Home / Opinion / Views /  The Svamitva scheme can revitalize our rural economy

Living in a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP), Durgavati lost her husband at a young age. She brought up her son with meagre earnings from a samosa and tea stall. All these years, she lived under the constant fear of losing possession of her semi-pucca house, as she lacked ownership documents. Her son worked in a nearby town but returned to the village after losing his job due to the covid-related slowdown. He wanted to expand the stall into a grocery and snacks store, but was unable to get a loan for this. An urban entrepreneur can access a loan by pledging property as collateral. But patchy property documents for inhabited areas in rural India make such loans infeasible. Our village maps are more than 50 years old. Informal property ownership results in disputes that clog India’s legal system and account for nearly 70% of pending cases. In the absence of an updated property and asset register, gram panchayats are unable to assess and collect taxes and invest in civic infrastructure, while fast-expanding cities are unable to properly assimilate their adjoining villages as town municipality rules do not apply to rural settlements.

The central government’s Survey of Villages and Mapping with Improvised Technology in Village Areas (Svamitva) scheme is designed to solve the problem at the core of these issues. Launched on 24 April 2020 with the ministry of panchayati raj as its nodal ministry, it is to be executed in collaboration with state governments. Svamitva aims to survey village areas and provide a property card to house owners as their Record of Rights (RoR). Land and real estate accounts for almost 80% of all assets held by a rural household in India. Availability of a loan against property has the potential to create a widespread impact, since more than half of India’s micro, small and medium enterprises are located in rural areas.

As land is a state subject, each state makes its own laws on the process of surveying and mapping land. States are at different stages of making the changes needed in their legal frameworks. A Svamitva pilot project was launched with six states—Maharashtra, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, UP and Uttarakhand—and more than 700,000 property cards have been issued so far. The goal is to cover all Indian villages by March 2025.

Svamitva deploys modern technology and survey methods to collect and analyse data. Professional survey-grade drones are used to photograph the area, and a digital elevation model or a 3D map of the area is created. Geo-tagging of the images is done using reference points provided by the Continuous Operating Reference System (CORS) network. Through over 550 stations being established by the Survey of India across the country, CORS allows real-time data acquisition and offers a useful geo-positioning solution.

The availability of digital maps and real-time spatial data has the potential to catalyse innovation across multiple industries and offers interesting opportunities for entrepreneurs. As per the draft National Geospatial Policy 2021, the data produced by the Survey of India and other organizations using public funds is to be treated as a public good. It will be available for use by businesses, citizens, NGOs, academia and research organizations. The CORS network offers centimetre-level positioning accuracy. The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) industry, which uses spatial information to provide various services, will get a boost. Interesting applications have been found in agriculture, banking and finance, automated mobility, town planning, water resources and disaster management, apart from several internet-of-things applications.

Svamitva uses private drone operators and other ancillary services. This will spur the drone ecosystem through the development of training schools for drone-pilots, indemnifying contract documents, a declaration of procurement intent and an enunciation of data-quality standards.

India could be on the verge of a fundamental change in how land records are created and updated for rural areas. But several challenges need to be addressed as Svamitva is implemented across the country. Amendments in the land revenue laws of states or their Panchayati Raj Acts must provide a firm legal basis for the property cards provided under the scheme. Gram panchayats would need to be supported, so as to institutionalize the collection of property tax based on property card data. In a project of this scale, the inadvertent exclusion of some citizens is a possibility. Before the finalization of maps and issuance of property cards, maps with property boundaries are made available to villagers for verification. On an ongoing basis, states would need to establish a responsive and easily accessible grievance redressal system for citizens. Property transactions in rural areas need to be properly recorded and linked to the database of property cards, to ensure that the maps stay current. This will let financial institutions accept a property card as proof of ownership and thus aid the development of a rural mortgage market.

One of the early beneficiaries of Svamitva, Durgavati was able to get a low-interest business loan with her property as collateral. Her son stayed back and helps her run the grocery shop. The successful implementation of the Centre’s Svamitva scheme and institutionalization of the property card can improve the prospects of millions of such entrepreneurs. It has the potential to fundamentally change India’s real estate and mortgage markets and revitalize the rural economy.

Vinay Kumar Singh and Alok Prem Nagar are, respectively, an economist and management consultant; and joint secretary, ministry of panchayati raj

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