You recently said that the Indian tech sector is set to touch $1 trillion mark by 2023. How will geospatial technologies enable that growth?
The Indian technology sector will become a $1 trillion opportunity by 2023. Broadly, the electronic hardware sector will contribute $400 billion; the IT and e-commerce sector is expected to contribute $350 billion; and the telecom and IoT industry together will bring in about $250 billion. Now, geospatial and GIS will be the software tools that will enable you to see things in a spatial perspective, giving you insights which textual data cannot give. Practically, there are certain aspects of information which are very, very amenable to spatial representation. There is a need to represent all such information which has a spatial element in it on a GIS platform, so that better decisions can be made. Wherever there is a room for GIS-based application, geospatial technologies will add to the whole workcycle. I cannot pinpoint how much the exact size of the geospatial industry will be, but I can say with certainty that we are making a conscious effort to introduce GIS into out e-governance applications and Mission Mode projects in a big way.
It has been some years National GIS was announced. How do you see the project finally taking shape?
There are multiple agencies today doing GIS, which is a good thing because this is such a wide area that every input is welcome. e-Governance projects are also handled by multiple agencies. Today, we have over 8,000 websites in the government sector alone. And yet, I think there could be more. Similarly, we have two major projects to promote GIS. One is driven by NIC, where we have a full division dedicated to GIS. This division focuses both on creating base maps — they already have 1:50,000 map for the whole country and 1:10,000 map for part of the country. And in some specific cases, like Delhi and Mumbai, they have maps going lower down. So, they are creating the base layers at a fairly high degree of resolution.
We have created National Center for Geoinformatics (NGoC) recently; it was launched on December 28, 2015. This center is focusing on development of applications so that people can actually use all this data that we have. For example, we are developing an application for the Ministry of Urban Development, wherein we are trying to map all the government land so that planning of new facilities by the government can be made easier. Since you can see the information spatially, you can figure out things like what will be the impact on the roads when you plan something somewhere. We are doing another application for mines, where we are trying to represent all the mines that exist in the country spatially on a map, which will help the mines department to be able to auction blocks, and manage all the work that they do in a better manner. Both these apps are in the testing stage right now. We are in consultation with the user ministries and they are gauging whether the apps meet their requirement. Broadly, the apps are meeting the accuracy level demanded by the ministries.
Can you tell us about the e-kranti project?
We are widening the overall scope of what we do under national e-governance program in terms of taking up 13 new MMPs. Also, there is an effort for doing PPR. Today we have lot of technological capabilities created in terms of Aadhaar, Digital Locker, E-sign in, online payment. Now, these enable you to do business differently in government departments. So, the idea is to be able to do PPR and leverage the fact that you have Aadhaar which will enable you to do de-duplication, have open APIs, which will enable you to create things like not recreating the databases which exist but fetch it from that sister organizations through APIs which will enable you to take this data, create loosely coupled databases, talking to each other, and GIS, which is again very important and was missing in a lot of MMPs earlier. We will also be introducing GIS and mobile-based applications as a part of this.
All of this creates centralized applications which are hosted in a Cloud, so that they can be made available on software as a service (SaaS) basis to other user departments, organizations and agencies across the country, enabling fast application and rollout. There are several cases that can be mentioned, for example, road transport, driving license and registration of vehicles, e-hospital, e-granthalya. Several such cases are based on the principals of e-kranti.
How will NSDI and NGIS contribute to projects like land mapping, R-APDRP, AMRUT and smart cities?
Suppose I want to know what all roads that have been built under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Suppose I want to connect the roads and know which roads can be widened to serve the largest community. These decisions cannot be taken until I have a spatial display of what has been built. These kind of decisions can only be enabled through a GIS platform. Textual information would be very difficult to comprehend, otherwise someone will have to do a field survey. Similarly, for Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), if I want to plan a new system for drainage in a city, depending on gradients and natural contours, you can do those planning based on a GIS platform. So, I think all the programs which have a spatial context to them will be benefitted significantly as the right applications are created.
Where do you see the role of private industry in all this?
Going forward, the kind of requirements that exist in geospatial domain, it will not be possible for any government department to fulfill all by itself, both in terms of creating the applications (which NCoG is focusing on) and also in terms of implementing some of the solutions that we are offering. For example, if we create a centralized application which will be available to various user states or municipalities or other agencies who are the beneficiaries of this, we will need implementing agencies to implement that. And that will again happen only through private partnership. Developing a new application itself is a role which can be done by various private partnerships. And I think going forward, this whole area is, in a way, new to the government. And once the systems start to stabilize and people start to recognize what all can be done.
One of the difficulties that we face is that people have not started using this technology and applications. But I think this is the initial phase, except in Gujarat and Vizag where a lot of work has been done on GIS applications. Once they start using it, there will be appetite for more, and that is where you would see lot more partnerships emerging for the private sector.