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Growth for development, g-tech for enablement

Hyderabad, India: The second half of the plenary session at the opening day of the India Geospatial Forum 2013 carried on with the morning’s theme of geospatial as an enabling technology and the need to prop up India’s economy. The four speakers lined up for this session all spoke on a wide spectrum of areas, but growth and enablement were a continual underlying tone in their speeches.

Y.S. Rajan, distinguished professor and ISRO scientists, who earlier in the day was awarded the lifetime achievement award, started on a sombre note pointing out that the country’s GDP has been going down in the last few years. Explaining why high growth is important for development, he said, “In India, we have a very low base and in such a case, growth rate is very important for the wholesome development of the 700 million people in this country.” For development to come in and income levels of people to go up, growth is essential.

“In our country, people speak of growth as if it is something bad; they choose to substitute it with something like development. Growth is very important and that alone can create surplus, and that surplus has to be used for various other development work. Any activity has to be cost sensitive, not always for public good but it has to create to money,” he added.

In this context Prof Rajan referred to the famous quote of pioneer of green revolution C. Subramaniam – “Productive work, reproductive value”. This is a modernisation mantra which he had uttered in 1972. “So generation of money is important for all activities,” Prof Rajan underlined.

Moving onto how geospatial technology helped in enabling growth, he talked of the value proposition of remote sensing technology for growth. “We had conducted a study and we found that sale of data cannot justify the costs – of launching a satellite, generating and processing images. But when you look at the losses – revenue losses in terms of wastage in water and other natural resource, drought, floods, over stocking by traders – because of lack of information, and estimate how much you could have saved with the available data, the cost benefit was four times,” he said.

This economic value takes place in the downstream sector, and this is where the role of geospatial comes – in application and services, he said. Earth observation will continue to be one small important part of the entire geospatial system but new technologies like satellite based navigation which was not so important till the’80s has become an integral part of geospatial technologies.

Data availability is not an issue in today’s world. While agreeing that there still were some hurdles in India, Prof Rajan said in the global scene data is available and most of it is free. The bigger challenge for the industry is to convert the data into knowledge products, assimilating into model societal applications with relevance and delivering in Web format in near real-time basis.

Underlining some of the unconventional areas where geospatial applications could be put to use, he exhorted the industry to look into these for societal and economic benefits. Management of garbage and water resource were two such areas where innovative applications can play a changing role. Increasing urbanisation is leading to an express growth in garbage and no one knows what to do because there is no information. “So we can have limited amount of satellite imagery for identifying landfills and the terrain data, then add on ownership and other demography on top of it. Use social and mobile network with mobile driven data to mobilise people. Initially it will cost money for the industry, but it will generate money very soon,” he said. Similarly, limited use of satellite and sensor data can go a long way in saving our scarce water resources.

Another interesting idea was the mapping and monitoring of MSME clusters using a combination of satellite imagery and government data. The department of MSME can start a programme and mobilise the industry to look into such an application. He also underlined how geospatial technology can bring dramatic changes to the agriculture sector in a monsoon-dependent country like ours.

Carrying on with the growth theme and Coal India’s importance in India’s economy, Coal India Chairman Narsing Rao said coal and railways were two entities that had the largest contribution to India’s GDP as single entities. To achieve the targets under the XII Plan, the mining giant is planning extensive use of geospatial technology.

Under the XII Plan, Coal India plans to increase its production to 615 million tonne (mt) which calls for a CAGR of 8% and it has set an ambitious target of 1 billion by XIII Plan. “And we have to do it in a socially and environmentally responsible way,” said Rao, adding that 81% of coal in the country’s use is supplied by Coal India which puts a lot of pressure on the PSU.

To achieve such ambitious targets, Coal India is looking at modern applications like geospatial technologies in all the phases of its mining operations. “As part of the pre-mining phase, surveying, exploration and baseline data of environmental situation, land use pattern we are already using a lot of these technologies and we are open to further emerging ones too.”

During the mining phase too, Coal India uses various geospatial technologies like GIS and laser for monitoring emissions and dumps from environment and safety points of view. Mine reclamation is another area where Coal India is looking at geospatial technology. “After exhausting a mine, we would always like to restore the area to near pre-mining stage. It is not always possible but we can explore the opportunities. We have already started it on a pilot basis in a few areas,” Rao said, adding he planned to put these technologies to use in all the 150-plus mines Coal India operates.

In all its mines, the PSU is using GPS-based truck monitoring system to prevent theft. It has started independent truck dispatch system in some of the mines on an experimental basis. Rehabilitation of people in areas affected by coal mine fire is also an area which has huge potential. Rao asked if non-invasive exploration of coal in forest or hilly areas could be looked at using this technology besides effective land management. “We own 250,000 hectares of land and it’s difficult to manage it in this kind of environment where we have issues of land records, boundary and ownership problems and encroachments.”

Environment management is another area where Coal India is looking for solutions. The PSU is not only looking at emission and water quality, but sampling if it can use geospatial technology to check trends or carry mid-course corrections.

Trimble Managing Director Rajan Aiyer, who was the next to speak, explained how the industry had been providing solutions to a lot of these problems. Stating that geospatial data had grown exponentially and would continue to grow thanks to various technologies, he said it had enabled us to go from 2D maps on paper to 3D apps, and now we want a virtual 3D world!

“Connecting enables the intersection of professionals, government and consumers,” he said, adding, “Best things happens when technology, economic incentives and policy are aligned, which is what is needed by all in this industry.”

The XII Plan has allocated USD 1 trillion for infrastructure in areas like roads, highways, energy, in all of which geospatial technology will play a key role since it is an integral part of building and construction. There is an emphasis on cadastre mapping. India has world’s one of the largest road network. Aiyar demonstrated how geospatial technology could be used to build roads and buildings of much quality, in shorter time and at lesser cost. He said the Chennai Metro was successfully using geospatial technology for alignment purpose. There existed technologies in the agriculture sector which could optimise use of resource input or output – water, fertiliser, pesticides – and farmers in developed countries are reaping the benefit of precision agriculture but it was yet to be adopted in India, he added. “We are at the cusp of something very exciting. Years back what IT did to offices, geospatial will do to the outside world,” he said.

MapmyIndia Managing Director Rakesh Verma came down heavily on enterprises for failing to democratise GIS. “I also agree the future is exciting. But to make it more exciting we need to do something.” Verma explained democratising as availability of GIS and solutions for people who need it and when they need it.

“Fifteen years back no one knew what GIS was, but we ask anyone, even a child knows what a map is,” he said, underlining that this has been possible because there is a greater awareness due to democratisation of GIS in the consumer segment. “But if we ask the enterprise segment what do they know of GIS, other than people handling the projects, no one knows. Access to benefits of geospatial information is limited to a handful of large government organisations,” he added.

Enterprises have not adopted GIS in their work, and those who have adopted also suffer from non-standardised and inconsistent approach. Verma also stressed that the solutions have to be easy for people to use them easily. “When we use IT, do we have an IT personnel sitting with us to do out work. Geospatial applications and solutions also have to be easy to use so that it becomes part of our work culture,” he said.

Source: Our Correspondent

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