Department of Science and Technology and Survey of India, has announced the yearlong celebrations to commemorate 200 years of one of the most ambitious and audacious scientific endeavor known to mankind – The Great Meridianal Arc of India (or the Great Trigonometric Survey). Commissioned in 1802, this grand mission is accredited not only for mapping of the entire Indian subcontinent, but also resulted in the first accurate measurements of the Himalayas, an achievement which was acknowledged by the naming of the world’s highest peak in honor of Col Sir George Everest. More important still, by producing exact values for the curvature of the earth, the Arc significantly advanced the knowledge of the exact shape of our planet.
Announcing the series of events, Prof. V S Ramaurthy, Secretary, Department of Science and Technology said, “ We are organizing the yearlong events to commemorate this gigantic quest and to enthrall and infuse massive interest in this field of spatial sciences. The major events for the year include the Treasure Quest, Geo Quest Quiz, Great Arc Exhibition, Great Arc Documentary Film Series, Great Arc Pictorial publication, and many more to come. The series of events kick-starts with the Great Treasure Quest commencing tomorrow.”
Apart from announcing the yearlong celebrations, Dr. P. Nag, Surveyor General of India also announced a comprehensive program to revitalize, modernize and re-engineer the oldest (235 years old) institution of the Government – The Survey of India.
“The objective is to use the bicentennial celebrations as an opportunity to leverage the enormous wealth of data assets held by the Survey of India and convert them into knowledge products to meet the rapidly growing needs of a knowledge dominated society. The Survey of India intends of offer wide range of products and services to meet the geo-spatial information needs of Government departments, NGOs, infrastructure projects, State Governments, Urban local bodies, Panchayats and other community based organizations, the private sector and the academia. “Dr. Nag said.
“By making its existing data assets readily and easily available at an affordable cost, massive cost savings can be achieved by organizations who presently have to invest substantial resources in acquiring and generating data which already exists. In this context, the initiative of SOI and DST to create a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), in collaboration with the Dept. of Space is of special significance. The creation of the NSDI will be of revolutionary importance, bringing together vast assets of major data producing agencies of the Government – the SOI, the Dept of Space, the GSI, the Water commission, the CGWB, Census, etc. into a common framework of standards on an internet platform, to form a virtual infrastructure for providing universal access to standardized and quality controlled information” he added.
The NSDI will act as a clearinghouse of geo-spatial information especially by making centralized “ meta-data’ (i.e. data about data) available on the net and enabling any user to access the data held in distributed network and discover, explore and exploit the data for adding further value to it.
Dr. Nag further added, “The beauty lies in the fact that such a virtual infrastructure requires a minimal of financial investment well within the budgetary resources of the agencies concerned, because it leverages the data assets already held by the data producers and converts it into knowledge wealth. In a situation where geo-spatial information is an engine of economic growth, particularly through infrastructure growth, the economic significance of such a data infrastructure is momentous.”
Prof Ramamurthy, highlighting the significance of the survey in the contemporary world, said, “The Great Trigonometric Survey can be considered as foundation of all the topographical surveys. The endeavor not only has a massive contribution to all the topographical surveys ever conducted in the country, but also has a huge impact on the development of science and technology today. It is possible to claim that much of India’s infra-structural development, railways, national highways, telephone lines, power-grids could not have taken place without the accurate maps which the measurement of the Great Arc made possible”.
The Great Arc – a grand expedition, conceived by Colonel William Lambton on April 10, 1802, was the longest measurement of the earth’s surface every to have been attempted. This 2400 km of inch perfect survey took nearly fifty years, cost more lives than most contemporary wars, and involved equations more complex than any in the pre-computer age. Rightly acknowledged by ‘The Royal Geographical Society of UK’ as “the most significant contribution to the advancement of the science in the 19th century”, the survey is also the most minutely accurate land measurement on record. The accuracy of this scientific pursuit was all-important because the Arc had as much to do with physics, mathematics and astronomy, as with mapping. It was not simply an attempt to measure a subcontinent but also, incredibly to measure and compute the precise curvature of the globe.
The yearlong celebrations would commence with a school level Treasure Quest, scheduled for April 10, 2002, that incorporates the same mapping techniques used by the great surveyors of the yesteryears. The objective is to excite the schoolchildren about the much forgotten field of geo-spatial sciences. The activity would require the participating teams to use a mixture of geographical, historical and scientific techniques to decipher clues that lead them to the final destination. Secretary, DST and Surveyor General of India would flag off the contest at India Gate, and winners would be awarded by Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, Union Minister of Human Resource and Development, Science and Technology.