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Going into battle without directions

India must review its map and remote sensing data policies to ensure that the security forces are on top of things. Prakash Katoch writes.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2013 07:29 IST

In April 2013, the Central Reserve Police Force studied a Google Earth satellite map and approached what they thought was a Maoist camp in the Abujhmad jungles that straddle Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. Much to their surprise, they discovered a village (Bodiguda) whose existence no one knew of till then though it is situated 29 km from Bhairamgarh tehsil, which has a police station, in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district.

The story along the India-Pakistan border is no different. If you stand on this side of the border, you can see many villages on the other side. But many of those villages don’t even exist on our military maps.

When the Indian Peace Keeping Force went into Sri Lanka, the Lankan army had far superior maps to ours. Then when the Indian Army went into Maldives in 1989-90, they too had no maps. Even the airdrop at the Male airfield was planned with the help of a tourist map provided by the chief of the Research and Analysis Wing.

The state of affairs is not very different today. The Survey of India (SoI) is in charge of maps within the country and the Military Survey (MS) issues Defence Series Maps (DSMs) to the forces, the paramilitary, the Central Armed Police Forces and the police on demand from the ministry of home affairs.

It is surprising that in a country like India, which faces huge external and internal security challenges, both SoI and MS are neither under the ministry of defence (MoD) nor the ministry of home affairs (MHA) though their existence is primarily to meet the requirements of these two ministries. It is due to this lopsided arrangement that the National Map Policy of 2005 has not been reviewed yet.

India has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world where DSMs are based on the World Geodetic System (WGS) 84/LCC and Open Series Maps based on WGS 84/UTM. These two are incompatible projections and using them is an operational nightmare.

Then, there is the problem of the Remote Sensing Data Policy 2011. The National Remote Sensing Centre acquires and disseminates remote sensing data and all data up to one-metre resolution is distributed on a non-discriminatory basis. Data more than one-metre in resolution has to be screened and cleared by an appropriate agency prior to distribution. This policy also talks of specific sales/non-disclosure agreements for data of more than one-metre resolution. These restrictions are ridiculous considering .5 resolution data is available in the public domain. This implies that our adversaries have access to better data from open sources while we are tying ourselves up in knots. The MS is a white elephant, way behind SoI in technology adaptation and products.

Moreover, nothing is being done to develop a Geographical Information System for the forces. India needs to develop a specific methodology for the preparation of large maps with the use of advanced technologies such as Remote Sensing, Global Positioning System and GIS in an integrated way.

In 2004, the MS was brought under the newly-created directorate general of Information Systems to ensure the inclusive development and deployment of OIS, Management Information Systems (MIS) and the GIS. However, they were shifted out from DGIS in 2011, without even consulting the ministry of defence.

We must review our map and remote sensing data policies and remove the anomalies. It would be prudent to place MS and SoI under the MoD and MHA respectively. Any links to the ministry of science and technology could be done through MoD and MHA. The MS needs to be reorganised. It should be made an ‘all arms’ organisation with a ‘general cadre’ officer at the top, it should be reverted to DGIS and linked to MoD through the Integrated Defence Staff HQ.

Prakash Katoch is a veteran special forces officer
The views expressed by the author are personal