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EditorSpeak: Miles to go… and explore the woods


Prof. Arup Dasgupta
Managing Editor
[email protected]

Of late, India has been in the news for wrong reasons: falling growth rate, rising inflation, alleged fiscal improprieties, crime, etc. While these factors grabbed media attention, the real growth story, a growth powered by the use of geospatial technology, has not made headlines. Even the news of the successful launch of PSLV-C20 and its feat of putting seven satellites into orbit, all in the presence of no less a person than the President of India merited a four inch column on page nine of India’s leading daily. The fact that with this launch PSLV has set an enviable record of 95% success rate, also went unnoticed. Successful technologies rarely make news and this is reflected in the scant attention paid to the successful operationalisation of g-tech in government departments.

25 years ago, when India took its first step into operational remote sensing and stalwarts like Satish Dhawan and M G K Menon dreamt of a space-based scientific and technological revolution that would leapfrog India into a technologically enabled society, it would have been difficult to imagine the progress made since then. Today, every major government project has a strong geospatially-enabled backbone. The going has not been easy. While scientists and engineers took to geospatial technology as duck to water, for the rest of India, it was all water off the duck’s back. Fear of technology, fear of transparency and a spirit of ‘if it isn’t broke don’t fix it’ ruled. The trouble was it was broke: cities bursting at the seams, land records not verified since Independence, horrendous power losses and environmental degradation – it was only a matter of time before the facts could not be denied any longer.

Some of the scientific and technical departments soldiered on but for operational departments, used to buying materials, it was a challenge to buy services. What were the deliverables? Is the lowest bidder the best bidder? These were the challenges which had to be met not only by the departments but also by the vendors. It was a learning process. Those who persevered came up trumps. It also helped that, thanks to the IT revolution, many Indian companies won overseas contracts and this provided a learning opportunity. Professional societies also put in their bit through training courses, seminars and competitive awards. Today, states vie with each other to showcase their g-enabled status.

In the words of Robert Frost which impressed India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, ‘the woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep’. Pandit Nehru was a man who dreamt of a modern industrialised India and called the big projects of his times ‘temples of modern India’. Today, India’s IT industry and its geospatial component have become virtual temples. Yet, that is not enough. Those woods need to be explored. Research in geospatial technology is woefully lacking. Very few new ideas are emerging from academia and research institutions and the divide between academia and industry continues to remain un-bridged. Consequently, the full capability of geospatial technology has not been realised. While meteorology and climate change studies have progressed well in the area of geospatial modelling, it is lacking in areas such as urban planning and environmental conservation.

Simon and Moody’s have upgraded India’s growth to 6.1 percent. How much of this upturn will be contributed by g-tech?