Good governance delivers better services across all areas of administration. E-governance is a popular terminology today. It basically involves use of technology to reform government work. Increasingly, geospatial technology is becoming the core to many IT programmes in the government. From public utilities to land records to internal security, we are seeing deployment of geospatial technology. With increased use of geospatial technology governance processes are maturing from e-governance to g-governance. G-governance can be defined as the use of geospatial technology to spatially enable policy-makers take informed decisions.
Geospatial technology essentially provides a framework for integrated problem solving. To solve a problem, we need to first understand it. Geospatial technology enables us to understand problems better because it presents issues visually, in a more understandable manner. To move towards g-governance we need to see how egovernance programmes can get a geospatial layer.
Data integration for better governance
Most government programmes operate in silos. To take quick and informed decisions it is important to integrate information. So for example, can we integrate land records with urban solutions and determine how much property tax should be collected from a region? Geospatial solutions facilitate such integrated views which can help the government increase revenues and deliver better services.
NIIT Technologies is currently engaged with many states in a nationwide programme called the Crime and Criminal Tracking Networking System (CCTNS). The programme seeks to automate police stations across all states — FIRs, criminal records and complaint status will be online, enabling data accessibility and transfer. Now, if you geo-code FIR locations, you can analyse crime zones and deploy resources appropriately and take preventive measures for better citizen service. Indeed geospatial technology is being conceived for deployment in the next phase of the programme.
GIS is beginning to form the core of many programmes. Take the Accelerated Power Development and Reforms Programme (APDRP) in India, for instance. The investment in geospatial element may be just 10-15 per cent of the total outlay, but from planning to implementation, or even follow-ups, it is the core to the utilities functioning. APDRP’s core is GIS — assets are geo-coded, it uses satellite imagery, and there are layers of network asset locations and layouts of every township. The latitude and longitude of every electricity pole, details of every household meter and all the characteristics get coded into very rich data. The geospatial element is central to planning, consumer indexing, load dispatch, checking pilferage and even new infrastructure; a good example of an e-governance programme moving towards g-governance.
Public distribution is another great example of geospatial technology serving the grassroots. First you locate the distribution points, and then you capture information to see how much distribution is taking place and whether the subsidies are in line with the volume of goods going through those points. Such g-governance dramatically improves citizen services.
The movement to g-governance calls for provisioning geospatial layers to e-governance programmes such as the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, state SDIs and the National e-Governance Programme. The recent National GIS initiative in India aims to integrate spatial information across different government departments and is a major step towards g-governance.
Hurdles for spatially enabled governance in India
High-quality imaging remains a restrictive environment. We obviously need to be sensitive to the concerns of security agencies but to spatially enable governance approaches to make images available need to be reviewed. Complete benefits from geospatial technology can be derived only with policy reforms in this area. This is a significant challenge which requires the attention of policy makers.
Availability of good talent is another hurdle as for any evolving sector. Most people in the Indian geospatial sector are scientists and we need more engineers. There is a need for formal educational programmes, like B.Tech/M.Tech in geospatial technology. At the NIIT University we started such a programme, but that churns out only about 20 professionals annually. We have to create the infrastructure and awareness to bring out larger number of qualified professionals. The sector has developed to a great extent and it can be an exciting career opportunity today.
Another challenge as with any large programme is managing the change. Bringing in technology is a simple task but the bigger challenge is getting the organisation to operate in the new way. Change management is critical to large programme success and it falters when executive management is not involved and the task for implementation is left to the technologists. Even though technology helps executives do their job better, for most, that’s for the future and not relevant to the current responsibilities on hand. It is important to bring about a level of awareness among line administrators that the success of programme implementation can happen only with their personal involvement.
Evolving policy environment
Awareness on the importance of geospatial technology is growing in India. That a programme like the National GIS has got funding means the government is putting its money behind its intent. With a clear road map emerging at the national level, geospatial is no longer an evolving sector, it has evolved.
Geospatial technology has followed IT developments. When the IT revolution took place in the country during the ’90s, the sector had no policies. The industry collaborated with the government to create IT policies. However, the geospatial industry has many restrictive policies in place pertaining to the availability of maps and images. Government has many priorities. Geospatial Industry bodies have to make its agenda the government’s priority. As during the IT revolution where we saw great collaboration between industry bodies and the government we need some geospatial bodies with large users as participants take up the cause and drive policy reform.