Today, India is standing at a crossroad where either it takes advantage of the technology or lags behind, believes Vinit Goenka, Member Taskforce (IT) – Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport & Highways
What is the importance of geospatial technology in Digital India?
Geospatial technology gives details up to granular levels and hence the decision makers, planners and architects all benefit through the technology. It brings in speed because you can forecast, foresee and preconceive the challenges which are going to come in way, and that eliminates chances of error and delay. Transparency is also achieved because decision making and calculations of cost can be done better. This is going to be a technology of tomorrow.
What role do you think the government should play for a wider adoption of this technology?
In India, infrastructure has been largely government’s baby; be it on sea, that is ports, or on land, that is roads or highway. It may be waterway projects, aviation, or town-planning, the government undertakes citizen services like water, electricity, drainage, sewage collection. They all are largely with concerned central, state and local government bodies.
Let’s take an example, a house is being brought down and a building is being constructed over it. When they start the construction, they realize there are various small things to be considered like the location of the sewerage lines, gas pipeline, water pipeline, electricity lines and many others.
Naturally, cost escalation happens because the calculations were not done properly at the planning stage. Now, if you have a geospatial model of the area, you know where the nearest water point or gas point is or how the sewerage line runs; and all this gives an added advantage to the planner. Money and time are saved with smart use of geospatial data.
If you have geospatial data, major mistakes like creating railway line over slumps or dumping areas can be avoided. Geospatial technology gives you contour-level details, using information which is above and under. It also tells you about the nearest existing points. I think overall this technology is necessary and the central, state and local governments must take cognizance.
Now whether the maps or the details will come from Survey of India or whether private players should create that can be debated, and policymakers at the highest levels have to decide that. But they will have to bring in precision-based information as part of our everyday workflows, which we don’t have at present.
We have about 15 policies dealing with geospatial, which are often conflicting and mostly restrictive. They do not also address the data sharing and standard issues. Do you think we need one enabling policy?
As any technology ripens or becomes mature and the world changes, there is a need for a relook at some of the policies. That happens with any technology, not just geospatial.
When information technology was introduced in the ’80s, there was internal conflict in the minds of planners and the government and even users on how to implement it. But over the last two decades, we can see that everybody has moved. Hence in the months to come, every infrastructure project will have to have details from professionals of geospatial industry.
Also Read: Why India needs a geospatial strategy?
Today, we are standing at a crossroad where either we take advantage of the technology or lag behind. Now there is a need to consolidate policies and come out with a comprehensive detailed discussion on this policy at the national level.
Also, we should have advisories for the state and local governments, and we should push state governments adopt the central line and discuss about what can be the regional needs of that particular part. However, whether there should be a special department for this or Surveyor of India should do it, or whether it should come under any particular ministry, that is a subject matter of experts and the government. But it’s time we have an independent discussion on these issues.
I personally feel we should have an independent geospatial commission that will have ownership of all maps and all geospatial data. Planners and citizens should be able to subscribe to that data by using information technology or applications. For instance, consider a scenario where a farmer can subscribe to one of the applications for a charge, put his longitude and latitude details, and it gives him the exact location for drilling for water. Now this will help him not only to save money because he has the exact location to drill, but will also save time, protect our natural resources, and with eventually increase the country’s agricultural production.
Another example is of mines — whether a mine should be open cast or closed one. An independent geospatial commission or authority or a department can decide on that.
What are your views on data security?
Technology helps you to reduce errors and forecast in precision. But with IT coming in, there will be challenges of data security and data sovereignty. Data can always be used by ulterior motives by some people. So while we talk about geospatial, there should be a commission, authority or department, as decided by the Cabinet or the Prime Minister, who should unilaterally decide on which data to be shared. There should certainly be an element called data sovereignty and the data generated within the country should remain within the country, in the controls of the Indian authority and Indian laws should be applied on them.
How do we protect data in the digital age?
We can do that by putting relevant clauses in agreements and also making sure that the data does not flow out. The clauses — both legal and technological barriers — can be put in. For instance, ISRO has developed this one facility in Hyderabad where any individual can go with proper permission, and access all the raw data from ISRO. They can sit there and work on it to develop further applications or solutions. People can take their solutions out, but not the raw data. This ensures that the raw data is secure and you don’t have to incur cost once again to create it. These kinds of arrangements should be replicated in major cities so that people don’t have to rush to one particular location. Data sovereignty and data localization are the only answers for this kind of technology.
There is a need of a comprehensive policy which determines the do’s and don’ts and also recommends penalties and punishments for the offense. However, the state should provide enabling/alternative infrastructure so that research and industries don’t suffer.
Along with a policy, we also need capacity building measures. We need close collaborations with academicians and universities to have courses in this field, such as a B.Tech degree in geospatial. We can train lawyers on updated geospatial laws, and engineers on these modern technologies. There needs to be a focus also to make geography attractive at primary education levels.