Feel the freeze
Officials in one of India’s fastest growing cities are using unmanned aerial vehicles to update land records in a pilot project that could be rolled out across the country if rules governing the use of drones were simpler, authorities said.
Haryana state’s Project Udaan, or flight, is mapping the technology hub of Gurgaon, a satellite town of Delhi, and the towns of Sohna and Manesar in northern India.
The drone images are being used to update decades-old land records, check encroachments and resolve disputes over land and property.
“While land records are meant to be updated every five years, this is not done regularly and there are invariably errors, even with satellite imagery,” said T.L. Satyaprakash, deputy commissioner in Gurgaon.
“That is why we are using drones, as they are more precise. So we can verify and rectify the land records before they are digitized,” he said.
will be invested in the five-year surveying project by the Indian government. Visitors watch as members of a local winter swimmers club pour buckets of cold water over their daughters, 7-year-old Liza Broverman and 2-year-old Alisa Smagina, during a celebration of Polar Bear Day at the Royev Ruchey zoo in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, where the air temperature fell to -5 C.
India has embarked on a land record modernization program to survey land, upgrade records and establish ownership. The project is scheduled to conclude in 2021 at a cost of 110 billion rupees ($1.6 billion).
Delays in mapping land and authenticating ownership have caused disputes that stall development projects, sparking lengthy court battles. Matters related to land and property make up about two thirds of all civil cases in India, according to Daksh, a legal advocacy group based in Bengaluru.
Haryana state officials sourced drones from Science and Technology Park in Pune to take high-resolution images every three months to record boundaries, illegal constructions and encroachments of forests and public land, Satyaprakash said.
These images were then checked against existing land records and verified with village councils in rural areas before being updated, said R.S. Hooda, chief engineer at Haryana Space Applications Center, which is also working on the project.
“This project can be replicated elsewhere quite easily, but the guidelines for drone use are rather strict, including where they can fly, so their use is limited,” he said.
Rules governing UAVs differ in every state, with permission needed from local police and the Defense Ministry.
“It is a challenge — if it were a little easier to use drones, we can map more areas quickly. We can do so much more in land-related matters with drones,” Hooda said.
At first glance, Mashvisor is just one of thousands of websites specializing in United States real estate.
But it has a unique feature, undetectable to customers: its designers created it in the West Bank and it is run from the Israel-occupied Palestinian territory.
“The great thing about a startup is you can work on it anywhere in the world. You can be in Palestine, you can be in Cambodia, Vietnam, China. It doesn’t matter,” explains Peter Abu al-Zolof, who co-founded Mashvisor more than a year ago.
Last week, Mashvisor became the first Palestinian company to get the support of the influential US citizen 500 Startups venture capital fund.
It is one of a number of startups in the occupied Palestinian territories, long overshadowed by Israel’s so-called “Startup Nation”.
The online platform automates and analyses US real estate data to find investors the best property deals.
As in Silicon Valley, the staff dress casually, drink coffee from state-of-the-art machines in garish colors, and pad through the office wearing US-made headphones around their necks.
But working in the West Bank brings some unique challenges.
In October 2015, a wave of violence broke out across Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Abu al-Zolof ’s friend and founding partner Mohamed Jebrini, who lives in Hebron, found himself stranded in the city as roads were closed, 45 kilometers from their Ramallah offices.
“He was stuck in Hebron and I was stuck in Ramallah and we were still working on our company,” explains Abu al-Zolof.
And the American-Palestinian says the online nature of what they do means they can avoid many of the frustrations for other companies in the West Bank, where the Israeli army checkpoints often present very physical challenges to commerce.
“There are no walls, there are no challenges, there is nothing that can stop this kind of thing,” he said.
“It’s a virtual market, so there are no checkpoints where they tell you: ‘You can’t sell this. You can’t take this out of the country.’ ”
The company benefited from the support of the Ramallah-based Leaders, an organization that helps nurture startups.
Shadi Atshan, Leader’s director general, told AFP that in the startup scene there was “no unemployment — unlike almost all other industries and economic sectors in Palestine which have high unemployment”.
“Those with good skills can earn a very high income.”
The unemployment rate in the occupied Palestinian territories is 27 percent, according to figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
There are no challenges ... there is nothing that can stop this kind of thing.” Peter Abu al-Zolof, co-founder of Mashvisor.
The Ibtikar investment fund has invested around $800,000 in 10 startups so far, according to its executive director Ambar Amleh. She stresses their work is not charity.
“This isn’t work that should be funded by donors or grants. The expectations of making money should be there from the beginning because we are creating companies,” she told AFP.
Palestinians are still a long way behind Israel, where companies in Tel Aviv’s startup scene regularly sell for tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.
But Amleh points out the huge government support for Israeli startups, which don’t exist in the Palestinian territories.
“I think more and more people are starting to see that they really can make something they have been dreaming about come true.”