Written By: Anupreet Kaur/ Posted on: 21 March 2019

Social inequality among the rich and poor has been growing in all urban areas globally. Sustainable urban transformation demands renovation of informal settlements by allotting land rights, improving housing conditions, providing citizen-centric services and livelihood opportunities for the economically weaker sections.

Recognizing the need for land ownership for transforming slums into livable habitats, Government of Odisha notified the Land Rights to Slum Dwellers Act in October 2017. This landmark legislation aims at providing free of cost land rights to the economically weaker sections, limited to 30 square meters in Municipalities and 45 square meters in Notified Area Councils (NACs) for residential use, subject to assessment of tenability of the occupied land.

Though the legislation focused on removal of land ownership related inequality in urban areas, it was termed as “over-ambitious” by the government officials and slum dwellers. The skepticism prevailed due to the failure of similar urban welfare schemes including Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY), Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JnNURM) and National Land Records Modernization Program (NLRMP). The mandate to assign 200,000 land rights to landless appeared to be make-believe.

Shattering the Myth

The radical statute needed path-breaking innovations for the successful grounding of the scheme. Selecting an apt and innovative technological approach with highly accurate result posed the biggest challenge, as it not only involved raising the morale of officials for granting land rights but involved emotions of landless struggling for legal possession of land.

Government of Odisha in Housing and Urban Development Department initiated a consultation involving various stakeholders. Sir Ratan Tata Trust and Spatial Planning & Analysis Research Centre (SPARC) Pvt. Ltd. were invited to participate in the discussions.

Based on the rich experiences in land survey and settlement schemes (NLRMP, RAY, JnNURM etc.) in several states including Odisha, SPARC meticulously evaluated the survey requirements in more than 2300 slums in 109 Municipalities and NACs in Odisha.

The tiny holding sizes (at times less than 100 sq.ft.) and congested slum layout required very large-scale mapping (about 1:100 scale). Adopting conventional land survey methods (differential GPS, total stations etc.) to prepare a correct settlement map was difficult due to complex layout and limited road access in slums. The very high-resolution satellite images also did not provide a clear picture of all the slum dwelling units. After judicious evaluation of technology alternatives, SPARC proposed an out-of-box solution of using micro-drones for fast and accurate survey and mapping of slum areas.

It will take a long time to revive the greenery of the cyclone-impacted areas. Revival of the greenery may not be limited to the above suggestions. Some fruit-bearing plants, besides providing food security, have also been found useful in ensuring green cover.

So far, drone was perceived as surveillance and monitoring instrument. Using drone for the redevelopment of slums had never been attempted. After due deliberations, it was decided to execute the Pilot Survey to finalize the modalities of the slum land survey.

Steering through Drones

SPARC was entrusted survey mapping of about 40 slums in different ULBs of Puri and Ganjam districts by India Housing Federation (IHF), supported by Tata Trust, in October 2017 to examine the output and acceptability among the land settlement officials and slum dwellers.

Structure From Motion (SFM) technique was adopted for mapping of slum areas. Ground control points were marked and surveyed using Differential GPS followed by capturing of aerial photographs of the slum land (including GCPs marked on ground). The ortho-images generated were used in GIS software to prepare slum layout map. Dwelling unit dimensions and occupied area computations from ortho-photos were ground verified by revenue authorities. The results depicted a remarkable output with more than 99% accuracy.

The maps were integrated with revenue land records to ascertain the tenancy and land classification, which are of primary concern while assessing slum land rights tenability.

A unique number was assigned to each ground structure visible on the ortho-image and door-to-door numbering and household survey was conducted to identify beneficiaries based on such image-map.

During the pilot survey, drones were a mini attraction for the slum dwellers who were intrigued with the swirling object generating rapid snapshots of their land. This triggered enthusiastic community involvement during the survey process, thereby winning their trust. Besides the steadfast results, photographs (ortho-image) remained as a time-stamped evidence of ground occupancy for the officials involved in the land right assessment indemnifying them against any future litigation.

Scaling Up for World’s Largest Slum Land Titling Project

With successful results from the Pilot Survey implementation, Housing and Urban Development Department strategically planned association of partners for scaling up the operation to a mission mode project. NGOs were associated at the district levels for community sensitization, formation of slum development associations and household surveys, and facilitated preparation of land rights applications.

On-boarding of officials (Executive Officers of ULBs, Tahsildars etc.) was initiated by the Department through comprehensive training programs. SPARC assisted Government of Odisha in conducting training of more than 600 officials and NGO representatives through theory and field demonstration sessions.

Sir Ratan Tata Trust extended support to Government of Odisha in engagement of Technical Partners and supervised activities of the NGOs engaged by the district administration. SPARC extended support to Sir Ratan Tata Trust in drone-based survey, mapping and geodatabase development in 18 districts and have provided the surveyed output for more than 1000 slums with more than 110,000 households (about 500,000 population) over the past 10 months (April 2018 to January 2019).

The results achieved through this innovation speaks for itself. Government of Odisha has successfully distributed more than 51,000 litigation-free land rights in a mere span of 18 months from the date of notification.

More than a million-population living in urban slums in different parts of the State are to benefit from the law. The initiative has paced towards augmenting the life of the urban poor and building a resilient economic infrastructure for better governance. Government of Odisha had launched the Slum to Livable Mission (Jaga Mission) in May 2017 to oversee the assignment of Land Rights to slum dwellers in a smooth manner followed by provision of housing, urban services (road, drainage, electricity) and livelihood opportunities for holistic redevelopment of slum areas. Drone technology has been a holistic solution for the Government of Odisha to provide a litigation-free livable habitat to the landless dwellers. The drone-mapping process being a transparent, accurate, fast and economic technology has gained immense public and government confidence; and is bound to increase its operational utility in several other projects.


Anupreet Kaur heads the Corporate Communication Department at SPARC Pvt. Ltd. and has a keen interest in geospatial technology advancements for sustainable development.

SPARC is currently working as the Technical Agency for GIS Mapping to Assign Land Rights to Slum Dwellers in Odisha for Sir Ratan Tata Trusts. SPARC has rich experience in several urban development projects such as development of city master plans, slum profiling and tenability assessment, redevelopment of slum areas, land settlement projects, land acquisition monitoring, property tax management systems, urban utility and consumer information systems, over the past two decades under various projects supported by Government of India, Government of Odisha, Government of Uttarakhand, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Government of Ethiopia, etc.

The opinions expressed are of the writer framed after thorough research and intense interaction with the SPARC team involved in the project. The writer can be contacted at anupreet.kaur@sparcindia.com.



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