Situated in the southern part of India, Kerala is bordered by Tamil Nadu to the east and south, Karnataka to the north and northeast, and the Arabian Sea on the west. It is popular among tourists for its backwaters, tropical greenery and ayurvedic treatments. The state has the highest literacy rate in the country and hopes to be the first e-literate state in the country.
Kerala’s economy is heavily dependent on remittances from its large Malayali expatriate community which is said to contribute more than a fifth of its gross state domestic product (GSDP) annually. The service sector (tourism, banking and finance, public administration, communications and transportation) together with the agricultural and fishing industries dominate the economy. Nearly half of the state’s population is dependent on agriculture for its income. The state is popular for producing rice, coconut, tea, coffee, rubber, cashews and spices.
The government of Kerala has been a front-runner in implementing many citizen-friendly e-governance projects in the state. While schemes like ‘Akshaya’ have been successful in imparting basic knowledge of computers to people, the government has launched several projects to create inter-departmental as well as government-public interface. It has also taken several steps to implement e-governance at the panchayat level. Some of the projects started by the government at the panchayat level are Sulekha (plan monitoring system); Sevana (civil registration – birth/death/marriage and social security schemes); Sanchaya (revenue collection); Soochika (file management); Saankhya (accounting); Sthapana (payroll/personnel); and Sanchita (information repository).
Government departments like forest, agriculture, revenue, tourism, water resources etc., have also taken to e-governance to bring in efficiency and transparency in their functioning. For example, Commercial Taxes Department has launched e-payment services which enable citizens to make online payment of VAT and KGST.
Kerala State IT Mission is the nodal IT implementation wing of the state government.
Land records management
Land records have traditionally been maintained in Kerala in two completely different systems. While the northern part of the state followed the Malabar system, the southern part had its own survey and settlement method. The challenge before the Directorate of Survey and Land Records is to bring about a common arrangement which supports both the survey systems. Also, the field survey was last carried out in the state in 1908, and is now more than 100 years old, thus necessitating resurvey. “Although the process started in 1967, but due to defective methodology and technological developments, we have not been able to complete the resurvey. We are now in the process of carrying out a geo-referenced survey so that there can be no tampering with the data or records,” said Dr Nivedita P. Haran, Addl. Chief Secretary, Revenue & Disaster Management, Kerala, adding, “Using the old methodology, about 45 per cent of villages have been resurveyed. We are introducing the modern technology in the remaining (55 per cent) area. However, in order to ensure that the data is in a common format, we will be digitising maps of the 45 per cent of villages already surveyed.”
The department has already begun working on digitisation of cadastral maps. “We are right now digitising all records related to government lands. We have created what’s called the land bank – so all the maps, the FMB maps of government lands will be digitised,” said K.B Valsala Kumari, Director, Survey & Land Records.
Talking about the problems faced by the administration, Valsala Kumari, said, “Changing the mindset of our staff members is still a challenge for us. Some of them believe that the old methodology is correct and are uncomfortable with the latest methods,” adding, “The other problem hampering the resurvey work is lack of equipments.”
Meanwhile, the department along with Survey of India is regularly providing training to its staff members in modern survey instruments and digitisation.
Located near the centre of the Indian tectonic plate, Kerala is vulnerable to a multitude of disasters and is categorised as a multi hazard prone state. The state also experiences heavy rainfall and resultant floods during the monsoon. Coastal erosion is severe and frequent, necessitating evacuation and rehabilitation. The state is also vulnerable to cyclone.
“Under the disaster management act, every state needs to have a disaster management plan. Under this plan, we have hazard vulnerability and risk assessment (HVRA) cell. We are one of the first states to set up this cell and it’s functioning now,” said Dr Haran, adding, “As a part of HVRA, we prepare maps – vulnerability maps in the scale of 1:2500.” The HVRA cell is responsible for identifying districts based on their disaster vulnerability, that is, categorise areas as per their proneness to various disasters like floods, landslides, coastal erosion, etc. The collected data is placed as layers on a map so that a complete picture of every district and taluk is available with the department. These kinds of tools are then made available to the field level officers for them to act.
“In addition, again a part of HVRA, we undertake mapping of all our rivers. Although Kerala is a very small state in size, it has 44 rivers running across it and they are all rain-fed rivers. Most of the floods that we have here are flash floods,” said Dr Haran, adding, “So within two to three hours of heavy rainfall in the catchment area, the downstream gets flooded. And downstream are the main cities. Hence, that’s a humongous problem for us.”
The department is planning to place digital sensors at strategic points in all rivers. The data received from these sensors will be available online and through sms. This will enable authorities to predict disasters better and take necessary measures within minutes of water level touching the danger mark.
As part of the World Bank aided Kerala Forestry Project, a separate wing called Forest Management Information System (FMIS) was formed in Kerala Forests and Wildlife Department. The major activities of the FMIS Cell are development and maintenance of FMIS, GIS, official website of the department, maintenance of hardware and software, imparting training to staff, etc.
For the effective implementation of the FMIS system, 17 modules have been identified comprising all the basic functions of the forest department. The modules are:
- Civil Infrastructure System
- Project Financial Management System (Accounting system)
- Industrial Raw Materials / NWFP System
- Court Case Monitoring System
- Fire Protection System
- Natural Forest Management System
- Participatory Forest Management System
- Plantation Management System
- Research Projects Management System
- Progress Reports System
- Personnel Information System
- Offence Information System
- Sales & Retail Sales Management System
- Social Forestry and Nursery System
- Stores, Tools and Plants System
- Forest Development Agency System
- Geographical Information System (GIS)
The department has a full-fledged GIS Lab. It is working on developing a spatial database using GIS and remote sensing tools. The output generated is being used for preparation of working plans/management plan and for supporting the advanced studies conducted in the forestry sector like assessment of loss due to fire, location of gunja cultivation, preparation of landscape plans, etc. Following are some of the future plans of the department:
- Arrangement for uploading real-time data up to forest station level.
- Real-time management of field activities.
- Citizen centric services.
- Compensation for wildlife attack.
The state is now moving from e-governance to m-governance (mobile governance). This would enable the government to offer a wide spectrum of services to its citizens at their doorstep – be it agricultural alerts, citizen complaints to the police, bus route information (KSRTC), electricity billing (KSEB), water bills (KWA) and so on. Geospatial technology, which forms the core of these activities, is certainly facilitating new solutions to improve the lives of people. As Dr Haran puts it, “I think the geospatial technology is going up and up and newer things will come up. It’s only going to make our lives better.”