The Svamiva program can revitalize our rural economy

Living in a village in Eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP), Durgavati lost her husband at a young age. She raised her son on the meager earnings of a samosa and tea stand. All these years, she lived in constant fear of losing possession of her semi-pucca house, for lack of ownership documents. Her son was working in a nearby town but returned to the village after losing his job due to the covid-related downturn. He wanted to expand the stand to make it a deli and snack bar, but couldn’t get a loan for it. An urban entrepreneur can access a loan by giving real estate as collateral. But uneven property documents for populated areas in rural India make such loans impossible. Our village maps are over 50 years old. Informal ownership leads to disputes that clog the Indian legal system and account for nearly 70% of pending cases. Without an up-to-date property and asset registry, gram panchayats are unable to assess and collect taxes and invest in civic infrastructure, while rapidly expanding cities are unable to properly assimilate their adjacent villages, as municipal rules do not apply to rural settlements.

The Central Government’s Village Survey and Mapping Program with Improvised Technology in Village Areas (Svamiva) is designed to address the problem at the heart of these issues. Launched on April 24, 2020 with the ministry of panchayati raj as the nodal ministry, it is to be executed in collaboration with state governments. Svamiva aims to survey village areas and provide ownership map to house owners as a Register of Rights (RoR). Land and real estate make up nearly 80% of all assets held by a rural household in India. The availability of a property loan has the potential to create widespread impact, as more than half of India’s micro, small and medium enterprises are located in rural areas.

Since land is a state subject, each state sets its own laws on the land surveying and mapping process. States are at different stages of implementing the necessary changes in their legal frameworks. A Svamiva pilot project has been launched with six states – Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, UP and Uttarakhand – and over 700,000 property cards have been issued to date. The goal is to cover all Indian villages by March 2025.

Svamiva deploys modern technology and survey methods to collect and analyze data. Survey-grade professional drones are used to photograph the area, and a digital elevation model or 3D map of the area is created. Image geotagging is done using reference points provided by the CORS (Continuous Operating Reference System) network. With over 550 stations established by the Survey of India across the country, CORS enables real-time data acquisition and offers a useful geolocation solution.

The availability of digital maps and real-time spatial data has the potential to catalyze innovation across multiple industries and offers exciting opportunities for entrepreneurs. In line with the draft National Geospatial Policy 2021, data produced by the Survey of India and other organizations using public funds should be treated as a public good. It will be made available to businesses, citizens, NGOs, universities and research organisations. The CORS network provides centimeter-level positioning accuracy. The geographic information systems (GIS) industry, which uses spatial information to provide various services, will be stimulated. Interesting applications have been found in agriculture, banking and finance, automated mobility, urban planning, water resources and disaster management, in addition to several Internet of Things applications.

Svamiva uses private drone operators and other ancillary services. This will boost the drone ecosystem through the development of drone pilot training schools, indemnity contract documents, statement of intent to purchase, and statement of data quality standards.

India could be on the verge of radically changing the way land records are created and updated for rural areas. But several challenges need to be addressed as Svamiva is implemented across the country. Changes to state property revenue laws or their Panchayati Raj laws shall provide a solid legal basis for the property maps provided under the program. Gram panchayats should be supported, to institutionalize property tax collection based on property map data. In a project of this magnitude, the involuntary exclusion of some citizens is a possibility. Prior to the finalization of maps and issuance of property maps, maps with property boundaries are made available to villagers for verification. On an ongoing basis, states should establish a responsive and easily accessible complaint redress system for citizens. Real estate transactions in rural areas should be properly recorded and linked to the property map database, to ensure that maps remain up to date. This will allow financial institutions to accept a property card as proof of ownership and thus contribute to the development of a rural mortgage market.

One of Svamiva’s first beneficiaries, Durgavati was able to secure a low-interest business loan with her property as collateral. Her son stayed behind and helps her run the grocery store. The successful implementation of the Centre’s Svamiva program and the institutionalization of the property card can improve the prospects of millions of these entrepreneurs. It has the potential to fundamentally change India’s property and mortgage markets and revitalize the rural economy.

Vinay Kumar Singh and Alok Prem Nagar are respectively an economist and a management consultant; and Joint Secretary, Ministry of Panchayati Raj

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About Keneth T. Graves

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