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Call for national geospatial policy at NSDI meet

New Delhi, India: An advanced information system, technologies with matrix and measurement of disparity, data mining and spatial technology of managing databases will be extremely important to become leader in this global arena, said Dr K. Kasturirangan, member (science), Planning Commission.

Speaking at the valedictory function of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) in New Delhi on December 21, Dr Kasturirangan said keeping with the global trend, GIS is becoming a critical capability that provides a technological edge to nations, in India too, an efficient information system holds the key to robust growth. In the last two Five Year Plans, India has seen a growth rate of 8 to 9 per cent, and even though it has come down in the last few years, India is the third largest economic system in the world. “If we have to manage this rate, it has to really powered by efficient information system.” Pointing out that faster and more inclusive are some of the key elements of the XII Five Year Plan, which is set to be adopted on December 27 by the National Development Council, Dr Kasturirangan said, “To have scientific planning and ensure good governance, we need to start revitalising and positioning such information system and GIS will be one of the critical component of all this.”

Dr Kasturirangan also said the responsibility of creating the National GIS system has now been assigned to the Department of Science and Technology and with the involvement of associated department it will be in place in the next two years.

“GIS is not only about images and maps. It is also a host of spatial data collection of geotagged attributes.” The government’s endeavour is to see how this dataset can transform into a good national system where the benefit of the information is not only shared but also properly updated. “[Data has to be] correct and critical when you want to make it the backbone of decision making and monitoring systems. This is what GIS-ready data is, [something] which is most current and which the user can easily access.”

He also talked about the need for a national geospatial policy – how data will be shared by various departments so that it comes out of the silos and is properly formatted. The government felt a national agency on GIS can address all these issues, he said.

Dr Kasturirangan also touched upon the issue of capacity building and lack of trained human resources. The government is not only introducing college-level educational courses but also bringing in the concept of GIS education at the school level. There has to be a massive human resource development to keep up with the progress in this field, he said.

Touching upon the underlying theme of most speakers at the two-day event – duplicity of data by various departments — Dr Kasturirangan said this led to varying standards and formats. “So we have to have a metadata system, for which we need to have proper standards. So this information can be transferred and is in certain type of formats and standards. Unless that is done, it will not be possible to synergise this information.”

As if continuing from the first day’s thoughts, the second day of the NSDI annual event also had other speakers touching upon the issue of multiple standards and data duplicity.

Varsha Joshi, Director, Census Operations Delhi, during her presentation explained the problem faced by her department during conduct of census operations in 2009 over authenticity of maps due to multiplicity of sources. To press home her point about collaboration and data sharing among various agencies, she underlined how the Delhi Directorate of Census finally tied up with the DSSDI to draw out the maps on a war footing.

Smriti Sengupta of the Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay said to address this issue IIT has set up a team to look into integration of data. IIT-B has developed a software which converts any data in India into one single format.

Laggard attitude by some states in keeping up with the technology and in developing their own spatial data infrastructure (SDI) were also in sharp focus. While some states like Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra came in for particular praise, the general feeling was not too upbeat when it came to performance of the states. This is one of the major problems being faced by NSDI, according to Surveyor General Dr S Subba Rao. He underlined another big problem as the existing mindset among the departments of not wanting to share data with others. “People think data is power; if you share, you lose [something]. But it is the other way round. I am trying hard in my department [to get rid of this mentality],” he said. Educating states about the benefits of NSDI should go a long way in solving this problem.

NSDI Chief executive Officer Maj Gen (Dr.) R. Siva Kaumar, while highlighting achievements and progress made by NSDI in the last few years, called for a national geospatial policy to address the challenges of data duplicity and sharing. He expressed hope that the NGIS will go a long way in solving these issues.

Hemant Kumar of the Karnataka State Council for Science and Technology (KSCST) did a presentation on how the state has GIS centres at every district providing services to zila parishads. Karnataka gives state support to NRDMS centres, it has GIS services at the state level while crime mapping is being done at the ward level. The state plans to make watershed and health services totally GIS-based in the next six months.

More citizen-centric services were also another issue that came up again and again. While calling for involvement and awareness among citizens, D.K. Sikri, Secretary, Justice, asked, “Are we actually taking decisions based on this information or has this been a very interesting tool which only satisfies our intellect and nothing else?”

Hemant Kumar and IIT-B’s Sengupta’s presentation also dwelled on this issue. While Kumar talked about how people will always use what is freely and easily available (and hence the popularity of Google maps), he said we need to go beyond government needs for this technology to evolve. In this regard, KSCST is planning to use crowd sourcing as one of its sources of information. Sengupta talked about a volunteer framework where volunteers provide data and they call it Volunteer GIS. IIT-B is also looking into mobile GIS to target citizens.

A. Kapuria of the census department demonstrated how the department’s Dev Info, a UN-backed initiative, has developed into a web-based application for data and maps. The data on it can be superimposed with Google maps and the application allows the user to his own data and results which is shareable on Facebook and other social media.

M.L. Shrivastava of the Forest Survey of India (FSI) also talked about interoperability issues – various organisations collating data and different kinds of software being used. There has to be a system for seamless data integration — how the census data can be linked to cyclone data to find a solution. Different organisations have to come together in addressing this so that data collected by one organisation can be used by another.

Among other speakers, Rahul Saxena of Indian Meteorological department (IMD) explained how the IMD is using geospatial data in weather management, Dr Manosi Lahiri of ML Infomap explained how the private sector is using this for disaster management, while ESRI’s Rajesh Mathur talked of the need to embed geospatial technology into the governance system for informed decision making, further involvement of beaurocrats to convince the government to take decisions based on only quantitative and qualitative aspects.

In his vote of thanks, C. Chandramouli, Registrar General & Census Commissioner, underlined the need for larger data sharing among people and how geospatial data is increasingly being used not only in applications but also in live projects like road/building projects, disaster management etc. “We have made a lot of progress but I still think we are taking infant steps. And that is where we need a vision of taking this country to the next level. A national policy will bring us together in delivering services to individuals; use it for informed decision making and better programme implementation and review.”

Source: Our Correspondent