Although I have trained as a surveyor as a part of my professional training and done many survey jobs, I find myself thoroughly confused whenever the surveyors survey the land. The technical aspects seem to be thoroughly mixed up with the bureaucratic aspects each one seeming to hinge on the other in a never concluding spiral.

Cadastral survey is a very simple concept based on a two-dimensional coordinate system. The important bits of information are the coordinates of the boundary corners that define your land and the acreage that falls within the boundary.

The NLC surveyors are technically competent enough. The hard work of calculating coordinates using manual calculations is now history with the use of total stations. Total stations are literally mini-computers that can calculate distances, slopes and angles instantaneously. Survey data can also be instantly downloaded to laptops and maps produced without even having to sharpen a pencil.

The problem with our cadastral surveys seem to stem from a lack of adequate data and a thorough overlap between technical and policy issues. There is an over reliance on the judgment of the field surveyors, most of them twenty-somethings whose knowledge about surveying is limited to the instruments they use. The work that surveyors do is also dictated to a large extent by the Land Act, which has been written by non-surveyors who have little idea about the possibilities and limitations of survey work.

Even the heads of the NLC seem not to realize how much proper surveys depend on reference markers, the very thing that the erstwhile Department of Survey and Land Records never installed. They expect the world from the surveyors when without references, a survey is just a bunch of coordinates floating in the middle of nowhere.

While the NLC has now begun to install global level reference markers that can be registered and calibrated via satellites, what they have not figured out is how to deal with all the surveys and measurements for which they just have local paper references without even a peg on the ground to calibrate with.

With surveyors regularly being implicated in corruption and sometimes going to jail, the exercise has, even when being done sincerely, become an exercise in self-preservation. Surveyors refuse to take action unless they get a letter from the Gup supporting the land belongs to so and so. This makes little sense when the Gups were recently elected and don’t know plot A from B. But a rule’s a rule.

When my plot of land was surveyed, of 4 acres it was short of 33 decimals or about 15,000 square-feet. This is no small amount obviously. The surveyor’s response to my query was that according to their standard practice, they have a ‘tolerance limit’ of 40 decimals. If your land is short up to this amount or in excess to this amount, then they will neither compensate nor deduct as it is an acceptable margin of error.

When I asked about whether the neighbouring plot owners were short or in excess of land, it turned out that nobody had excess, barring one neighbour, and nobody was short of land.  So how was it possible that only one plot owner was short of land and that to by almost half an acre?

The one neighbour who had excess land of 40 decimals (remarkably close to the amount I was short), had the freedom, according to the surveyor, to pick and choose which part of her land to cut and in which shape. So she conveniently cut out a road around her plot. That doesn’t sound right.

Another important point is that the area is in a rural area where there were never any official demarcation pillars or even reference pillars. The NLC has absolutely no coordinates on individual plots. Their starting point is the claim of the land owner that the border starts here or there. As a reasonable person, a reasonable position is to let the surveyors survey and regardless of what the claims are, in the end everybody should get no more than their recorded area. Those who claimed more should get it cut down and those who were patient and lost out to pushy owners should have their rights protected by the final measurements. If land is short, it should affect everybody equally. If there is excess, then the benefit should also be equal.

But obviously that does not happen. If you claimed more, you can keep more, up to 40 decimals. If you had less measured because of pushy neighbours, then you can lose up to 40 decimals, no questions asked. The system seems to be designed to suit pushiness and unreasonableness.

If any of my information is inaccurate, you can blame it on the surveyors who informed me that they are not authorized to share any of the survey maps. We must all imagine what is happening in our heads. All complaints must be based on our imagination it seems.

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