At first it might seem that this question has only one answer – vehement “no”. After all India has a survey institution that is 250 years old, and an administrative set up that addresses all major natural and manmade resources management areas, a vibrant space programme that provides data from the visible to the microwave, an elaborate data analysis infrastructure distributed among central and state governments as well as academia, NGOs and industry. Capacity building is addressed through school curricula and university courses and in-service training programmes. This infrastructure supports an elaborate applications programme for geospatial data which results in high class seminar and journal papers. The question is, does it touch the common person?
Why do we have farmers committing suicide with sickening regularity? Why do prices of common commodities like pulses, onions, potatoes and tomatoes vary so wildly that from skyrocketing retail prices we sink to a situation where farmers destroy their excess produce as the prices have crashed? Why do our glitzy metropolises begin to resemble Venice even when the rainfall is below normal? Why are our cities choked with traffic? Why do we still believe that the best way to get rid of a city’s garbage is by dumping it in pristine rural areas? Why do we have fratricidal wars over water? Why is the ground water table receding alarmingly?
India is land challenged. Only half its land area is available for agriculture to feed 1.2 billion people at 0.13 ha per person. The other half is land not arable or under permanent crops; including permanent meadows and pastures, forests and woodlands, built-up areas, roads, barren land, etc. The McKinsey report on the growing urbanisation indicates that by 2030 there will be 590 million people living in cities because 70% of net new employment will be in cities. To meet this 700 to 900 million square metres of residential and commercial units have to be built, another 2.5 billion square metres of roads have to be paved and 7400 kilometres of metros and railway have to be built. All this will cost US$ 1.2 trillion but more importantly will eat into the available land. We have been through Shingur and the POSCO misadventure in Odisha which illustrates the problem of land acquisition for industry. In Shingur it was prime agricultural land and farmers and in Odisha it was forest land and tribal rights which laid low the respective plans Tata Motors and POSCO.
When it comes to water the situation is no better. The ongoing fight between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over Cauvery water sharing illustrates one dimension of the problem. As against a global average of 6000 cubic metre available per capita, India had 3000 cubic metre per capita 50 years ago which has now shrunk to 1123 cubic metre per capita. The availability of water for all uses will nearly double to 1093 billion cubic metre by 2025. This will come from both surface and groundwater. Irrigation demand is in excess of 80% and will remain so in 2025. Urban demand is under 10% but even this is straining supply systems. Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai for example, have to have water piped in over hundreds of kilometres. The rest is used by industry, energy and other uses. Currently, groundwater meets 55% of the demand which includes irrigation 60%, 30% urban and 70% rural needs. Surface water potential is 1900 billion cubic metre but only 700 billion cubic metre is utilisable.
The question to ask is, given these mind boggling demands of land and water what is the country’s plans to meet the demand? In particular does the planning, execution and monitoring processes use modern technologies like geospatial data and analytics? If they do then, how? A recent report that Bengaluru Municipal Corporation used 1905 British era paper maps to decide encroachments on natural drainage! Why, when there is Bhoomi, not to mention the Karnataka Remote Sensing Centre? Under Supreme Court pressure a Cauvery Monitoring Board is now being mandated to resolve the problem. Will the Board use geospatial systems? For example, Karnataka has a State Remote Sensing Centre which has extensive spatial databases on all natural and manmade resources, as does Tamil Nadu.
Quite apart from this there is Bhuvan, promoted by ISRO. A look at the portal shows a very comprehensive geospatial resource for India. Food and Agriculture Organisation, World Food Programme and United Nations Environment Programme are using this resource. Many students and academics also find it as a good source of data. Are the Ministries and Departments of India doing so as well?