‘Tap the commercial potential of the downstream sector in RS’

‘Tap the commercial potential of the downstream sector in RS’

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Bangalore, India: On March 17, 2013, Indian remote sensing reaches a milestone as it marks 25 years of successful operations of Earth Observation services by the Indian Remote Sensing Satellite, ever since the launch of IRS-1A on this day in 1988.

To commemorate this landmark event, the Indian Society of Remote Sensing is organizing a symposium on “Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS) Series: A Saga of 25 Years” focussing on the retrospective and prospective aspects of the Indian Remote Sensing Programme in various fields as well as provide future directions to meet the requirements of the various developmental sectors. The symposium is organised in association with the professional societies Astronautical Society of India, Indian Society of Geomatics, Indian Meteorological Society, Indian National Cartographers Association and Space Society for Mechanical Engineers.

The inaugural day of the symposium witnessed the Indian remote sensing community coming together to reminisce the courage and actions of the visionaries who dreamt the space dream for national development of India and its outcome as remote sensing technology makes its presence critical in various developmental activities today.

Prof. Y.S. Rajan, Honorary Distinguished Professor, ISRO, while observed that the scientific community associates remote sensing with the societal applications and does not refers to its economic benefits. He stressed on the commercialisation of the sector and remarked that ‘it is in the downstream where the money is’. He also urged the scientific community to capitalise on the presence of the industry. Another aspect that the scientific community can explore according to him is the possibilities based on the integration of different space technologies.

Need to expand footprint

Earlier, Dr. K. Kasturirangan, Member (Science), Planning Commission, in his inaugural address, highlighted the emphasis laid on national development while developing remote sensing capabilities – be it for disaster management, coastal management, forestry, agriculture, environment – unlike a number of other countries where either this aspect has been either not pronounced or lacking institutional mechanism. This is why space relevance in India has not been questioned, as well as the top priority given to users. He also emphasized the pragmatism inherent in Indian remote sensing programme and its various operational aspects, such as doing projects within timelines, budget and upholding cost benefits. He pointed out an economic finding where the cost-benefit analysis of the programme scored very high. Some challenges identified by him pertained to costing principle, data policies, data dissemination and making it available when users want it on their own. He however added that India has a system which assures data availability.

Dr. Kasturirangan also touched upon the role of remote sensing in the economic growth of the country. He observed that in the next two decades, India has the potential to be the third biggest economy in the world. We need a whole set of developments that support it. Also required are information systems that can enable central, state and local governments of the country to maximize efficiency and decision making. It is in this context that the future of remote sensing has to be seen, he asserted. Its national outreach will have to be much more than what it is today, Dr. Kasturirangan concluded.

Prof. M.G.K. Menon, Honorary Advisor, ISRO, recalling his journey with Indian remote sensing, shared his experiences of working with Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, considered to be the father of space technology and applications in India. Coming to current times, he remarked that it is not only important to have data, but it is equally important to utilise the data, hence the need of the hour is to make practical use of data.

Prof. U.R. Rao, Chairman, PRL Council (Physical Research Laboratory) commended that no developing country has used remote sensing the way India has. He also expressed however that food security is the most important issue to be tackled. There is a need to increase food production to meet growing demand and to find the optimum use of the technology to address this issue.

Dr. Shailesh Nayak stressed on the need to build systems that allow us to make much more informed decisions. Talking about the paybacks of remote sensing, he highlighted how an information mechanism for fisheries based on satellite data saves money to the tune of INR 34,000 crore every year. Another benefit of satellite data is that it provides records that anybody can verify.

Key developmental areas

The role of remote sensing technology in various developmental activities was brought to the fore at the symposium.

Agriculture: The first remote sensing experiment was based on agriculture and today crop forecasting activity is the biggest single user of remote sensing data [from Indian resources], observed Dr. SS Ray, Director, National Crop Forecasting Centre. The major applications in agriculture include crop forecasting, sustainable agriculture, impact of disasters, allied themes like fishery forecasting, watershed development and monitoring, wasteland mapping, drought assessment. The gap area however according to him is that remote sensing application in agriculture is still to reach the end user, ie the farmer.

Environment & forest: Dr. AK Wahal, Director General, Forest Survey of India, informed that the organisation conducts remote sensing-based mapping of forest resources for state of forest reports, repository of data on forest resources, time series data on forest cover, carbon assessment, imparting training and preparing a large number of thematic maps. The agency aims to establish a National Forest Information System. He also urged for a satellite dedicated to environmental security.

Catrography: Dr. S. Subba Rao, Surveyor General, Survey of India, candidly admitted that the SOI had not been using satellite imagery for its mapping activities, however that is going to change now. The changing dynamics of geospatial data is also changing the mandate of SOI. It is no longer enough to just provide topographic maps, the requirement now is the GIS-enabled topographic data, in digital form. The agency will be using Cartosat data as a base for preparing its maps, Dr. Rao informed.

Geology & minerals: SK Choudhury, Director, Remote Sensing Division, Geological Survey of India, detailed the remote sensing application areas in geology. These include surface geological mapping, mineral and energy resource application, engineering geology and geotechnical investigation, geo-environmental and hazard studies, geology of water resources, geomorphological mapping, and seismic microzonation studies.

Ocean services: Some of the major applications of satellite data in ocean services include potential fishing zone advisory (PFZ), ocean state forecasts – waves, tsunami warnings, and data services, informed Dr. Sateesh Shenoi, Director, Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS). He informed that the economic benefit resulting from identification of PFZ is 34,000 to 50,000 crore, according to a survey by NCEAR.

Urban planning: To regulate the growing urbanisation and the cities, a tool is the master plan/ development plan. S. Surendra of Town & Country Planning, shared how remote sensing data can be used to prepare master plans.

Weather services: AK Sharma of Indian Meteorological Service detailed the various weather information services based on satellite data and stressed on the need for multispectral high-resolution imaging for accurate monitoring.

Source: Our correspondent