India: Caught in a jam

India: Caught in a jam


The Indian growth story has suddenly hit the brakes. But geospatial technology could get it out of this mess. What is required is an integrated policy and enabling environment for the sector to give a push to India’s stagnant growth engine

The India government’s annual Economic Survey for 2012-13 has called for ‘careful mapping, assigning of conclusive titles to facilitate land leasing, and creating a fair but speedy process of land acquisition for public purposes’.

Way back in 2001, a report by McKinsey Global Institute had stated that land market distortions accounted for close to 1.3% of lost GDP a year in India. While many subsequent estimates put this figure at 2-3% of the GDP, even at 1.3% this is a straight loss of Rs 1.38 trillion or $25.29 billion a year for the country at current values.

Geospatial technology is fundamental to land records management. In other words, effective use of geospatial and information technologies in India’s land records management could unlock $25.29 billion in the economy. The Indian GDP is estimated at Rs 106 trillion (around $1.94 trillion) at present.

This is but just one example and just a plausible scenario.

Twelve years and two Five Year Plans down, not much has changed on the ground. As the Economic Survey highlights, the biggest hurdle in the Indian growth story in the last couple of years has been land. With a land acquisition Bill pending tabling in Parliament and mega investment projects stuck across the country for lack of clarity on land laws, India’s GDP which even beat the global slowdown in 2008 has really bitten the bullet in last couple of years. Even though the finance minister claims there is an upturn, figures released by the Central Statistical Organisation in February showed that GDP growth in the October- December period slipped to 4.5% — decade’s lowest quarterly growth — ringing an alarm bell for many major sectors like farming, mining and manufacturing. Investments worth more than Rs 5 trillion involving more than 500 projects were shelved during 2011-12.

G-tech to the rescue
But all this could change with effective planning. Given that the need for spatial data for planning is well recognised, g-tech could play a pivotal role in changing the way India charts its growth trajectory once again. “Geospatial technology plays a crucial role in improving governance through better planning, decision making, effective and timely implementation and real-time analysis,” says Kaushik Chakraborty, Vice President, Hexagon India. Understanding this, several states have initiated setting up state spatial data infrastructures.

Recognising the importance of spatial data and geospatial technology in boosting India’s economic growth, the XI Plan (2007-12) had laid a great emphasis on this. While provisioning for around Rs 66 billion in the use of various types of technologies under different ministries, it had also mandated the use of geospatial applications in some of the mission mode projects such as the National Land Records Management Programme (NLRMP), Restructured Accelerated Power Development and Reform Programme (RAPDRP), Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), while actually acknowledging that “location-specific planning using geographical information system … helps in planning for sustainable development.”

However, as we enter the XII Five Year Plan in 2013, a realistic stocktaking would reveal that the progress and implementation have been far from operational and sporadic to say the least.

After the euphoria of the XI Plan, the XII Plan draft is suddenly muted on g-tech. Other than Rs 25 billion provisioned for setting up of the National GIS and mapping of the entire country at 1:10k, there are but very little mention of its use and allocation. Of course, for the Department of Space, the provisions have been Rs 397.50 billion, but the Plan is more emphatic on the Mars and Moon missions. But Rajesh C. Mathur, Vice chairman, NIIT GIS, says, “some of the XI Plan projects will go into the XII Plan. NLRMP, Crime and Criminal Tracking and Network System, National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) will all go beyond the XI Plan. Even JNNURM, which ended with the XI Plan, will be extended into the XII Plan.” The industry also thinks even though the XII Plan or Union Budget doesn’t specifically mention geospatial, the mega development and infrastructure projects in it would ride on geospatial technology.

Required: An integrated policy
The geospatial services industry alone is estimated at $3-billion in India as of 2011 and provides jobs to 135,000 people, says a study by Boston Consulting Globe. It is estimated to deliver an annual efficiency gain of $40-45 billion in revenue terms and $70-75 billion in cost savings. But despite its contributions to various sectors in planning, empowering and enabling, the sector is yet to find a mention in the Union Budget or Five Year Plans. While several sectors such as e-commerce ($5 billion) or animation ($1.68 billion) either already are or are in the process of being recognised as sunrise sectors, geospatial is still recognised as a small cog in the bigger IT wheel.

“Given the way geospatial technology has been enabling national development, it should be recognised as a sunrise sector and get adequate tax breaks and incentives,” says Rajan Aiyer, MD, Trimble India. “But for that various industry bodies like AGI, Ficci and others have to work in unison to present the demands of the sector to the authorities.” Industry insiders believe the lack of a well-defined geospatial strategy and understanding of this niche technology among policymakers and a highly restrictive environment owing to security paranoia is holding back the sector from its realising its full potential.

“We are working with industry chambers like Nasscom, CII and Ficci to build a comprehensive, encompassing strategy for growth of the geospatial sector in India,” says Bharti Sinha, Executive Director, Association of Geospatial Industries (AGI). “Geospatial is not non-IT but it is new IT, and that is why it needs special focus — the right enabling environment, tax, sops and subsidies.”

Geo services have the ability to transform all aspects of life from business to government, says Prashant Agrawal, one of the BCG consultants who worked on report commissioned by Google. The study identifies easier access to data and clearer data sharing policies as some of areas that can boost this sector.

Currently, geo services represent 0.2% of India’s GDP. “However, there is tremendous room to grow this industry and create a competitive advantage for India,” emphasises Agrawal. The impact of geo services is expected to grow at an annual rate of 10-15% for the next five years. What is interesting is geospatial has a multiplier effect, which is expected to go up from 15 to as high as 20 or 30. The figures may sound astounding, but a close look at some of the projects that it has been part of only establishes the point.

Take for instance, the R-APDRP. The investment in geospatial part of it is just 10-15%, but from planning to implementation, or operation, it is core to the project’s functioning. “APDRP’s code is GIS — the geospatial element is central to planning, consumer indexing, load dispatch, checking pilferage or even infrastructure,” points out Arvind Thakur, CEO, NIIT Technologies.

Further, while there is a tremendous amount of cost savings and efficiency in a fully integrated GIS, how can this return on investment be calculated when it is used for empowering and including people? A case in point is the investment by the National Informatics Centre in geospatial technology as part of the complete “systems and support” infrastructure established for e-governance in the country.

Cadastre and land administration
The basic economic problem that India is currently facing is the allocation of the available but limited land among a growing number of users. While this requires a huge political will, on the execution front what is required is proper and effective technology-enabled policy that leads to proper land records and titling.

Although some form of cadastre exists in India, the information is often outdated with incomplete and poorly organised paper records making up for a large percentage of the database, says Charanjit Singh, Director, NLRMP. Lack of digitisation means information cannot be verified or shared, thus its real value is locked up. Land records management is fragmented, with bits of information held by too many departments.

The department, which had launched the NLRMP in 2008 to develop a modern, comprehensive and transparent land records management system with the ultimate aim to implement the conclusive land-titling system with title guarantee, is targeting full digitisation, including GIS maps, and interconnectivity between land records and registration by the end of the XII Plan or 2018. Some states like Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh have made considerable progress. Singh is particularly in praise for the integrated system of Bhoomi (land records) and Kaveri (registration) in Karnataka, which has cut out fraudulent deals. The Haryana government’s use of high resolution satellite imagery for speedier modernisation its records and the Gujarat government’s pure grounded method are also commendable, he says.

However, since land is a state subject, the Centre can only give guidelines. Also, there is also great reluctance among the populace regarding land surveys, especially in a country like India where 70% of the population live in rural areas. Further, the line departments are not keen either on the high-end technology. “We have to convince people that proper land records management is for their benefit as it first establishes their right on the land and then increases the value, reduces disputes and encourages business,” says Bipin Bihari Srivastava, Secretary, DoLR.

Srivastava also thinks that the entire land records and management system in the country needs to be revisited, including some laws that have become archaic. The DoLR knows much is riding on this project and that is why it has kept a strict deadline – end of the XII Plan – for completion. But it is also being realistic. “I think this will spill over to the next Plan,” admits Singh. “This is a huge and challenging programme. Land record is quite a sensitive issue and we should not hurry.”

Unlocking the real value
Integration and computerisation of land records not only protects them, but makes indexing possible for access by various departments. This can help to detect ownership conflicts and track usage agreements attached to parcels. Within a GIS, a parcel’s title chain can be traced, thus eliminating a risk for financial investors and making it easier to establish the property’s capital value. This cadastral data can then be linked to other land attributes as well such as spatial information on topography, environmental conditions, land use and natural resources to give graphical depictions of real property. Some states like Gujarat have not only established a complete cadastre, but the land information system has as many as 20 layers.

Land that is well connected to markets is especially scarce, and “lack of supporting infrastructure causes greater cash burn and distraction of management from core business operations,” says the Economic Survey. The XII Plan has proposed $1-trillion investment for the infrastructure sector, lining up a time-bound, ambitious plan for new roads, railway tracks, ports and airports and upgrade of existing infrastructure.

“G-tech is going to play a very valuable role in utilising these dollars to maximise the benefits for the citizens of the country and thus reflect in the economic growth of the country,” says Rajan Aiyer. However, construction of any big infrastructure project involves automated machines and these machines talk to each other on wireless. At present, the import duties are as high as 25-30% with restrictions on import, operation and support of these systems with clearances required at every stage. “All this takes about six months, by that time the project phase is complete,” says Aiyer. Further, all these licenses are not one-time and a company has to apply for them again for a different project.

Roads & highways
India has the second largest road network in the world with 3.3 million km but about two-thirds of it is unpaved or poor quality. India’s road network logistics and transportation bottlenecks hinder its GDP growth by 1- 2%, finds a KPMG report.

Recognising this, the Budget has given a boost to dedicated industrial corridors connecting metros while contracts for 3,000 km of road projects will be awarded in the first six months of 2013-14. The geospatial industry sees this as a big welcome push for a new wave of industrialisation and urbanisation. From planning to construction and alignment of roads and tracks, to operation and maintenance,geospatial technology can play a big role. Significantly,the XII Plan puts a special thrust on “progressive use of technologies for enabling real-time monitoring of projects,putting them in the right direction,and fast decision making”.

The government’s target of building 20 km of national highways per day under the XII Plan will require the use of state-of-the-art construction automation technologies, admits Atul Kumar, Chief General Manager, NHAI. “The creation of massive highway assets with four /six laning of over 20,000 km of national highways in the last few years has led to the challenging requirement of timely and effective monitoring of their construction, quality maintenance and efficiency,” he says. ICT along with satellite imaging, surveying and latest gadgets like GPS-enabled cameras and video logging, sensor-based monitoring is giving results, he feels.

“Currently the highway department follows the kilometre-based referencing system on road, but we had taken up a pilot on GIS-based National Highways Information System. We hope to take up GIS-based referencing system soon,” says C. Kandasamy, Director General, Ministry of Road Transport & Highways. NHAI’s GIS-based road information system is being populated with data, and there are plans to integrate it with a traffic management system for dissemination of information such as fleet management, incident response, toll, vehicle regulation etc. This can also be used for giving information to travellers.

The Indian Railways is running late in the geospatial track and has just about woken up to its benefits. While so far it had talked about only GPS tracking of trains for passenger benefits and stray projects like night-tracking and fog safety services, the Railways has finally embarked on an ambitious project of creating a GIS-based database of its network and assets, including, track, station and signals to make the operation system efficient.

Under the Rs 300-million plan, an inventory of the entire railway network including land will be created through GIS, says S.S. Mathur, General Manager, Centre for Railway Information Systems. In January, the Railways placed a six-figure order with GeoEye for stereo imagery to use in planning and designing of freight corridors and even two high-speed transportation corridors.

Finally on track
The GIS-based data system will provide information about the life-cycle of a coach, wagon, locomotive, building, signalling system and other assets while making decision making faster in crisis-like situations. Once integrated, the disaster management system will give location and accessibility of accident sites, availability of resources for rescue operation, location of medical relief facilities etc. The railways had started a real-time train tracking project – SIMRAN – as a pilot project along with IIT-Kanpur. The pilot was scrapped in November 2012, which was followed with a similar RailRadar. However, this is not a real-time GPS tracking. The trains are yet to be tagged with GPS.

Significantly, GIS mapping is expected to provide the much-needed financial breather for the cash-strapped Railways in the long run. Railways, the largest owner of land in the country, has not been able to monetise this resource due to deficiencies in its land administration and maintenance of land records. The expert group on modernisation of railways headed by Sam Pitroda had estimated that monetisation of surplus land and airspace could mobilise Rs 500 billion. Calling for GIS mapping of land resources, digitisation of records and perfection of titling at the earliest, the panel had said “for long-term lease and licensing by Railways, land rights must belong to them”.

Further, the Railways is yet to fully exploit the benefits of g-tech in operations and safety. Two years back, the Railway Budget had announced to cover all its eight zones with anti-collision devices. The project, which uses GPS and sensors to determine train location, speed, course of travel and time, has been implemented only on around 2,700 km of track of the 65,000 km route.

The success of Delhi Metro has led to more metro projects for Indian cities. “This can happen with the Indian Railways too,” feels Aiyer. India’s size, population and the rising middle class is ideal for use of high-speed trains as mass transport. “A number of countries, including China, have done it so effectively,” he says

The XII Plan lists out a number of construction projects — dedicated fright corridors, high capacity rolling stock, last-mile rail linkages and port connectivity, and development of logistics parks — areas where geospatial could play a key role. There are also opportunities for surveying and construction automation in the process of track building and improving quality. Enhancing project execution capabilities would be critical for the railways in improving returns on investments.

The civil aviation sector in the country has expanded rapidly with the opening up of domestic skies and airports to private players. At present, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is upgrading and modernising 35 non-metro airports at an estimated cost of around Rs 45 billion while 15 greenfield airports have got in-principle nod.

The airports sector is estimated to require an investment of about Rs 675 billion during 2013-18. The plan to propel India among the top five civil aviation markets could be provided with access to safe, secure and affordable air services through an appropriate regulatory framework and by developing world-class infrastructure facilities.

Flying high with Gagan
Gagan, the Indian satellite-based augmentation system, is a project jointly undertaken by AAI and ISRO. Gagan is designed to provide additional accuracy, availability, and integrity necessary to enable users to rely on GPS for all phases of flight, form en route through approach. A possible certification by 2014 will propel India as the only fourth country to have this facility in the world. According to US defence giant Raytheon, which has provided the ground segment technology for the project, Gagan-equipped aircraft is estimated to save as much as 20% on fuel.

World-class infrastructure comes with geospatial solutions such as 3D indoor mapping and GPS for fleet, vehicle and asset monitoring. “We are seeing companies invest in efficiency-related tools that GIS can provide — fleet management solutions, vehicle tracking and software,” says Rohan Verma, Director, MapmyIndia.

India’s energy sector is increasingly under pressure to deliver a secure supply of energy amid growing demand and fuel imports, notes a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA). India currently has a power generation capacity of 211,766 MW of electricity, which meets only 90% of the demand. The XII Plan recognises “unreliable and inadequate power supply” to be a serious impediment in India. What makes matters worse is the high aggregate technical and commercial losses suffered by power utilities, estimated to be equivalent to 1.5% of GDP. The IEA report says the nationwide AT&C losses were 31% in FY 2010-11, compared to developing economies such as Brazil (17%), China (5%) and Indonesia (10%) in 2009.

A major initiative of the XI Plan was RAPDRP which aimed at “actual, demonstrable performance in terms of AT&C loss reduction”. Launched in 2008 with an allocation of Rs 515.77 billion, the programme covers state utilities in urban areas. The project, which mandated GISbased consumer indexing and extensive network mapping, has seen significant progress in the first part in almost all eligible towns. The second phase has also been launched in some states, with Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh leading the pack. “The benefits will be realised only when they go through energy audit,” says Rajesh Mathur. “Last 3-4 years have been the project phase and we should see the benefits in the coming year.”

However, data updation is a very worrying aspect about R-APDRP since there is no provision in it for that. “Whatever data was generated was done two years back, so updation and recollection is a major problem,” says Pankaj Gupta, Head, GIS Data Collection, Trimble. The industry claims this was brought to the government’s attention but the Power Finance Corporation, the nodal agency for the project, says it is the responsibility of the electricity boards. The power boards in turn say they do not have the funds.

Some of the key recommendations of XII Plan to bring distribution system on track include R&D in advanced metering, distribution automation, utility automation covering SCADA, mapping and GIS, outage management system — areas where g-tech can play a crucial role. The core of building a smart grid, which is the ultimate goal for the power sector, is again geospatial technology.

Power capacity addition target for the XII Plan has been fixed at 88,537 MW. The share of nuclear power is expected to rise from 3% in 2012 to 5% in 2017, another area which is likely to give a fillip to this industry. From identifying uranium/thorium deposits to site selection for plants and disposal of nuclear waste, remote sensing plays a vital role in nuclear power generation, explains A.K. Chaturvedi of the Department of Atomic Energy, who believes nuclear power is India’s answer to clean energy.

Much of the power sector’s woes has been caused due to shortage of coal owing to a drop in production and transportation However, production is likely to rise by 2016-17, thanks to mining giant Coal India Ltd, which aims at taking up around 70 expansion/new projects during the XII Plan.

To achieve these targets, Coal India, which supplies 81% of the coal used in the country, is planning extensive use of geospatial technology, says Chairman Narsing Rao. It already uses g-tech for real-time trip counting system at opencast mines, truck movement monitoring system at weighbridges and coal handling plants mines. “From the pre-mining phase to surveying, exploration, determining baseline data of environmental situation and land use pattern, we are using a lot of these technologies,” emphasises Rao.

Mining, as is known, has huge potential for gtech and the XII Plan opens up further avenues. It has said a database of mineral resources needs to be developed besides calling for a National Geophysical Data Repository and National Drill Core Library. It has also talked about a National Tenement Registry and integrating it with the cadastral maps being digitised under the NLRMP.

Mission mode projects are building blocks of the National e-Goverance Programme (NeGP), which is the key driver for integrating all e-governance initiatives. The ICT structure is poised for growth, as the XII Plan seeks to take NeGP to the next level. “The next phase of NeGP will focus on improving the delivery of public services using the information databases of the mission mode programmes,” explains Hexagon’s Chakraborty, while pointing out “geospatial technologies need to become the key driver … to form the backbone with regard to the processes of governance, decision-making, planning and nation-building.”

In addition, ICT is becoming ubiquitous and intrinsic part of people’s behaviours as well as of business practices, government activities and service provision. Promotion of use of ICT by domestic industry will enhance productivity in priority sectors like agriculture, health, education, retail and automotive. “Information is there in the verticals and we need horizontal exchanges of information. Time is now to integrate all this and GIS is known to be a great integrator and enabler of information,” says Dr Vandana Sharma, Deputy Director, NIC.

The telecom sector has been the most visible indicator and catalyst to economic growth for India in last few years with teledensity increasing from 18.31% to 78.66% during 2007-12. The telecom sector and geospatial go a long way in ensuring sufficient allocation of resources, infrastructure and asset management and customer servicing. Private telecom players in India such as Reliance and Bharti have long been using geospatial technology for these purposes. Now, the government has also recognised the benefits as it calls for a national-level effort to harmonise the policies of various authorities to address issues related to land allocation, power supply, towers erection – all of which needs extensive use of g-tech.

With the successful rollout of 3G services, the country is moving to 4G rollout now. A key thrust area for the XII Plan is to connect all villages with population more than 500 on the National Optical Fibre Network. The NIC and Department of Telecom’s joint vision, the Rs 350-billion Bharat Broadband Nigam Ltd, seeks to realise ‘broadband on demand’ by laying down optical fibre network connecting about 250,000 village panchayats.

The XII Plan recognises the need to provide incentives to encourage the uptake of broadband in sectors like education, healthcare, public safety, government operations, and so on. While this sure opens up new vistas, it will also boost the value-added services market. GPS and navigation have almost become ubiquitous in mobile phones now. “Mobile is driving the LBS space. Every major handset manufacturer now provides a built-in GPS chips in smartphones,” says Verma, recollecting how the Apple iO6 fiasco last year boosted download of MapmyIndia services. Recognising the potential, even state-owned telecom entities BSNL and MTNL have tied up with Russia’s Glonass for satellite-based navigation services.

The BCG study sees geospatial playing a huge role in telecom — its impact is expected to grow at 15 to 20 times in the next five years. Already, about 3.5 to 5% of revenues in telecommunications can be ascribed to it. With the rapid growth in Indian geo services industry expected to ride on the mobile market, telecom sure is a hotbed of activities.

Urban development
As more and more of rural population moves to urban India in search of employment, the infrastructure of our cities will be further strained. As per 2011 Census, 31.15% of India’s population live in cities while contributing to more than 60% of GDP. The Ministry of Urban Development had launched the National Urban Information System in 2006 to develop GIS databases for 152 towns/ cities in the country in two scales — 1:10,000 and 1:2,000. Utility mapping at 1:1000 scale was also to be undertaken for 24 towns. The project is in advanced stages.

On development road
The JNNURM programme, as the first national flagship programme for urbanisation, envisages a total investment of over $20 billion over seven years and has been widely accepted as being effective in renewing focus on the urban sector across the country. Rajiv Awas Yojana under JNNURM, which aims to provide affordable housing for the urban poor, extensively uses GIS and has even laid down a set of guidelines on ‘GIS mapping, MIS development and integration of GIS with MIS’. The Union Budget has allocated Rs 85 billion ($1,547 million) for urban development for 2013-14 with JNNURM getting Rs 550 million.

Significantly, a working group on Urban Strategic Planning has also called for a combination of spatial with socio-economic and financial planning, and transportation with land use and environmental planning. It has also identified lack of enabling tools such as GIS and GIS-enabled management information as one of the major impediments. There is recommendation for a National Spatial Strategy covering national transportation grids and national priority cities, establishment of an institutional ownership for GIS data in state urban information systems and integrated land use and transport planning.

The Delhi State Spatial Data Infrastructure, which has integrated all databases for development purposes, is a good example towards this end and the next step would be moving towards a spatially enabled urban planning for the national capital. While several states are putting in place SDIs, some departments are using geospatial technology in planning for housing, transport, sanitation etc. A number of local bodies, which have successfully used GIS and related technologies are now reaping the benefits by way of effective e-governance and increase in property taxes.

Lack of awareness & trained capacities
For several of the national development projects to be success, geospatial technology has to penetrate into the society and government departments. However, lack of awareness among policymakers and officials often creates great hurdles in the integration of geoinformation into the system. There is also reluctance among line officers to shift to a technology.

Amiya Kumar Mahapatra of Orissa State Application Centre (ORSAC) realised this much to his dismay when the ORSAC started creating maps under NLRMP. “We were told by state officials that RoR was sacrosanct and nothing could come over that.” It took ORSAC years before the state Assembly passed a special Act only last year which provides legal coverage for conducting survey and resurvey with modern technology in the state.

Besides the typical change management problem, there is a genuine lacuna in understanding among people, often even at the highest level. “Officials are not able to understand the techniques. We have conducted training programmes with the decision makers but still they are not able to understand,” says S. Sudhakar, Director of the North Eastern Space Applications Centre.

Andhra Pradesh IT secretary Sanjay Jaju thinks this whole exercise of GIS has not been put into a particular department, which is complicating the issue further. “Many of these activities have been relegated to planning departments who have no expertise in this subject.” Also, state officials often are reluctant to take specialised training and be part of a GIS cell in various departments since they feel they are sidelined from the mainstream. Jaju thinks shifting/ integrating these responsibilities to the IT department will help.

Lack of skilled resource is a great problem in India, with the demand seen at anything between 20,000 to 70,000 over the next five years. “SoI as a national mapping agency is itself in such a crisis; private agencies are in worse state perhaps,” says Surveyor General of India Dr S. Subba Rao. The industry is facing lack of trained manpower even for the ongoing projects. During R-APDRP there was so much of dearth of manpower that people were actually poaching on each other’s resources.

There is no proper system in place to churn new talent. Either we produce graduates in conventional geography or scientists in satellite and remote sensing technology. “But we need more engineers. We need formal educational programmes like B.Tech/M.Tech in geospatial technology,” says Arvind Thakur, CEO, NIIT Technologies.

The sector has developed to an extent that it can be an exciting career opportunity but people do not know about them. Already some universities like Anna University, JNTU, Symbiosis, NIIT and a host of engineering colleges have courses in geomatics but there are few takers. From academic year beginning April 1, the Central Board of Secondary Education will start geospatial technology as a vocational elective in Class XI and XII to create basic awareness about the emerging technologies.

Subba Rao thinks we should have GIS courses at ITIs and government universities. “The government is talking about it and there has been some move by the education ministry. But things are moving very slow.” But then he points to lack of trained faculty in the country. “Most government engineering colleges do not have enough qualified and trained faculty. Who is there to teach GIS!”

A lot of industry people, including the government and private sector, think the private education sector should come forward and start these courses. That is also not a foolproof formula though. As Subba Rao says, most of the passouts from private colleges leave India after a year so for better prospects abroad. “This skillset shortage is not only in India; it’s a problem worldover because it’s an upcoming sector.”

Rural development
Clearly, the road to India’s development goes through its villages, which houses nearly 70% of the population. In keeping with its policy of inclusive growth, India government has been using geospatial technology in connecting with village people and panchayats in a systematic manner. A great part of ISRO’s mission and work by its state-level space application centres have revolved around catering to empowering panchayats with latest technologies such as crop forecasting, information on irrigation, drinking water, sanitation and education through village resource centres.

The Union Budget has allocated Rs 801.94 billion for 2013-14 fiscal towards rural development. However, the departrment also faced flak for its failure to spend on some schemes. “A major problem with rural development is there are too many schemes doing the same things. Geoinformatics can help us connect all this,” thinks M.V. Rao, Director National Institute of Rural Development.

With mega welfare schemes like MNREGA, National Livelihoods Mission and Bharat Nirman, the XIth Plan saw an unprecedented injection of funds in rural development. The XII Plan aims to take these further, as it promotes use of remote sensing, GPS and GIS to prevent social exclusion.

Rural development schemes have been dogged by largescale corruption issues and Rao thinks remote sensing and satellite imagery can monitor some of these works. The draft guideline for MNRGEA has also called for use of GIS as a decision support system. It seeks latitude and longitude information of all works in Web-GIS (Gujarat Model) or in Google Maps to enable realtime progress monitoring.

Rapid urbanisation is progressively reducing the availability of most productive lands for agriculture. With water becoming a scarce resource, India’s heavily monsoon-dependent agriculture has been reduced to contributing only about 14% of the GDP in recent times. Scarcity of cultivable land coupled with a growing population are demanding increased yield per acre to ensure the government’s food security programme. The XII Plan has recognised that an important aspect of land is its degradation, which is threatening the sector’s growth rate. With over 120 million hectares having been declared degraded or problem soils, the Plan has recommended remote sensing and GPSbased support system for rejuvenation.

Even the Union Budget has underlined the need for a “technological innovation” to revamp the sector and allocated Rs 5 billion for crop diversification. The XII Plan wants pilot studies for perfecting remote sensing techniques and GIS/ GPS to develop reliable estimates of area under agro-forestry area under crop production, landuse planning and precision farming. However, Indian farmers are unable to exploit the full potential of GNSS technology due to restrictions.

Rajan Aiyer agrees that is a big problem. However, since agriculture is a state subject, there has been some relief in certain states. Also, given that India typically has small-size farms, precision farming hasn’t been able to take off. “But precision farming can be used in cooperative farming for opitmising use of fertiliser, insecticides etc.”

Forests & environment
India needs raw materials for fuelling its growth. However, its ecological assets are also as important. Further, there are people — tribals to use the layman’s term — who are also dependent on forests. Sustainable development is possible by striking a balance between economic and ecological goals, feels A.K. Wahal, Director General, Forest Survey of India. “Effective mapping of forests and other biodiversity resources go a long way in securing our environment and biodiversity, and also helps in planning and policy making,” he says.

A number of initiatives taken by ISRO, the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the Ministry of Earth Sciences in the recent times have been towards sustainable development while improving the scope and quality of both climate data and other remote sensing applications.

The flagship Integrated Coastal Zone Management project is an ambitious programme to build national capacity for comprehensive coastal management approach in the country. The $285.67-million World Bank-funded project was part of the XI Plan and is implemented by the Survey of India to map the 7,500-km coastline. Launched in 2010, the project is in its first stage now and is working on mapping, delineation and demarcation of the hazard lines, and delineation of coastal sediment cells.

Under the XII Plan, a dedicated satellite for monitoring forest cover, NTFP resource, biodiversity on periodical basis along with change monitoring is also on the anvil.

On the climate side, a number of initiatives and coordination among ISRO and the India Meteorological Department have improved the climate data quality in recent times. Since groundwater accounts for nearly two-thirds of India’s irrigation and 80% of domestic water needs, a new programme of aquifer mapping at a scale of 1:50,000 aims at sustainable management of groundwater. Significantly, the government envisions transforming the MNREGA into India’s largest watershed and groundwater recharge programme.

Disaster management
India with its geographical and climatic diversities is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world. Growing political unrest and inadequate infrastructure add to threat of man-made disasters too. While we have taken huge strides in disaster management since the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, a 2011 UNDP report estimates India still loses about 2% of GDP to natural disasters. Estimates suggest about 60% of the landmass is prone to earthquakes, 40 million hectares prone to floods, 8% area prone to cyclones and 68% is susceptible to drought. The loss in terms of human lives, private, community and public assets has been colossal over the years.

The XII Plan has envisioned a rapidly deployable multi-protocol wireless communication system, interoperable across all the services engaged in disaster management. It has also said digital elevation models along major river systems will be prepared for all river basins while ISRO’s Disaster Management Support Programme will be expanded to include more river basins. The Plan is emphatic on the use of geospatial tools, flood mapping, use of NRSC’s flood hazard zonation maps among others. The ISRO programme provides near-real-time disaster management support. However, what is required is an integration of this with local authorities for ground-level implementation. Also, there are only three disaster forecasting systems in place as of now — flood, cyclone and tsunami. “We need to work towards developing forewarnings for other emergencies like earthquakes and on disaster alert systems,” says Dr V. Bhanumurthy of ISRO.

Rising inflation, slowing growth, constraining budgets and an uncertain global economy are all pointers to a gloomy future. Nevertheless, this slowdown is an opportunity in itself because that is when geospatial as an enabling technology can establish its real value. The industry feels in times of crisis, businesses look to save costs and they look for tools that help towards this. “Besides projects enablement, accurate real-time data helps in quick, transparent and objective decision making. It also empowers the field workers and effective communication with them always saves time, effort and costs,” says Rajan Aiyer.

The recent trend in India clearly indicates the value of geospatial technologies for all nationallevel projects. Hexagon’s Chakraborty sees the sector becoming a key driver for employment. And he is not wrong. The BCG study has shown that the sector already employees 135,000 people while touching 2% of our workforce.

“People have begun to realise that geospatial- enabled services are beneficial for their work – be it people, government or businesses,” says Agrawal of BCG. The report also points to an encouraging trend — increasing public demand and use of geo-enabled services. Consumers are now placing considerable value on geospatial services such as Web-enabled map applications and the value of this consumer surplus is estimated at about $1.5-2 billion.

The industry thinks India is ready for userbased services now. “When we talk about geospatial in India, it becomes very data-centric,” says Rajesh Mathur. “But look at what users want, so the whole data policy and strategy becomes demand/consumer driven.”

Agrees former NRSC chief Dr V. Jayaraman. “Data is no more an issue. We must focus on delivery of applications and services,” he says while identifying crowd sourcing, cloud computing and social networking as the new areas.

The taxation issue, among other things, has to be competitive for global players to come in and make it a viable business, emphasises Aiyer. The sector also requires product innovation for advanced, cost-effective and better geospatial solutions. Also, the current solutions are “data hungry”; to maximise the results from the business requirements, periodic data updates are required to be undertaken in a pro-active manner.

Despite the constraints, the industry is optimistic about the future. As Chakraborty says, “We can make rapid progress with adequate support and encouragement by way of timely policies, incentives and initiatives.” A clearer, holistic and timely geospatial policy, further investments and easier access to data will surely help India realise its vision of becoming a highly industrialised and technology-driven economy while catering to its fundamental policy of inclusive growth.