‘Geospatial technology should not be misused in the name of development’

‘Geospatial technology should not be misused in the name of development’

North Eastern Space Applications Centre
Department of Space, Government of India

The North Eastern Region of India has made significant strides in the use of geospatial technology for development of the region. Dr. S. Sudhakar, Director, North Eastern Space Applications Centre tells us more about the role of the Centre in the process, and the way forward for more effective utilization of geospatial technology

The North Eastern Space Applications Centre (NESAC) was set up over a decade back to augment the developmental process in the region by providing advanced space technology support. What was the mandate of NESAC and how has it evolved over the years?
Being a centre of Department of Space (DOS), we have the world’s best technology in remote sensing, space science and satellite communications. North Eastern Space Applications Centre (NESAC) has taken up and completed several projects covering the NER states dealing with natural resources census, land degradation assessment, ground water prospecting, wetland inventory and assessment, sericulture and horticulture development using geospatial technologies inputs of which would contribute to the sustainable development of the region over last 10 years of service. NESAC is also implementing ISRO’s SATCOM program i.e. tele-education, telemedicine, village resource centre, communication in disaster management in north eastern states for the benefit of the people as a part of societal developmental programme. In addition, NESAC has been contributing to ISRO’s Geo-sphere Bio-sphere Programme to understand the parameters responsible for climate change. The Centre has also undertaken research to improve regional weather forecasting that will be beneficial for disaster management, particularly flood forecasting and agro-meteorological services.

One of the significant achievements of this centre is that NESAC has successfully launched a project North Eastern District Resource Plan (NEDRP) through which all data generated so far will be available for the district line departments for preparation of detailed project reports (DPR). NEDRP has been recognized as one of the finalists for eNorthEast 2012 Award Summit for such effort. Towards disaster management support programme, another significant achievement of this Centre during this year is successful running of the integrated Flood Early Warning System (FLEWS) in eight flood prone districts of Assam in close association with Assam State Disaster Management Authority (ASDMA), Assam Water Resources Department (AWRD), Central Water Commission (CWC) and India Meteorological Department (IMD). This project has been recently shortlisted for the Prime Ministers’ award. Also, with the launch of space-based information support for decentralized planning (SIS-DP), we are going to a scale of 1:10,000 mapping to look into the village-level information of all states. The main objective of this programme is to make use of space technology for preparation of DPR for implementing various government of India programmes such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY) etc.

What is the usefulness of remote sensing and GIS techniques in resource management? Has NESAC developed any plans for resource management for the region? Rapid advancements in remote sensing and GIS technologies have now made it possible to use and analyse diverse map information which is vital to make sound decisions at the local or regional level planning, implementation of various government developmental schemes and action plans related to resource management. Remote sensing technique is used to monitor changes. Some regions witness problems in getting remote sensing images, when there is cloud cover, which is almost for seven to eight months. With the launch of RISAT, we have seen crop assessment in the kharif region. We have already initiated the process of using data in crop estimation under the FASAL programme in cooperation with the Space Applications Centre (SAC), Ahmadabad. As the terrain itself is a problem, with the availability of counterfeit stereo image, we can generate 10 metre contour interval slopes and we could be able to use the data effectively in monitoring certain issues.

How has geospatial technology helped in connecting the region within and with the rest of the country – in terms of communication, transport etc?
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT), remote sensing and GIS are technologies that are creating new vistas for connecting people, to obtain and disseminate information and to bring about a new revolution in many developmental sectors. Moreover, fast computers and ICT technologies provide ways and means for supplying spatial data to the users on their desktops. Recently, the development of free and open source software has experienced a boost over the last few years.

For example, infrastructure layers including road layer prepared at 1:10,000 scale from high resolution Indian Satellite imagery (CARTO-I) under the project Space Based Information Support for Decentralized Planning (SIS-DP) will provide finer details in the various stages of planning such as finding the gaps, preparing the action/master plan for expansion, widening, improvement of roads etc. Alternate/shortest routing, finding closest amenities as well as selecting potential areas for infrastructure development are the latest addition into geospatial technology. NESAC has developed Election Management System (EMS) in collaboration with Election Department, Government of Meghalaya which has been found to be a real management tool in making more practical policies while conducting the election processes viz. in examining numbers of electors in polling stations, location of emergency services, preparing transportation budget, manpower deployment etc. It also helps the administration to decide the appropriate locations and number of polling stations for smooth running of election.

What are the challenges for the geospatial sector in North Eastern Region? How are they being addressed?
Geospatial technology has to penetrate into the society and in government departments. Few major challenges are frequently observed in India are: data sharing, common data format, duplication, technological gaps, lack of awareness about latest technology etc. In North Eastern Region (NER), in spite of tremendous information available in the custodies of different stake holders and agencies in the form of resources maps, land and water resource plans at micro watershed level etc., dissemination of information to the decision makers, planners and grass root level users is not rapid enough due to poor awareness among the people.

However, many industries are coming forward and doing the jobs for various government departments in NER under various schemes and programme of governments. But, it requires more awareness towards technological advancements to the people of NER for effective utilization of geospatial technology for implementation of various developmental plans.

NESAC has conducted many capacity building programmes, workshop/seminar in various parts of NER for popularising the technology for effective usage. There should be some mechanism at the decision making level for providing proper direction, guidance etc. for smooth cooperation among user departments and execution of projects.

The industry should come forward with more awareness programmes; they should conduct seminars/workshops in the various part of NER in order to make technology understandable to the common users. But at the same time, technology should not be misused in the name of developments.

The views expressed are mostly personal in nature.