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My reflection on Indian NSDI

National Spatial Data Infrastructure is firmly rooted in the broader concept of National Information Infrastructure (NII) considered in the Clinton/Gore report and can be defined as the technologies, policies, and people necessary to promote sharing of geospatial data throughout all levels of government, the private and non-profit sectors, and the academic community.

The goal of this Infrastructure is to reduce duplication of effort among agencies, improve quality and reduce costs related to geographic information, to make geographic data more accessible to the public, to increase the benefits of using available data, and to establish key partnerships with Central and state government, academia and the private sector to increase data availability. It provides a base or structure of practices and relationships among data producers and users that facilitates data sharing and use. It is a set of actions and new ways of accessing, sharing and using geographic data that enables far more comprehensive analysis of data to help decision-makers choose the best course(s) of action.

The essence of the NSDI concept is that there is no master architect and hence there cannot be a single organization responsible for designing and implementing some kind of a blue print. Instead, we can imagine NSDI as an organic web of partnerships and relationships evolving purposefully within a given jurisdiction with sufficient inter connectedness of databases facilitating ubiquitous use of spatial data in the governance of the country.

The NSDI movement in India started with the constitution of a Task Force by DST on 30th October 2000, and its first meeting in December 2000 where the concept of Indian NSDI germinated. However, the Union Cabinet, through an executive order approved Indian NSDI in June 2006 and a great beginning was made to address the critical need for acquiring, processing, storing, distribution and improving utilisation of spatial data generated by various agencies of the Government of India.

NSDI has a three tier structure with National Spatial Data Committee (NSDC) at apex level national authority with Hon’ble Minister for Science & Technology, GoI as Chairman and Surveyor General, SOI/Director, NRSA as Member Secretary for formulation and implementing appropriate policies, strategies and programmes for the establishment, operation, management of the NSDI and utilization and any other activities related to spatial data in the country. The Executive Committee of NSDI( NSDI-EC) with, Surveyor General of India as Chairman and Director, National Remote Sensing Agency as Co-Chairman with CEO, NSDI as member secretary is the second tier. NSDI Executive Committee undertake any and all implementing and executive functions for and on behalf of the NSDC including functions as may be prescribed by regulations framed by the NSDC in this connection or otherwise as directed or delegated upon the NSDI Executive Committee by the NSDC. The third tier is the nodal officers, which act as a single contact point between the Nodal agencies and NSDI. NSDI function with a very lean secretariat.

India Geo-Portal was launched on 22 December 2008 and NSDI has become the first government agency to host an Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC)-compliant metadata of spatial data, generated by government agencies on the Web, which helps in planning for the development activities of the nation.

Indian NSDI since then has come a long way and it has the realization that the society now needs products, services and solutions to their problems with the aid of geospatial technologies and not data alone. It has now graduated from the ‘data domain’ of enabling infrastructure to ‘product and services domain’ of a performing infrastructure. In the geospatial domain, the NSDI is now evolving workable and synergizing relationships between itself, BIS, data generators, geospatial product developers, hardware and smart phone manufacturers, communication service providers in addition to the users.

The most important achievement of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) has been bringing together many agencies to work for a cause. It had not been easy and it took more than ten years to reach at this stage. In addition, NSDI is involved in the standards development activities for Metadata (2005/2009) and National Spatial Data Exchange Standards (NSDE- 2003), which is going to be adopted as BIS standards very soon. NSDI is seen as Standards organization and Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) has constituted a mirror committee for ISO TC 211 with NSDI as anchor. NSDI also initiated efforts for development of Content Standard with Unified Modeling Language (UML) formalism. The Content Standards for Soil, Surface Geology, Forestry and Hydrogeology is in different stages of development and BIS certification. India Geo-Portal, today, provides metadata of many agencies and offers OGC compliant services such as WMS, WFS, WCS and WMTS. WMS offered by SOI and NRSC together provide topographical data of 1:50,000 scale and satellite images of almost whole of the country in an interoperable and seamless manner. Web Feature Service (WFS) for a complete district from SOI 1:50,000 OSM topographical datasets is tested and most of the about five thousands 1:50,000 Survey of India OSM sheets data is ready for WFS creation. GSI one degree 1:50,000 scale geological data is also available as WMS/WFS. FSI forest cover maps are now available as WMS and Interoperability issues of FSI WFS have been already resolved and accessible in India geo-portal. This is a step towards realizing our vision of making the geospatial data available and accessible by creating a policy environment, evolving standards and developing the necessary tools and technologies through a process of consensus building. NSDI is now very active in the application development domain using various available WMS/WFS and working with Indian Railways, Ministry of Environment and forest. NSDI also organizes annual conferences to keep the discussion and momentum in geospatial domain alive. The NSDI secretariat has been actively involved in evolving National Map Policy 2006, Remote Sensing Data Policy 2011 and in drafting National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) 2012. There were initiative taken by other organizations as a result of NSDI activities and initiatives, for example; the Geological Survey of India and SOI Portals and some state portals like in Karnataka and Delhi. District Geo-portals were also conceptualized and demonstrated. A number of research projects have been undertaken besides establishing Centres of excellence at IITs/ Universities. NSDI has also prepared data models and procedures for mapping on 1:10,000 Scale.

At the State level, State Spatial Data Infrastructures (SSDIs) are being set up in collaborative mode between NRDMS/NSDI and the State Governments for providing access to various geospatial data sets (e.g. cadastral plot boundaries, land ownership, groundwater, mining & geology etc.) acquired through State Funds. States like Karnataka, West Bengal, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Odisha and Jharkhand etc. have been in the forefront of State SDI development.

NSDI is also instrumental in preparing and clearing of Expenditure and Finance Committee (EFC) proposal for National GIS. Cabinet note has also been prepared and sent to Cabinet by NSDI and is now very actively working on National Data Registry (NDR) component of NGIS and new action plan for the implementation of National GIS.

NSDI over the years has been successful in installing a robust network of shareholders and in provisioning of various geo web services in an interoperable form. The Utility of Geo Portals, Standard Specifications, Spatial Data Reengineering, Interoperapability etc. has already been demonstrated with the involvement of the Advanced Laboratory on Geo- Information Science & Engineering at IIT Bombay and the network of R & D Institutions of Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS). I am happy that these innovations are being adopted and used by the NSDI Shareholders. Required capacities are being built in various organisations and agencies at the National and State levels to operationalise Spatial Data Nodes for provision of web-based Data Services. Most importantly there is a greater degree of awareness about NSDI Web Services amongst the Stakeholders and End Users. However, I feel that the gap still exists between end user’s access to Data Services and their effective utilisation in decision support and governance. NSDI is currently migrating itself from the present ‘Data Space’ to ‘Product Space’ and application domain to meet the aspirations of the NSDI Shareholders and the Stakeholders and I am ensure of a bright future of Indian NSDI.

This is my reflections on NSDI and readers are requested to freely share their views on what is lacking and suggestions regarding what could be done to strengthen NSDI to serve the nation better.