, primary health care, solid waste management, sturdy drainage system (including storm water drainage, planning and monitoring of growth of city in an orderly manner and also providing civic amenities like bus stations. Basic citizen services to be delivered to citizens include issuing birth and death registration certificates, health services, issuing trade licenses and permissions like building permissions and optical fiber/cable laying permissions.

We need to manage these two functions in an efficient, effective and transparent manner.  Growing urbanisation further necessitates the need to provide these services in a very cost effective and efficient way so that citizens have better quality of life. Municipalities usually tend to carry the impression of being non-accountable and non-responsive. If we want to become a globally recognized city, we need to change such perceptions and work towards in improving our way of functioning to enhance our service levels .

As a city like Bangalore grows in dimensions, the peripheral areas gain as much significance as the central business areas. Industries often eye these areas to set up their campuses and operations because of the space availability. Aspects like connectivity to these areas from the central business districts, as well as amenities like water, good housing, hospitals, well maintained and connected roads, can greatly affect a company’s productivity. So we need to ensure that these areas also offer the same infrastructure as that of core city.

Bangalore is at the forefront of use of geospatial technology in city governance. How and when was the need felt by BBMP to incorporate geospatial technology in its processes?

BBMP was formed in September 2007. The urban local body for the city before BBMP was Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BMP), spread over 225 sq km. With the establishment of BBMP, that area expanded to 800 sq km, combining seven municipal corporations, 110 villages and one TMC. This resulted in a lot of inequality between the core city and peripheral areas of BBMP. The newly added areas were not as developed as the central business areas or core areas (the 225 sq km area covered under BMP). GIS use was initiated in 2003 with the objective of collecting comprehensive information to the extent of about 28 different types of data layers. But even after four years, the progress achieved was very less and it was also becoming expensive. In this initiative, all the information was structured and centered on the ward concept. There were about 100 wards in BMP. In 2007, when BBMP was formed, the number of wards went up to 198, resulting in a lot of mixing up of information. For example, ward number 65 became ward number 35, and so on. Added to this complexity was the area of particular ward, let’s say ward 65, was shared by two or three different wards. The ward area, ward boundary, everything underwent a change. Hence the data collected and work done has to be mostly redone and was of little help. There was a total chaos as a result of that. In the case of property tax management, for example, there was no information on the number of properties in BBMP. The basic need at that time was to have information on the exact number of properties and their nature and distribution pattern in BBMP.  The areas which were added to the erstwhile BMP had different systems. Also, more than 50 % of properties in these areas did not have valid records and no proper book-keeping of properties information. To manage such vast information, we thought that there would be no better proper scientific system than GIS. This system could help manage information like the number of roads in a given ward, or the number of properties – including residential properties and commercial properties. GIS was the best technology to restructure the available information and can address future necessities also as the system is scalable.

BBMP embarked on GIS initiatives in a simple way – we first aimed to complete the 800 sq km of BBMP GIS map preparation, starting with the scientific way of numbering the roads and properties. The aim was to have unique location based property identification number for all the properties in the BBMP area. At BBMP, a number called property identification number, PID, is given to every property in its jurisdiction. Typically, PID has three components  – ward number, street number, and house number in that particular street which makes it unique and also gives its geographical location. We are trying to achieve this fundamental and basic requirement so that we can build and integrate (including the existing systems) all other systems on this platform.

As you mentioned earlier, there are a range of functions performed by a municipal corporation. How and in which aspects of municipal governance is BBMP incorporating geospatial technology?

At present, geospatial technology is playing an integral part in property tax management. We do not treat GIS as an application; rather we treat it as a platform. We are bringing all other functions and systems on to this platform to enable interoperability and intercommunication between different applications and systems of BBMP. In works /project management, we are making use of this tool. The biggest challenge we face is the integration of different applications, for example, building permission licenses or OFC permissions. These have to be linked to revenue management or maybe approach management. We have to connect each of these applications. These applications have been there for a long time, and are proven and time tested. But the problem is that they don’t talk to each other. They are all silos. We need a one particular platform which connects all these applications and where the applications talk to each other.

At BBMP, we have developed a complete GIS platform. Property tax is complete now. Based on that, we have worked on solid waste management, tracking of vehicles and public grievances redressal. Next, we are linking building permissions to property tax management. Another major application we have completed is road cutting, in instances like cutting roads to install UGD line, or any other operation. we are using the GIS platform as validation tool which is very effective in curbing the expenditures by avoiding duplicate and redundant works. The best example our GIS-based road works and inventory module, capturing the works done on any given roads and the inventory of the road attributes. Since each of these roads has a geospatial attribute attached to it; combined with works, it will help the officials to enforce better monitoring of warranty period and also to avoid redundant and repetitive works. This information also helps take up the works on priority basis which needs the attention and work. In this way, we can reduce the expenditure to the extent of minimum of 5– 10 %. This translates to about INR 100 cores savings only in respect of works. Hence we are using the GIS as revenue enhancer (property tax the collection was INR 650 crore in 2008-09 and in 2012- 13 it was INR 1350 crore without increase in the tax rate)  as well as expenditure reducer. In short, we are using as GIS as double edged sword which has increased our effectiveness in the way of improving our service levels and make BBMP as leader in geospatial technology.

Road cutting information management on BBMP GIS portal

In your view, what are the requirements for taking GIS implementation to the next level?

The most critical requirement is having a very clear vision. This vision should be framed from the people who understand how a municipality or a local urban body works. In order to achieve a larger picture, we should have clear vision with timeframes – what we intend to achieve in   three months, six months, and  with involvement of all stakeholders of urban local bodies for this specific work /project, otherwise there will be no credential for it. There is a need for strong leadership to guide the people involved along with him and also to withstand the various challenges. For example, there is resistance to GIS because people involved have to go to field to validate which is not their core function. There is a need to have a very solid work plan which can bring short-term results and long-term gains. For every 6-8 months, there should be specific set  of results. We should be able to instill confidence into the team working, to bring about positive mindset. Small tangible steps that make it happen should be there.

Complaint redressal on BBMP GIS portal

GIS application, if you want to implement it, requires a lot of effort and cooperation from all stakeholders, particularly from the users of this application as well as consumers of this application, both government departments as well as public. These initiatives will be successful in the department if it brings lot of changes in the way they work and the way the results are happening.

Can you highlight some of these tangible benefits accrued at BBMP?

Take property tax, for example, which is the bread and butter of any urban local body. For effective implementation of GIS, one has to demonstrate that property tax management can be done very efficiently and in effective way, without interfering too much in the way they work. Our property tax collection in 2008-09 was INR 640 crore, last year we touched INR 1360 crore. This year (by October 2013) we have already crossed INR 1025 crore from April 1, 2013. We are targeting INR 2000 crore now, without increasing property tax rate. Use of GIS is helping us increase revenue, bringing more and more people into our tax net.  This demonstrates hoe GIS can enhance the revenue.

At the same time, we are developing applications to bring down the expenses. For example, we are implementing road history work management system. Every year, we spend around INR 1050 crore on road related work like footpath maintenance and fault maintenance. We often face issues like a road being under warranty but being re-laid to suit vested interests. We can control 10-20 percent of managing the road works in a more transparent way, by bringing in GIS-based road history management. Engineers should be able to enter road related work into a geospatial map including date and time and geospatial location. INR 200 crore saving is equal to INR 400 crore earning.

Another initiative is optical cable fiber management and licenses applications. Roads are owned by municipal governments. Internet service providers and data providers need to lay optical fibres and dig the road in the process. We give the right of way to them. They pay a very token amount for that road. We are bringing in a completely automated procedure – applying, marking roads online – on a GIS-based system. With this, we are trying to generate about INR 600 crore per year which is a new revenue stream. Similar is the case with road cutting revenue.  Most of the road cutting revenue may not come directly to BBMP treasury because people may feel intimidated by procedures. We are trying to bring in complete automation in this area also and targeting to generate 3-4 times more revenue than the current collection.

These are some ways where the use of GIS is demonstrating efficiency in the existing process, bringing in new reforms, new applications or resources, reducing expenditure and enhancing revenue stream, and benefiting departments and people in the process.

How is GIS facilitating information sharing by BBMP with citizens?

There are a lot of services that a municipal body performs for citizens. For example, it issues birth and death certificates. Citizens now need not come to any ULB office. They can apply online. Similarly, they can also manage their property tax right from their homes. They can calculate the tax by themselves in a very transparent way. Other applications line building permissions, trade licenses – these can also be soon applied online. For example, we have about 55,000 traders listed with our department. But the total number that is eligible to pay is more than 5 lakh. We are facilitating their online processes rather than depend on third parties. This will bring more and more people into the net.

Whichever category of people requires our services, even if they do not pay much, we should value their time. And if you make the process very simple, without much of human intervention and with transparency, people will automatically come and pay their taxes or charges. We are trying to bring in hassle-free services. People themselves may not directly use GIS, but to provide such seamless services, we need a very comprehensive and universally accepted platform called GIS. All these transactions are tagged to a particular place.

What are the future plans of BBMP regarding use of geospatial technology?

One of our major plans is information sharing with other government organizations, sharing our maps and other information with them and identifying gaps between these two sets of data. We are working with Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board to identify how many properties have a valid water meter. There is often a discrepancy between the information provided by the same source to BBMP and BWSSB. For example, in BBMP, a particular house would be declared as being used for self use whereas for BWSSB, he may apply for commercial meter. The property tax for commercial use is twice the tax for self use property. Addressing such discrepancies can benefit both the departments. Similarly, we are working closely with the sales tax department to tally the discrepancies in trade numbers registered with BBMP and bring more people into the tax net. We are also sharing our information with department of posts to plan their operations in more effective way. We are also contemplating making GIS data available to citizens in a different ways. First in the pipe line is introduction of 311 BBMP portal for non-emergency essential services for citizens of Bangalore for their day-to-day travelling, like navigation These small initiatives enhance the feel good factor about the ULBs and also bring citizens and local government together for better governance.