India’s new map data rules betray small farmers

Geospatial listings are part of a bigger picture. It’s the latest in a string of reforms — land reforms, proposed farming laws, amendments to the forest code, new regulations for drones, plans for land digitization — that have all been pitched as beneficial to individuals, but making it easier for private companies to enter these sectors.

In the past decade or so, successive governments have promised to thrive through “digital governance” in order to force more and more Indians to give up their data – personal and otherwise – ostensibly for their own good. Schemes such as Aadhaar, a unique identifier based on biometrics; AgriStack, which is a collection of digital technologies and databases on farmers and agriculture; health identifier; Others have led to the creation of huge digital databases. Although they are intended for different things, when these databases are interconnected, they form a powerful digital superstructure – with unattended domain crawling, no data protection laws, and superficial regulations on the use and access of that data. With geospatial data now on hand, there is no clarity on how to integrate it or link it to other existing databases.

So while these companies can extract land data and use it to make money, the marginalized people who live in these areas and earn their livelihood are pushed from the land to the fringes. The more the private sector advances to indigenous lands and into the lands of small farmers, the greater will be the control of the former over the land and its resources. This is happening, for example, in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, where a government plan to lease inland waterways to private companies threatens the livelihoods of local fishermen.

Another example of How does this happen, explains Srikanth L. of the cashless mass consumer consuming in a Tweet topic, comes from village surveying and mapping using improvised technology in village areas (Svamitva), which aims to map plots of land in rural populated areas using drones.

Svamitva gives everyone who currently lives in a particular rural area an official deed of his property, which, Singh wrote, would serve as security for the loans. (Land ownership in India can be complicated by the regulations put in place during colonial rule, along with legal loopholes and poor administrative record keeping.) However, Srikanth is skeptical. “This doesn’t mean this can’t happen,” Srikanth says. “It will happen, but not for everyone – perhaps to early adopters.” This is because rural borrowers tend to be outside the formal banking system, sometimes even unaware of the exemptions and credit schemes for which they may qualify, and are largely dependent on informal credit.

However, while the promised safeguards system likely won’t work, Svamitva could become the umbrella under which the drone surveillance infrastructure is built. The Indian government is set to fund a network of Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) – a kind of “highway” for drones to fly autonomously and do surveying – to support Svamitva. Srikanth believes Svamitva’s scheme is using “hanging fruit” to survey residential rural lands to venture into drone technology. Residential land surveying is “less political than the pursuit of farmland, for example,” he says, and when technologies like drone-based deliveries, photography, and imaging become possible, CORS ends up being a major infrastructure the state has invested in.

That these geospatial data regulations come hand in hand with corporations and modern privatization in mining, defense manufacturing, civil aviation, space exploration, and more is perhaps not accidental. Private companies will line up to provide back-end technologies. To collect geospatial data, too, someone will have to provide the back-end technology – operating the drones, mapping data, issuing property cards, etc.

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