Geospatial technology refers to tools that can associate data with a particular location of the earth and display it effectively. Using geospatial tools, information relating to geographical names, addresses, settlements, transport networks, elevation, population distribution, land use, water and geology can be linked to a single portion of land on a map. Let’s have a look at how Geospatial technology is developing in India and how land based transactions can make use of this technology.
GIS (Geographic Information Systems), GPS, Light detection and Ranging (LIDAR) for remote sensing and aerial photography, Location Based Services (LBS) are all examples of geospatial technology. Geospatial technology allows multiple layers of spatial information to be available to explore collectively. This technology is increasingly being used for a variety of purposes, especially by the public sector. Governments use geospatial data in urban planning, resilience planning and disaster response, environmental management, agriculture cadastre, irrigation and drainage planning, road infrastructure, defense and safety and much more. Geospatial information also makes everyday tasks possible, often much more than we realize (for a brilliant explanation of this, click here).
The Geospatial environment in India
India’s Geospatial economy was valued at INR 20,629 crore in FY 2018, providing employment to approximately 2,51,300 people and growing at the rate of 12-15% annually. This rate of growth is partially credited to the government opening up the geospatial market through its 11th Five-year plan where the use of geospatial technology was mandated in several government projects such as AgRIS, JNNURM and NLRMP. This helped set the framework for geospatial infrastructure in the country. As of 2019, India is ranked 25th out of 75 nations in the Countries Geospatial Readiness Index. This is not a bad ranking, but considering that India is one of the world’s leading economies and is known for its accomplishments in the IT and space sectors, this number should be higher. Especially taking into consideration that countries with a similar economy like China are ranked 7th on the index. India’s base maps are also at a lower resolution compared to base maps of other countries, resulting in less accurate data (see graph below).
There are several challenges to the geospatial environment in India. One of the main challenges is the lack of a comprehensive policy on the use of geospatial data. In India, mostly due to security concerns, there are 17 national-level geospatial policies and rules (4 in draft stage) spread over 6 different government departments. Even the National Geospatial Policy (2016) failed to remove these existing policies, which could preferably be combined into at least two or three integrated policies to facilitate wider and faster adoption of geospatial technology. Government agencies also need to work on data sharing. There are no well-defined guidelines on data sharing, resulting in multiple agencies producing independent datasets. There have been other missteps by the government, including the drafting of a Geospatial Information Regulation Bill in May 2016. The bill caused an outcry with its restrictive policies and proposed fines on sharing geospatial information without government permission. Thankfully it seems the bill will not be passed into legislation.
The government also needs to up its cooperation with private companies. Private providers contracted by the government for geospatial services often cite untimely payments, continuity issues and a lack of credibility in their dealings with government agencies. Private geospatial service providers also have their fair share of challenges with the cost of setting up and deployment, constraints in data availability and processing and the lack of GIS professionals being a few. The government and private sector will have to work together to solve these issues and create a better geospatial environment in India.
Geospatial technology and land based transactions
Geospatial information is an effective tool for identifying changes in land and property. This information can be used by municipalities to identify changes in property as these are often not taken into account and cause under assessment of property tax. Developing countries like Rwanda have successfully implemented the use of satellite imagery to create tax maps and bring in more revenue for the government. Even in India, the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation decided to use GIS technology for efficient property tax collection after noticing improper recording of many properties.
Through the Digital Land Records Modernisation Program (DILRMP), the Government of India and different state governments have been also working on digitizing cadastral maps and making them available online. This library of information on land and property can be critical for transparency in real estate transactions and reducing the burden of property related disputes and litigation in courts. It could also be useful to property underwriters in giving a more holistic view of the property against which loan is given/insurance is provided.
GIS surveys of land can provide detailed topographic information that allows us to view individual building outlines and boundaries. Such information can be extremely useful to insurance providers and banks/housing loan companies when underwriting property. Many companies abroad, especially insurance companies are leveraging this information and using them in their operations. Aviva UK Insurance has been using geospatial data to get geographic context on properties they insure, allowing them to view important objects nearby such as rivers, ponds and neighboring buildings. This helps them calculate risk factors such as possibilities of floods, fires, etc. and offer reasonable policy prices for individual buildings according to the risk.
Banks and housing loan companies also stand to benefit from Geospatial information. If the properties can be visually mapped, deeper insight on the property can be gained. The usage of land can be determined and nearby colonies, monuments, transportation facilities can be viewed. Possible risks can be calculated. It becomes easier to place a valuation on property for collateral and mortgage uses. This provides a better sense of security to banks and allow them to operate and disburse loans smoothly.
Geospatial information is also very important for real estate investment. The location of property is one of the most important factors in determining its value. The main goal of real estate investors is to invest cheaply in localities that are developing and are likely to appreciate more in value in the future, relative to others. Geospatial data can help to provide and analyze real time information relating to a region’s changing demographics, traffic networks, shopping center usage, flood risk and much more. This helps investors better understand the specifics of different localities and make higher quality decisions.
There is great potential for the geospatial market in India. It is a pity that despite India’s achievements in space exploration, we still struggle with low resolution digital maps. Perhaps ISRO could take a leaf out of the books of NASA, the European Space Agency and the German Space Agency and publish high quality images and data collected, for at least the public sector agencies or researchers. This would provide a great boost to the geospatial environment in the country.
A good sign is there has been evident interest in investing in geospatial technology by the government in recent years. Many flagship programs like Smart Cities, Digital India, Make in India, the Clean Ganga Project and industrial development have significant geospatial components. If this interest in geospatial technology translates into more comprehensive policies on data sharing and the publishing of open raw data, many enterprises and research organizations can build public tools for better policies and learning.
We have included a few sample applications of Geospatial analysis for land and property below:
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