‘There are perceptions that geospatial technology is very expensive and highly technical’

‘There are perceptions that geospatial technology is very expensive and highly technical’

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Anand Kumar
Anand Kumar
Programme Director and Head – Geomatics Group
Development Alternatives

Promoting the concept of business-like approach for eradicating poverty and conserving the natural resource base, the social enterprise Development Alternatives Group has adopted recent advances in remote sensing and GIS to make it cost and time effective tool within the reach of a much wider audience and series of applications. Anand Kumar tells us more about the use of the technology by an NGO and how geospatial technology can contribute to sustainable development in India

Please tell us more about the mission and activities of Development Alternatives?

The Development Alternatives Group (DA Group) was the first social enterprise setup to create and deliver sustainable solutions for social and economic development. Established in 1982 and headquartered in New Delhi, the DA Group pioneered the concept of business-like approach for eradicating poverty and conserving the natural resource base on which human development depends. Over the years, it has built up a global presence in the fields of green economic development, social equity and environmental management. It has also built up a strong reputation as an innovator of technologies and delivery systems for sustainable livelihoods in the developing world. Partners and clients of the DA Group include village communities, civil society organizations, local and state governments, agencies and ministries of the government of India, multilateral agencies and private sector institutions across India and in other parts of the world.

How are you using geospatial technology in your activities? What are the kinds of benefits that you have found in incorporating the technology?
The Geomatics group within Development Alternatives has adopted recent advances in remote sensing and GIS to make it cost and time effective tool within the reach of a much wider audience and series of applications. Development Alternatives’ Geomatics Facility, in collaboration with the thematic groups, applies this technology for decision making on sustainable development issues. Development Alternatives is one among the few organisations in the country that has addressed nearly the whole range of issues associated with natural resource management, GIS-based thematic mapping (data collection, collation, interpretative analysis of data and preparation of thematic maps) and preparation of state of environment atlases, resource atlases and planning atlases.
The broad application areas where geomatics group is working are:
Natural resource management – Focuses on natural resource management using remote sensing and GIS. This includes preparation of integrated plans (viz. groundwater prospecting, natural resource atlas etc.), vegetation cover mapping and managing natural hazards (viz. floods, droughts, forest fires and landslides).

Rural development applications – This programme adapts geospatial technology to rural requirements which includes watershed management, wasteland regeneration, community forestry and rural enterprises.
Industrial and urban environment applications – This programme aims to reduce costs and time in industrial and urban environmental planning. Assessment of the impact of industrial and urban activities on the environment, zoning for optimal siting of industries, waste mapping for reuse, recycling and other management measures are some of the applications. Urban networks and services like water supply and sewerage are also designed effectively using geospatial technology.
Biodiversity conservation systems applications – The Facility also applies geomatics technology for biodiversity conservation. Protected area planning including delineation and landuse practices for corridor management, eco-development strategy formulation, and eco-tourism planning are some of the application areas.
Internet GIS – Geomatics Facility applies Internet GIS for various thematic groups/clients to project their data in a user friendly environment

What are the projects you are involved in?

We have been implementing various projects which include environment assessment studies, climate change vulnerability and adaptation assessments, watershed management, developing GIS-based resource atlases for planning and decision making, village information systems, and zoning atlas for siting of industries.

Do you also have global collaborations? How do they enhance your activities in India?

Yes, we have collaborations at regional and global level. This is primarily on conducting state of environment assessments at South Asia and global level, and developing regional sustainable development strategies. DA has been involved in developing the state of environment reports at national, regional and global level. Through regional collaborations, we pilot various tools in the projects being implemented in India.

How do ensure requisite technical capacities among your manpower?

Technical expertise is very important when it comes to delivering the projects/programmes. We have core team members for each of our programmatic area from various subjects, delivering the projects/programmes. We have a full-fledged geomatics facility, comprising of core GIS expertise along with the subject area expertise and requisite infrastructure, both in terms of hardware and software.

In your view, how can geospatial technology contribute to sustainable development in India?

Geospatial technologies, in today’s world are playing a pivotal role in strengthening the business networks, enabling the convergence of information and linking the stakeholders. Thus, geospatial technologies have ushered in a culture of mutual trust and sharing between organizations, stakeholders, regions and nations. India is passing through a phase of rapid industrialisation and development. The challenge before policy planners and development practioners is to achieve the desired socio-economic development while safeguarding the environment. The need for equilibrium between environment and development is crucial. In this scenario, environment and socio-economic information is a vital tool for the decision making process and a geospatial database on the status of natural resources and socio-economic profile is a necessity for the planning process.

You have talked about demystifying geospatial technology for grassroot planning. Kindly elaborate more on it?

Geospatial technology is still being applied top-down in planning and decision making. The real challenge is how we can take this technology in addressing grass-root level planning. We have to do the bottom-up planning and use this technology in consultation with the local stakeholders. We have been using this technology in these areas such as NREGS planning and designing interventions, developing micro-plans of villages/panchayats etc.

Which departments do you work with for geospatial data?

We work with National Remote Sensing Centre, Survey of India, GSI, NATMO, DST, MPCOST, State Remote Sensing Application Center, IIRS etc.

An NGO’s work involves close interaction with policy makers and planning agencies. How do you find their approach towards geospatial technology?

This is a very good question and I think this is the core. We are working as an interface organization with the policy makers and planning agencies and we need to influence the policies and the planning process by giving them the right solutions, so that the funds can be allocated in the right direction. Geospatial technology is very useful tool in conducting assessments and identifying the hot-spots and vulnerable area. The decision makers and planners are very much interested to use this tool for data management and decision making. District planning agencies are interested to design the GIS-based information systems for data management, which would help in developing the district plans in a more effective manner. DA has been involved in providing technical support to few states on strengthening the data management systems using geospatial technology.

In your view, how can the use of geospatial technology by NGOs are enhanced?
Currently, very few NGOs are using geospatial technology for addressing sustainable development issues. When it comes to use the technology, there are perceptions that this technology is very expensive and also highly technical. I think NGOs like DA needs to build the capacities of NGOs to use geospatial technology for planning and designing various interventions. Use of this technology can be enhanced by providing them easy access to geospatial information. NSDI would be very useful tool for enhancing the use of technology by NGOs.