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India awaits regulatory authority

The 8th National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) conference at FICCI Auditorium on 22nd December saw the launch of NSDI portal and the India Geoportal (www.nsdiindia.org.in).

Inaugurating the two-day conference, Union Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences, Kapil Sibal informed that the government is formulating legislation on sharing geospatial data among different agencies – public and private. A Bill in this regard, National Geospatial Data Regulatory Authority Bill, will be shortly introduced in the Parliament and is expected to get Cabinet clearance by February.

Exuding confidence, Sibal said, “The new legislation seeks to create an independent regulatory authority that will determine and regulate the basis on which data should be used and shared seamlessly among various departments of the government and other

stakeholders.” He opined that data that is used for public good be made available free. “People can then add value to it. This could be a source of profit for industry.”

Emphasising the critical role of geospatial technologies in a nation’s internal security, Sibal cited Mumbai terror strikes and expressed that with the help of 3D technology, it would have been possible to know the exact location of each room in the ill-fated Taj and Trident hotels. Pointing to restrictions on conducting flights and delays in permissions granted, he admitted that bureaucratic hassles, most of the times, impede technological growth. “We should be proactive rather than restrictive and reactive,” he opined. Other eminent speakers at the inaugural session include Dr K Kasturirangan, Member of Parliament and Dr T Ramasami, Secretary, DST. Dr Kasturirangan opined that spatial data infrastructure is particularly important for public agencies’ tasks since 90% of information used by government has a geospatial connect. Dr Ramasami too stressed on the need for “reducing the bottlenecks for database sharing and policy changes to facilitate this.

PANEL DISCUSSION

Participating in the panel discussion, Mukund K Rao of ESRI India, presented his wish-list for a well-defined policy structure for geospatial domain. As an ‘Indian GIS Citizen’, he wanted that security, which invariably mars the acquisition and availability of data, be never an issue. He took the example of telecommunication industry and brought forward an analogy in terms of identifying ‘a good user’ and ‘a bad user’. He recommended for a comprehensive policy that encompasses all the aspects of geospatial data acquisition and dissemination, be it through ground surveying, remote sensing or aerial photography. According to him, the policy should be able to provide clear-cut answers to multiple aspects which the present policy framework fails to address.

Atul Tayal of Rolta explored the scope of public-private participation and the role of industry in formulating the legislation. Dr Diwan of ISRO hoped that maps, digital or paper, on 1: 50k scale be made available free in public domain so that it gives boost to research activities. He also expected that remote sensing data upto 2.81 m be freely made available in public domain.

Brig Padhi of Military Survey said, “About 2-3 requests come to us daily for the provision of maps of restricted areas. If the request comes from a government agency, we generally grant permission, the ground being that a government user will be using the data for developmental purpose. In case of private agencies/individuals, such requests are generally turned down. We feel bad but in the absence of a system that tells us the full background of the request and usage of data, we are left with no choice.”

The National Informatics Centre (NIC) has already created geospatial systems but they need to be cleared by the Defence Ministry, according to Dr Vandana Sharma. Maj Gen Tanwar of Survey of India (SOI) said, “We should for now try to improve the present geoportal and make it more user friendly. Policy issues are important but they should be dealt in a phased manner. SOI will try and work with the industry and other stakeholders to make geospatial data available but security of the national should also be looked into.” Participating in the industry session on the second day of the conference, Rakesh Verma of MapMyIndia, said that mapping is his passion and he has been able to convert his passion into a profitable business. He added that he banked on the work of 20 odd surveyors and more than 200 employees working tirelessly to cover the entire nation. Ashutosh Pande of SiRF Technologies exhorted the need to stop banning things and remain one step ahead. He showed that SiRF partners have worked to develop innovative solutions.

He said that though the Garmin devices found with the terrorists in Mumbai did work on GPS chipsets, they were also helpful in mapping the route terrorists have taken and now are assisting in the investigation. He suggested that defence forces, intelligence agencies and the police should stay ahead in the race by using technological innovation. Bhanu M of Speck Systems said that there is tremendous opportunity in public private participation. The annual meet has once again brought to the fore the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead for the Indian NSDI.