Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS) – A suite of technologies...

Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS) – A suite of technologies for Local Level Planning


R. Siva Kumar, P.S. Acharya, D. Dutta, M. Prithviraj, Nisha Mendiratta, Bhoop Singh
Department of Science & Technology
Government of India, New Delhi

Drawing up strategies for local level (district and below) development that is sustainable, area-specific and take into account the felt needs of the local people is a complex and information intensive task. Major upgradation of the existing data system at the local level is thus essential. Induction of scientific tools and techniques like Geographical Information System (GIS), Remote Sensing and Web Technologies is necessary to make the data system amenable to quick retrieval, flow and holistic analysis. The Government has therefore, encouraged programmes aimed at developing and inducting appropriate scientific and technological tools so as to upgrade the databases and improve data management procedures at the districts. Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS), is one such initiative of the Government, conceived and launched by the Department of Science & Technology in 1982 with a distinct focus on organizing local level resource databases and demonstrating their utility in local level planning.

NRDMS Programme
Major objectives of the Programme include:

  • Development of district level resource databases on natural resources and other allied sectors based on the concepts of GIS to support local level planning.
  • Provide software support for data management, modeling and operation research.
  • Promote R&D in spatial data management technologies.
  • Training of scientists & potential users.
  • Forge linkages with the users at different levels, documentation and dissemination.

Under NRDMS Programme, experimental database centers have been set up in selected districts of the country to develop the local level GIS databases and demonstrate their utility in local level planning. Data sets are collated from different sources like national and state level survey agencies, line departments, and remote sensing (both aerial and satellite) and converted to digital mode for storage on to the databases for integration and analysis. Required R&D back-up of the task of developing databases and software tools, and putting them to use are provided by leading academic/ research institutions and NGOs. Area-specific application studies are carried out to investigate resource related problems at the local level in sectors like watershed management, energy budgeting, infrastructure development, and landslides. Each district center of NRDMS is provided with a minimal set of hardware, software and technical manpower to support the development and maintenance of the databases and data processing. Manpower staffing the Center provide the required technical support to the line department officials in this task.

UNDP has assisted NRDMS in upgrading the NRDMS methodology by way of providing world class state-of-the-art techniques for developing local level GIS databases and the required tools for using those for decision support in different sectors of local level planning.

Various techniques and tools developed under the NRDMS include improved procedures for local level data management. GRAM++GIS package, Decision Support Modules, GIS databases, Resource Profiles and Almanacs, and Tutors on GRAM++ and GIS. The techniques and tools have been tested using data sets from two pilot districts i.e. Bankura in West Bengal and Kolar in Karnataka for demonstration of their use to the Line Department officials. The data flow characterizing the complete system is shown in the attached Figure.

Improved Procedures
Improved procedures of data management involves “Needs Assessment’ of the end-users, preparation of a conceptual data model, survey of available data and compilation of metadata, identification of data gaps, and preparation of a detailed design of the GIS database. End-users of the database being the officials from Line Department and Zilla Panchayats at the districts, a detailed ‘Needs assessment’ study has been carried out to capture their data needs.

Based on the analysis of the outcomes of the Needs Assessment exercise, a list of data items – both spatial and non-spatial – has been identified. Comparing the data requirement with the data available with the survey agencies has helped identify the data gaps in terms of availability (both coverage or temporal) and spatial resolution and formed the basis of suggesting strategies for meeting the gaps. An assessment of the accuracy of the data collected, sources of data, data definition, expected accuracy, timeliness and their updating frequency has been made for compiling the metadata (“data about data”) for the databases.

On the outcomes of the needs assessment study, a conceptual design of the envisaged database, called a Conceptual Data Model has been prepared using Entity – Relationship (ER) modeling technique to provide a combined view of the district database. The detailed structure of the database and the associated files were worked out using the Data Model. Data (both spatial and tabular) have been collated or collected from different sources, converted to digital mode and put into the database files to construct the database. A set of about 67 maps and 190 tables constitute the core of a district database. Organising such a huge amount of data on the database and making the database usable to the Line Departments and panchayats require proper data organization and processing tools.

GRAM++ Package
A PC based user friendly, GIS software tool – GRAM (Geo Referenced Area Management) – designed and developed a few years ago to cater to the data management needs at the district NRDMS Centers has been upgraded to GRAM++ with additional features and capabilities on Windows 95/98NT platform. The modules in GRAM++ include Import/Export of different data formats, Map Editing, Vector Analysis, Raster Analysis, Network Analysis, Spatial Query Language support for combined attribute and map based queries, Digital Image Processing, Watershed Analysis, and Map Layouting. The package has interface with MS ACCESS for linking maps with collateral attribute data. GRAM++ has been put to organizing the GIS databases and a series of application studies.

A selected set of often – used functions of GRAM++ package has been developed as a collection of programe development libraries that the application developers can use and build GIS application with very small sized code written in Visual Basic, Visual C++ compilers. As per the current standard, these libraries have been created as ActiveX controls and named as GRAM++ tools.

Sectoral Decision Support Modules
Four sectoral decision support software modules have been developed in the identified sectors of water resources management, land use planning, energy management, and infrastructure development. The modules are capable of working on the databases to retrieve the relevant data sets, analyse, and provide information useful for local level planning. While the Land and Water Modules support data processing to generate information on watershed boundaries in a district, watershed-wise surface water availability, crop productivity, biomass yield, and soil erosion status, the Energy Module helps assess the energy demand and supply situations and identify deficit areas in a district/block requiring extra supply of energy. The Infrastructure Module provides tools are locating facilities like health centers, schools, fair price shops and allocating them optimally among villages/ settlements depending on the facilities’ capacity. Training kits on GIS and GRAM++ have been developed for training of staff and other end-users to promote the use of the newly developed tools in the task of local level planning.

GIS databases, Resource Profiles and Almanacs
Based on the ‘Needs Assessment’ study, data sets have been collated from various agencies and Line Departments operating at national, state and district levels. Major national survey agencies that provided data sets for the construction of GIS databases for the pilot districts include Survey of India (SOI), India Meteorological Department (IMD), National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (NBSSLUP), Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), Central Water Commission (CWC), Forest Survey of India (FSI), Geological Survey of India (GSI) and Census of India. Data relating to agriculture, irrigation, cropping patten, road network, health & education facilities, veterinary centers in some instances are collated from the state or district level Line Departments. Limited primary surveys have been carried out in Upper Gandheswari Sub-Basin and Chagalkuta watersheds in Bankura and, Byrasagar and Rampatna watersheds of Kolar district to fill up the data gaps pertaining to the hydrological modeling studies. Similar surveys have been carried out in Kolar for estimating demand and supply of various types of energy. All these data sets are being put together into the database structure prepared out of the Conceptual Data Model based on the “Needs Assessment” study. SOI’s topographic map form the cartographic base for the GIS Databases of the districts. Resource profiles and District Almanacs have been prepared using the above data sets for demonstration to the local level officials and use at the district NRDMS centers.

GRAM++ and GIS Tutors
An Interactive Tutor has been developed to demonstrate the use of each and every function of GRAM++ so that new users can get themselves familiar with the functionalities of the Package in no time. A GIS Tutor has also been developed for use in training of staff from the Line Departments and other local level institutions entrusted with the responsibility of preparing local level development strategies.

In addition to the above tools useful in assessing the local natural and social resource endowment and spread of facilities, pilot studies have been undertaken to examine the socio-economic situation of a district vis-à-vis the next higher planning unit – the state. The integrated database for Bankura has been utilized to estimate indicators like migration, literacy (including gender gap), work force (including gender gap), agriculture, industry, employment, access to amenities like drinking water, electricity, and health services which can be compared with the corresponding indicators for the State of West Bengal for drawing up area-specific development strategies. Estimates of the Human Development Index (HDI) of Bankura and the State of West Bengal have been made by combining life expectancy, adult literacy, enrolment ratio and real GDP Per Capital for use in local level planning.

With the above technological tools and resource databases available at the districts, and the institutions of local self-governance (zilla panchayats) in place, it is expected that the process of local level planning will be more scientific and take into account the local resources, and the locally felt needs of the people while drawing up local development strategies. Based on this experience and upgradation of the methodology and tools, NRDMS is now poised towards forging functional linkages with various User Departments and Ministries like Ministries of Rural Development, Agriculture, Water Resources, and Health & Family Welfare. Such linkages are expected to build up the desired spatial data management capabilities into their activities.