Ayon Kumar Tarafdar
Senior Assistant Editor
The new Map Policy of India is definitely a step forward. It is an indication of a new era and paradigm that speaks of a positive outlook towards development, openness and choices. This paper attempts to delve into the Indian spatial data dissemination scenario and bring out a critical opinion of how the present new policy frameworks of the land, affect information and its tryst with development
Geographic information and map data form an important input in any development activity. For both the civilian as well as military purposes, the availability of accurate and updated maps of appropriate scale, precise coordinates, contours and heights of survey control points are vital. In India, a huge amount of geographic data and accurate maps exist. The expertise of related departments and institutes in the country is also legendary. The use of maps has been widespread and varied. However, due to various reasons, the aspect of accessibility of this rich database to the common man has been a challenge for many years. The valuable spatial data of the country revolves in the hands of the experts or specialized departments, thereby raising positive concerns of its maximum utilization. After decades, there has been a recent announcement of revamping of the laws that governed the dissemination of map data for the country. This paper attempts to delve into the Indian scenario and bring out an opinion of how the present new policy frameworks of the land, affect information and its tryst with development. Before we go into the policies, let us briefly try to understand why geographic information is significant for development.
Relevance of Information in ‘collective decision-making’
Development strategies always have a collective ‘well-being’ rather than an individual ‘well-being’ at its core. The physical and human development strategies of any area are often a ‘collective decision-making process’ that affects the residents or a group of people residing in the area, where such strategies are put forth at a point of time. So any planning process or strategies taken by any organisation responsible for it need to have a strong sense of rationality before being concluded upon. Having rationality is pragmatic in such a situation, because the decisions taken are not to affect within the confines of a home but much beyond that. Various theories of power dissemination and delegation to the grassroots are basically steps to bring in contextual logic into the decision making process and enhance the element of rationality – or one may say diminish the factor of autocracy. While decentralization is a ‘process’, which enhances rationality, ‘information’ is the important ‘tool’ that makes this happen.
In simple cognition we understand that when information is available, one’s choices increase. Information also makes any judgment justified. However, not all may agree to this line of thinking. It is true that this is not always as simple as said, and information itself can bring prejudice. But the crux of the matter is that information leads to the first step of rational judgment and decision-making. The utilization of technology is another tool in making collective decision-making fairer and bias-less. Planning processes across the world, whether it is State driven or Corporate driven, have started embracing decision support systems (DSS), which amalgamates information and technology to help make decisions. Spatial or geographic information is a very important component of ‘information’ as a whole when it comes to development planning. The amount of investment and technicality involved in the generation and recording of information of the surface of the Earth is huge and holds massive potential.
In developing countries, the domain of development and of technology – more specifically geospatial information and communications technologies – are conceptually complimentary but practically yet to be fused. There are many organisations, some hundreds of years old, who have the expertise and information of the land surface of the nation. However, in developing countries, cases of actual utilization of geographic information in planning process have been only handful. What is the reason behind such a scenario? One key reason is the lack of awareness about the available tools and technical updates amongst all. This is related to the manner in which technology is developed, customized in a traditional society. However a larger reason lies perhaps in the policy framework of the land. The following section shall discuss the case of India throwing light at how the data forms, flows and gets used.