250 Years of SoI With Surveyor General of India
Dr Swarna Subba Rao walks us through the evolution of the organisation and explains how the technological advancements have helped Survey of India to keep pace with the ever-changing demands of the partnering governmental agencies.
Dr. Swarna Subba Rao (Right) at the award ceremony of Geospatial World Forum, 2017. (Image: Geospatial World Forum)
Survey of India, the oldest agency of Government of India, celebrates its 250th anniversary this year. At a celebratory occasion like this, the agency showcased its history at the Geospatial World Forum, 2017 through an exhibition and a play representing how the agency evolved over the years.
On this occasion, News18.com gets into a one-on-one discussion with the Surveyor General of India. Dr Swarna Subba Rao walks us through the evolution of the organisation and explains how the technological advancements have helped Survey of India to keep pace with the ever-changing demands of the partnering governmental agencies.
Q: How has Survey of India grown over the years?
A: Survey of India was started in 1967 by East India Company with a military purpose. Upon the transfer of ownership to the British Government, the organisation started with some developmental activities. Laying down of railway tracks was one of them.
Subsequently, the organisation came under the supervision of the Government of India after Independence. Since then, the role of Survey of India has changed from a military arm to a singular organisation which helps the country in developmental activities.
We have continued on this path from the last 60 years by providing other agencies with infrastructural activities and mapping data.
Q: How has the technology in use for Survey of India changed over the years?
A: The Survey of India has changed a lot over the years. When we started off, the technology was very crude. In fact, we developed some of the technology ourselves. An example of it is the Theodolite, which was made for Survey of India under the guidance of its officers. Some similar equipment were made with our own research. But the technology was restricted to analogue technology.
We have mapped the entire country by the Triangulation method using smaller Transit Theodolite which took a long time. It was a very expensive and cumbersome process.
At the same time, we were producing maps in the paper copies as there were no computers available. We had to print the maps in the paper form and supply it to the various agencies of the Government.
This went on until the era of computers. Once the computers came into the picture, there was a pressure on us to convert our data into digital form. We started doing this in 1980’s and completed it in the 2000’s.
Even for this conversion, the technology was very nascent. We started off using that technology and concluded the conversion in 2005.
In 2005, because of the modern technology available, we could update the maps as well in a very short span of one year.
Q: Is your organisation able to cope up with such changes in demands?
A: The position of Survey of India with respect to other agencies of India continuously changes. Since 2000’s, GIS technology has come into the country and every agency is interested in it.
The basic requirement for any GIS project is geospatial data which the Survey of India provides. This puts us under a lot of pressure to meet the demands for GIS compatible data.
In the last two years, people want more than just the data. Instead, they now require Geospatial solutions. So now the Survey of India is gearing up to provide such solutions to all the government of India agencies, state agencies and to the industry as well.
Now instead of raw data, companies require ‘Attribute data’. This data has to be put in place, then it has to be geotagged properly. Afterwards, it has to be made ready for analysis and we also have to help with its customizations. All this comprises of the Geospatial Solutions.
We’ll be able to meet such demands as well. I don’t see any issue with that.
Q: With so many private companies now in the picture, how do they go about acquiring data from you?
A: Now private companies which work on Geospatial data are requesting our services. Most of these companies render services and do not have expertise on the technological end.
Survey of India provides them with any form of geospatial data required for their operations.
Q: Survey of India used to take years for delivering a mapping data. Now it has reduced the delivery time to within weeks. What brought this change in pace?
A: Earlier, when the hard copy map was printed, the mapping cycle was 15 years. We had to send someone to the field for some field exercises which used to take 3-4 years. Then the map had to be made ready for printing and combining all these time frames resulted in a minimum mapping cycle of 15 years.
Now in the digital environment, editing/ updating of maps is very easy. This has reduced the mapping cycle drastically. Because of such digital advancements, we are able to deliver data in a much faster way.
Q: How do you ensure the accuracy of the data that you provide?
A: Survey of India ensures data accuracy is built in the system. e.g. we carry triangulation method for mapping. It employs the law that the sum of three angles of a triangle is 180 degrees. Our man on the field itself sums it up. If the results are not accurate, the entire practice is repeated till the time accuracy within a permissible limit of error is achieved.
Similarly, in other exercises, we have pre-set standards. We ensure 100 percent accuracy with various types of inspections and validations.
These set quality check standards range from the ‘data collection’ stage itself all the way through mapping cycle.
Q: How has the recently passed Geospatial bill affected Survey of India? Don’t you think the bill goes against the very theme of ‘Digital India’?
A: The bill does not really go against Digital India. It is stringent, of course, in the present form. As you see it’s a draft policy, the government has asked opinions of various stakeholders, including my office.
We have all given every positive response to the government and recommended relaxation in the Geospatial domain for data sharing and other things.
From what I understand with my interaction with others, the government is going to come out with a practical and democratic policy. The draft is not going to be approved.
Q: Survey of India recently experienced a budget cut. Is it affecting your current operations?
A: Budget cuts are all very common in government departments. If we don’t spend any money in one particular year, the government cuts the budget for the next year.
I am not complaining about that because as for today, I’ve got many projects and a good amount of money is coming in through these projects. I will be able to meet my needs without any problem.
I don’t see that as a constraint at all. Secondly, even after the budget cut, the government of India gives enough funding if you justify it. It is not a strict no. So I am not worried at all about this.
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