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‘IIRS will enhance focus on research and knowledge building’

Dr PS Roy, Director, Indian Institute of Remote Sensing
Dr PS Roy
Director, Indian Institute of Remote Sensing

An integral part of Indian Space Research Organisation’s initiatives on earth observation research programmes, Indian Institute of Remote Sensing is trying to create its own niche as a independent unit. Dr. PS Roy, first Director of IIRS, tells us more…

You took over as the director of Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) upon its reoganisation as a separate entity of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Has there been a shift in vision and activities of IIRS with this reorganisation?
I can assure you that there is no shift of vision in IIRS. IIRS has been a lead centre of ISRO/DOS in earth observation applications and technologies and would continue to be. However, as an independent unit, IIRS would like to focus on research and knowledge building. It also proposes to develop North-West Himalayas as its research laboratories and contribute towards repository of knowledge for ecosystem processes, its services and conservation.

Can you elaborate upon the profile of students (in terms of level, background) at IIRS and the courses offered? How do you ensure an even learning curve for the different categories of students?
IIRS programmes are organised under two streams, namely education (M.Tech & M.Sc) and training (post graduate diploma and certificate courses). Entry qualification and duration are guided by university rules and procedures. Broadly, the educational qualification for entry in IIRS is graduation in engineering, masters in physical and natural sciences and professional working experience in user departments. The training programmes’ duration is focused towards target groups, ranging from ten months diploma to one week programme for decision makers. Specialised topics certificate programmes are of eight weeks duration.

The curricula for the educational and training programmes are different. The curricula of education programmes are broad-based including fundamentals, conceptual learning and knowledge building and developing a research aptitude. The training programmes are oriented towards skill development and for developing aptitude for implementing projects.

IIRS has several international collaborations. How are these collaborations enhancing the offerings of IIRS?
IIRS has formal linkages with ITC, The Netherlands and University of Illinois wherein we have joint educational programmes benefitting students from India. For research, we have exchange programmes of students and faculty. Besides, we have collaboration with many foreign universities and institutions by way of organising specialized training programmes, summer schools, workshops and conferences.

IIRS is the host institute for the Centre for Space Science and Technology Education for Asia and Pacific (CSSTE-AP) region under United Nations. Kindly tell us more about it? What are the kind of synergies between the two organisations?
In response to the UN General Assembly Resolution (45/72 of 11th December, 1990) endorsing the recommendations of UNISPACE-82, the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs (UN-OOSA) prepared a project document (A/AC.105/534) envisaging the establishment of centres for space science and technology education in developing countries. In 1994, a UN team conducted an evaluation mission of six countries in the Asia Pacific region. Based on the report of the evaluation mission, UN-OOSA notified India as the host country for establishment of Centre for Space Science and Technology Education in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTEAP). The Centre was established in India on November 1, 1995 under an agreement signed initially by 10 member countries of the region. The Centre is hosted by the Government of India with Department of Space (DOS) as the nodal agency. DOS has made available appropriate facility and expertise to the Centre through IIRS, at Dehradun, Space Applications Centre (SAC), at Ahmedabad, Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), at Ahmedabad and ISRO Satellite Centre (ISAC), at Bengaluru.

The goal of the Centre is to develop, through in-depth education, indigenous capability for research, applications, as well as data management in the core disciplines of

    • Remote sensing and GIS • Satellite communications • Satellite meteorology and global climate • Space and atmospheric science.

IIRS campus holds the headquarters of CSSTEAP and runs the RS & GIS programme for CSSTEAP. IIRS also supports CSSTEAP by providing administrative and secretarial assistance to Director, CSSTEAP and manage the CSSTEAP budget. Necessary infrastructure (both technical and construction) are managed by IIRS personnel.

Remote sensing technology is evolving at a very fast pace and new avenues are opening up. What are IIRS’s initiatives to keep pace with these developments in terms of technology transfer?
IIRS faculty, through its research, contributes towards developing research methodologies in contemporary areas in earth observation systems. This research is ploughed back in educational and training programmes. Some of the recent examples are microwave remote sensing data processing, interferrometric SAR, hypersprectral remote sensing for soil nutrient and crop growth conditions, space-borne LiDAR techniques, land use land cover dymanics modelling, bio-geochemical and hydrological process level studies, biodiversity characterisation, landscape ecology, land subsidence, landslide hazard zonatation and snow hydrology. IIRS is integral part of ISROs initiatives on earth observation research programmes. As an independent unit, it is trying to create its own niche.

The institute is expanding its outreach programme under the 12th Five Year plan. Can you tell us more about it?
IIRS has a very inovative distance education certificate programme under ISRO’s EDUSAT initiative. Sixty four universities are connected and every year more than 800 students obtain certificate on remote sensing and GIS. To enhance this scope, IIRS plans to create open lecture theature and e-learning through internet-based technologies. Towards the end of 12th Plan, IIRS proposes to offer PG diploma and certificate programme using space-based communication system and internet-based technologies.

IIRS proposes to build a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional research programme on mountain ecosystem studies and its services. From 2012 onwards, IIRS has included atmospheric sciences and climate science as an optional stream. It is strengthening its faculty and expertise in these areas. IIRS also proposes to establish state-of-art centralised research laboratory with high performance computing facilities for supporting modelling, data mining, soft computing and advanced research in spatial modelling.

IIRS has introduced a outreach programme for school children for 9 to 11th standard on remote sensing application for specific theme. It will definately sensitise the childern at school level towards this technology.

How far does IIRS encourage new application development?
IIRS encourages faculties to take up technology development programmes (TDPs). Through TDPs, the funding provisions are liberal to support the research activities of the faculties. The faculty is also encouraged to registrar for Ph.D in institutes like IIST, IITs and FRI.

Does IIRS work in co-ordination with the industry to understand their requirement and develop courses accordingly?
IIRS has always involved industry in curriculum development. In the recent revision of curriculum of its education and training programme, industry experts have been on the panel. The syllabus has also been circulated among the key geospatial industries and NGOs. Their views have been incorporated.

The industry feels that there is a requirement for training at multiple tiers — science and technology, implementation and application level. Does IIRS address the multiple levels of training?
If you see, IIRS has always focused on targeted, group-based training programmes. It has programmes for professionals, senior managers, practitioners, decision makers and school children.

It is believed that training of trainers is a critical component of capacity building. Does IIRS address this issue?
I agree that the faculty needs to be upgraded from time to time. ISRO/DOS provides ample opportunities to the faculty to improve their qualifications and skills, particularly for developing research skills. Ph.D research is encouraged for young faculty who has joined recently. In specific areas, IIRS sends its faculty to Survey Training Institute (ISM), GSI training institute, IIST and other ISRO centres.

Indian universities offering courses in remote sensing (RS) are often seen to have inadequate facilities or faculty. As the premier RS institute, does IIRS have any collaboration with such universities to strengthen their infrastructure?
I concur with the view that many of the Indian univerisities offering courses in remote sensing suffer from inadequate facilities and faculty. UGC and Human Resource Development should address this issue. IIRS annually organises training programme of eight weeks duration to the university faculties (about 60-70) under ISRO-NNRMS initiatives. During their stay, they are provided free access to course material, power point slides and satellite images. They are also exposed to freely available datasets on the Web and open sources geospatial tools for image analysis, GIS and modelling. ISRO does provide some infrastructural facilities to the leading universities and institutions.

A big market for the geospatial industry is opening up in India with a quantum jump in manpower requirement at different levels, while geospatial education is at a nascent stage. How can this gap be filled?
IIRS has doubled its campus output in the last ten years. In distance education mode also, more than 800 students obtain certificate programme in a year. I agree that while the geospatial industry is growing, there is a underemployment and industry is unable to provide professional learning curve and enhance career growth.

Even while on one hand there is limited geospatially-trained manpower in India, on the other hand those with geospatial education often find themselves without job opportunities. In your view, how can such disparity be corrected?
The industry has to create career growth and learning curve for the young professionals they employ. Geospatial industries need to mature to absorb the professionals at different levels like skilled technicians, technologists, scientists, researchers and innovaters. Even the leading geospatial industry houses do not want to invest in research and development.