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NSDI in India an endless odyssey…

Bal Krishna


Bal Krishna
Associate Editor, GIS Development, India
[email protected]

In India there seems to be a commitment from the top most policy makers to develop NSDI. However, it will not be a bad idea to evolve a realistic time-frame for its implementation in a phased manner incorporating immediate, short term and long term actions and goals.

“Right to spatial information should be recognized as a fundamental part of the Right to Information,” emphasized Mr Amitabha Pande, Joint Secretary, the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India in an interview with GIS Development. He mentioned three significant developments that have taken place in India. Firstly, Survey of India is beginning to work out strategic alliances with industry and have already introduced in the market some new products in collaboration with industry. Secondly, it is taking much more active role in NSDI as a leader and driver. And thirdly, it has increased the pace of digitization in the data assets exponentially ([email protected], April 2003).

Undoubtedly, the level of debate regarding policies pertaining to the availability of geographic data in India has gone up from ‘what’ and ‘why’ to ‘how’ and ‘when’. If ‘change in mindset’ has been a pre-requisite to change in policy scenario regarding the accessibility of geographic data, then statements of such nature emanating from a senior bureaucrat and policy maker of the Government of India are of utmost significance as they indicate that the mindset is changing. However, to make National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) a reality in India many such ideas and words need to be translated into visible actions and tangible outcomes.

Looking back
In February 2001, a workshop “National Geospatial Data Infrastructure (NGDI): Towards a roadmap for India” was organized by Centre for Spatial Database Management and Solutions (CSDMS) and was sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the Department of Space. The workshop was attended by over 250 delegates from Government, academia, GIS industry from India as well as from overseas. In my report I had mentioned that the workshop could be considered as a landmark development on two counts: one, it was the first public poser of Government of India on NSDI and second, was the release of a discussion document titled NSDI: Strategy and Action Plan – a comprehensive document that not only discusses the need, content and design elements of NSDI but also elaborates upon its organizational framework, funding mechanism and its implementation. The document can be seen at www.nsdiindia.org.

In April 2002, on the occasion of bi-centennial celebrations of the Great Arc, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Science and Technology and Ocean Development, Government of India made some landmark announcements: Survey of India (SoI) plans to revitalize, modernize and re-engineer the institution, SoI intends to offer a wide range of products and services to meet the geo-spatial needs of users and NSDI will be launched by August 15th 2002 ([email protected], April 2002). In addition, in his opening remarks at 14th meeting of Task Force on NSDI held on July 17, 2002 Mr Amitabha Pande, Joint Secretary DST reaffirmed the resolve of the Government to make NSDI operational by 15th August 2002 despite certain bottlenecks faced by the department with regard to the Map Restriction Policy of the Ministry of Defence (www.nsdiindia.org).

A few days later, the 2nd workshop on NSDI was organized by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) at Ooty during July 29-31, 2003. The Ooty Communique for NSDI, adopted on 31st July in the presence of 158 delegates from 48 departments/agencies participating in the workshop, and Secretaries to Government of India, Department of Space, Science and Technology, Rural Development, Information Technology resolved for NSDI to become operational at the earliest so that India would become one of the select few nations which have successfully implemented such an infrastructure ([email protected], August 2002). Interestingly, the communiqué sidelined the August 15th deadline which was earlier declared by no less a personality than the Union Minister of Human Resource Development, Science and Technology and Ocean Development himself.

In February 2003, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi while addressing a meeting of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee of the Ministry of Science and Technology said that that the task force had underscored the need to speed up the process of positioning the NSDI at the earliest. Dr Joshi informed the members that it was proposed to be done through an executive order in about four months after obtaining Cabinet approval. Substantial data would start being available within six months from the NSDI. However, a full-fledged and fully equipped NSDI, covering upto the village level would be ready in three to five years ([email protected], February 2003).

NSDI in India: Back and forth
Understandably, there are problems. As admitted by Dr R Siva Kumar, Head (NRDMS & NSDI) and Member Secretary of Task Force at 16th meeting of the Task Force held on 31st March, 2003. He explained certain difficulties that were being faced in operationalising NSDI metadata and standards, etc. He stated that except for SoI, Geological Survey of India (GSI) and National Informatics Centre (NIC), no other agency had responded with information relating to the readiness of their data.