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Harnessing geospatial technology to transform Indian society

US: Highlighting India”s efforts to solve twenty-first-century challenges with geospatial technology, Sam Pitroda, Adviser to Prime Minister of India Dr. Manmohan Singh for Public Information Infrastructure and Innovation, made a strong case for using g-tech for the betterment of society during the opening session of the Esri International User Conference (Esri UC) in San Diego, California.

According to Pitroda, India can meet its challenges of poverty, disparity between the affluent and the poor, urban and rural, educated an uneducated etc. by providing information and educating people. People are poor because of lack of information. Access to information is essential for making democracy work. Information is also a great leveller which will help reduce disparity. It is also going to help provide the 15 to 20 million new jobs that India needs to create every year.

Already most Indians have access to voice communications. The next challenge is data communications. India and the US jointly developed an open platform for sharing government data that is being made available to other countries. At a cost of about $2 billion, India has developed a Knowledge Network linking Indian universities and technical institutes. The next step is to create a fibre optic network linking India cities, towns, and villages, at an estimated cost of $7 billion over the next 18 to 24 months. The long term objective is to empower over a billion people.

A key part of the IT platform is developing geospatial infrastructure including data and technology. The XI Five-Year Plan mandated the use of geospatial technology in new mission-critical projects. The objective is to provide a seamless, nationwide, geospatially-enabled database, which will serve as a platform for data sharing amongst various national government departments and state governments. Currently just about every department has its own base map. In the future the intention is for a common standard that will be shared among various national government departments and the 30 state governments some of which have populations of 200 million.

Pitroda”s vision is that a national information infrastructure based on a common geospatial platform will help make government more transparent and accountable, reduce corruption, reduce the waste of resources, empower citizens and provide a foundation for a uniquely Indian approach to innovation and economic development that will reduce disparity and create jobs for the young Indian workforce over the next decade or two. Based on the Indian experience with revolutionising communications, Sam Pitroda is optimistic that access to information incorporating geospatial technology will transform Indian society. This is an incredible vision for transforming the lives of 1.3 billion people.

Geoff Zeiss, Editor – Building & Energy