A case for financing the `data’ as part of infrastructure

Jul 2012 | No Comment

In India, data though known to be now a vital part of any setup still lacks the recognition and acceptance,which is refl ected in the investments made to produce it vis-a-vis other infrastructure projects

Dr Mahavir

Professor of Planning and Head, Department of Environmental Planning
School of Planning and Architecture,
New Delhi, India

Prabh Bedi

Research Scholar, Department of Physical Planning
School of Planning and Architecture,
New Delhi, India

Infrastructure is basic physical and organizational structure needed for the operation of a society. These are a set of interconnected structural elements of services and facilities that provide framework supporting an entire structure of development necessary for an economy to function.
Infrastructure instigates development and is conventionally perceived as related to roads and railways. Gradually electricity and in recent times, different kinds of networks have come to be considered as infrastructure, be it related to water, wastewater or latest being oil, gas and telecom. All these promote growth and development by way of delivery of goods and services across various sectors of the economy.

Infrastructure in India

At the time of independence, India inherited fairly well-developed conventional infrastructure, roads and railways. The government built upon this initial set-up. Though all categories of infrastructure have expanded and modernised, the development however has not been able to meet the growing demand.

India has one of the largest road networks in the world, aggregating to 3.34 million km; per sq km of surface area in India is endowed with one km of road. Despite this there are many villages which are not connected with road network and many more do not have an all weather road access. The quality of the roads, both in terms of lanes and surface, requires up-gradation in most cases. The distribution is also dependent on terrain.

The railways which are the second largest in the world under a single organization are the backbone of country’s economic and industrial development. India inherited 55,000 km of rail network at the time of independence, which has been expanded to just about 64,015 km in the last 65 years. There has been improvement in terms of electrification and speed, but much is yet to be achieved to meet international standards of comfort and safetyElectricity produced at the time of independence barely met the requirements of urban areas. Though the conditions have improved, yet the increasing demands in both urban and rural areas are not being met with. Electricity generation at the time of independence was 1,363 MW as compared to 7,88,355 MW in 2011. The per capita consumption during this period has increased from 15.55 Kwh to 778 Kwh. Though the increased per capita consumption indicates the improvement in standard of living, there was a shortfall of 8.5 per cent during the year 2011-2012 which at the time of independence was about 7 to 16 per cent. Over one third of India’s rural population lacks electricity, as does 6 per cent of urban population. Of those who do have access to electricity, the supply is intermittent and unreliable.

Telecom sector has experienced advancement in leaps and bounds during the last decade. The achievements have been in increased subscriber base, lower costs as well as quality. Still, due to sheer volume of untapped sources much needs to be achieved. There also needs to be improvement in cost and call quality based on advancing technology both in traditional telephony as well as wireless services.

It is a universal truth that better connectivity to remote locations, either by rail, road or telecom, has resulted in enhancement of the economic activities in such regions. Provision of quality and efficient infrastructure services is essential to realize the full potential of emerging Indian economy. The challenge is in maintaining and managing high growth through investment in infrastructure sector. These challenges in infrastructure development can be speedily realised through better data management.

Infrastructure in urban sector

Urban Infrastructure is the physical and social structure present in cities and towns. It covers drinking water, sanitation, sewerage systems, electricity and gas distribution, urban transport, primary health services, education and environmental regulation.

As India’s urban areas continue to swell, the challenge of improving the urban infrastructure is also getting magnified. According to the 2011 census, 31.16 per cent of the Indian population resided in urban areas compared with 27.8 per cent in 2001 and 25.5 per cent in 1991. The urban population is expected to increase to around 40 per cent by 2025 and touch 1.7 billion by 2050., further increasing the challenge of providing the urban infrastructure.

73 per cent of India’s urban population has access to improved sanitation facilities. About 21 per cent of urban population lives in squatter settlements where access to the basic services is very poor or very substandard. Though approximately 80 per cent of population living in urban areas has access to safe drinking water, there are severe deficiencies in regard to equitable distribution of water. As per estimates about 46 per cent of households have water borne toilets while only 36 per cent are connected with public sewerage system. As per 2001 estimates 90 per cent of urban households had access to water supply of which 74 per cent had access to piped water. Almost half of the solid waste generated in towns & cities remains uncollected. 6 per cent of urban population has no access to electricity and the supply is also not consistent. The roads are inadequate to meet the growing traffic demand which in turn leads to traffic congestion. Problems related to infrastructure, both in terms of quantity and quality is galore.

There are not only intra-city disparities in the infrastructure but also between cities. The larger cities are better provided with infrastructure as compared to small and medium cities and towns, which is mainly attributed to better economic structures. Due to lower level of infrastructure in smaller cities and towns, these are not able to attract investments, which in turn do not enable investments to be made in the ‘so called side-line activities of data development and enhancement’.

The case is very similar to the need to first provide an individual with basic needs of food, water and shelter and then with better health, education and entertainment facilities. Likewise, the infrastructure institutes and agencies with limited resources first need to meet requirement of first providing the basic infrastructure and then go in for those activities that help in better providing the infrastructure. Lack of resources becomes a limiting factor in improving the working condition, which is also the case in large cities. It must be noted that the basis of all infrastructure and its development is data. One of the ways to improve infrastructure is to provide the status of infrastructure to data per se.

Financing the infrastructure

The proposed investments for the twenty year period (2012-2031) in urban infrastructure, including renewal and redevelopment of slums and capacity building is estimated to be 0.6 per cent of GDP for the year 2012-13 and is expected to increase to 1.14 per cent of the GDP by 2012-22 amounting to Rs. 1.79 lakh crore (Ahluwalia, 2011). The investment is estimated to be Rs. 3.86 lakh crore by 2031-32 with GDP growing at 8 per cent per annum.

Urban roads constitute the maximum component (56 per cent) mainly due to service backlog. The service delivery sectors like water supply, sewerage, solid waste management and storm water drains constitute 26 per cent of the total investment. It is indicated in the ‘Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services’ that 40 per cent of the total investment (Rs. 31 lakh crore) in urban infrastructure is required to address the unmet demand of urban services. All these sectors are heavily dependent on data in the form of drawings, tables, documents and files, maps and satellite images for planning, implementation, operation and management. The fund requirement for implementation of the target for urban water supply, sewerage and sanitation, drainage and solid waste management was estimated to be around Rs. 1,29,237 crores by the Eleventh Five Year Plan. The same was estimated at Rs. 1,32,590 crores for urban transportation (FICCi, 2011). Estimates based on the CDPs prepared under the JNNURM put the requirement at Rs. 8,00,000 crores for both urban infrastructure services and urban transport.

Infrastructure for city to function

The above stated investments in the urban infrastructure are the basis for urban development. Delayed planning, multiplicity of authority and lack of coordination between agencies often results in delayed implementation. The cities and towns are economic centres. Since historic times, those urban areas have taken the lead in development which have had some kind of patronage or some financial infl ow in order to become viable economic entity either at national or regional or local levels. So as to become viable, the structure of these centres needs to be strong such that it is able to sustain the infl ux of population. A weak physical infrastructure will not be able to support growing population of such centres. If not continuously upgraded it would lead to spread of disease, crime and in turn increased expenditure on social infrastructure. The right fix is to continuously improve the physical and supporting social infrastructure.
Urban areas in India have grown as organic structures and urbanisation has preceded infrastructure development resulting in retrofitting which has invariably not been able to meet the growing demands of urban India.

Infrastructure for city to be planned for

Planning for infrastructure, physical and social, is an important component towards city/town plans and their land use plans. For this, the ‘existing scenario’ or ‘as is situation’ is an essential input as it forms the basis for what needs to be improved upon or built further. This input has existed in the form of files and paper drawings and maps. These maps and files are the basic input infrastructure for plan preparation. The information available on paper is liable to be torn. With technological development, these have been converted into digital form and have come to exist in the form of spatial and nonspatial data. Hence, data has been a vital input in planning, both in conventional format as well as the present day digital format has changed form and structure. India Infrastructure Report 2006 looks at lack of spatial data as an impediment in plan preparation.

Last couple of decades have seen an increase in the use of spatial and nonspatial data in planning. From being used for projects to expansion at department and organisational levels, the use of geospatial spatial technologies has seen various development phases due to incoherent data across broader frameworks. This has eventually resulted in recognition of the need for developing standards and eventually dataset-ups called Spatial Database Infrastructure (SDi) at state, regional, national, trans-national and global levels. It also exists in some sectors like urban, viz., National Urban Information Systems (NUIS) Scheme.

Spatial Data Infrastructure

The Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDi) is a data infrastructure implementing a framework of spatial data, metadata, users and tools that are interactively connected in order to use spatial and linked non-spatial data in an efficient and fl exible way. It is built upon technology, policies, standards, human resources, and related activities necessary to acquire, process, distribute, use, maintain, and preserve spatial data. SDIs started to exist at national and regional levels and now are found at transcontinental, global, state and local levels as well. These are also now sector focused.

(Indian) National Spatial Database Infrastructure (NSDi), DelhiState Spatial Database Infrastructure (DSSDi) in India and Infrastructure for Spatial Information for European Community (INSPIRE) and Geospatial Spatial Database Infrastructure (GSDi) at international levels are some examples.

In India, data though known to be now a vital part of any setup still lacks the recognition and acceptance, which is refl ected in the investments made to produce it vis-a-vis other infrastructure projects. The ratio of investments in projects like NUIS and JnNURM is approximately 1:1000, NUIS being a data building activity and JnNURM being infrastructure, hard and soft, focused. NSDi, a joint initiative by Department of Science and Technology and Department of Space, Government of India, addresses the critical need for acquiring, processing, storing, distribution and improving the utilization of spatial data generated by various agencies of the Government of India. NSDithough in operation since 2001 is yet to show substantial benefits after 10 years. DSSDiis a similar initiative at state level in Delhito help the state government but focuses only in providing better disaster management and security covers of valuable infrastructure.

DelhiState Spatial Database Infrastructure (DSSDi) is a 3D GIS project to better enable the state government in disaster preparedness. Land Information System and Urban Spatial Information System are its two components. 31 `line departments’ of Delhigovernment are its contributors and users.

Infrastructure for Spatial Information for European Community (INSPIRE) is based on the infrastructures for spatial information established and operated by the 27 Member States of the European Union. The Directive addresses 34 spatial data themes needed for environmental applications, with key components specifi ed through technical implementing rules. Global Spatial Database Infrastructure is in support of local, national and international spatial data infrastructure developments that will allow nations to better address social, economic, and environmental issues of pressing importance.

National Urban Information Systems (NUIS) is a scheme that envisioned creation of a comprehensive information system in the urban local bodies for planning, management and decentralized governance in the context of provisions of scientifi c planning and implementation of the 74th Constitution Amendment Act (CAA).

Data as infrastructure

The role of each of these systems is to achieve better living conditions, environmental, social, and physical for the respective areas of concern, be it sectoral, local, regional, national or global. Each of these systems considers data as a vital input to its existence and gives the status of infrastructure to data.

In some countries as in United States such setups are seen as vital infrastructure, “The dictionary defi nition of the word infrastructure describes the major concepts around which the NSDI is designed. Infrastructure n. 1. An underlying base or supporting structure. 2. The basic facilities, equipment, services, and installations needed for the growth and functioning of a country, community, or organization. 3. A governmental or administrative apparatus. ( library/factsheets/documents/nsdi.pdf)

The word infrastructure promotes the concept of a reliable, supporting environment, analogous to a road or telecommunications network. Like roads and wires, SDI shall facilitate the conveyance of virtually unlimited packages of geographic information.


A very large component of infrastructure planning projects particularly related to land use and master planning consist of data creation and updation, both in terms of investment of time and finances. The role of infrastructure on economic development is inarguably essential. At the same time, infrastructure development requires huge amount of resources to implement. Today, anything that can flow is stated as infrastructure, which gives the data the required status. Giving the status of infrastructure to data is surely likely to entail investments which the field is hugely lacking. Investment is the key to building the basic data as well as needs to meet the up to date status. By adding a ‘delta’ component of ‘data infrastructure’ in overall financing of infrastructure, the benefits of infrastructure development can be made more meaningful and manifold. This delta component, in the opinion of these authors, would not be more than 1-2 per cent of the total cost of providing infrastructure.


Ahluwalia, I. J., “Report on Indian Urban Infrastructure and Services”, Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India, 2011.

Ibraheem, Sharma, N.K. and Tiwari, Prabhakar, “Investigation and Analysis of Indian Power Grid after Regulatory Reforms and Dynamic Pricing”, International Journal of Engineering Science and Technology, 2010.

India Infrastructure Report 2006 Urban Infrastructure, Oxford University Press, New Delhi accessed on February 02, 2012 index.php?option=com_content&vi ew=article&id=18792&Itemid=125, accessed on February 02, 2012 urban-rural-population-o-india/, accessed on February 01, 2012

http://www/, accessed on February 01, 2012 Electricity_sector_in_India, accessed on January 29, 2012 factsheets/documents/nsdi.pdf, accessed on January 29, 2012

Mahavir and Ahmed, Maqbool, D., “A Tale of Two Schemes: JnNURM and NUIS”, Spatio-economic Development Record, Vol. 17, No. 3, 2010

Urban Infrastructure in India, October 2011, FICCI, New Delhi

Vaidya, Chetan, “Urban Issues, Reforms and Way Forward in India”, Ministry of Finance, Government of India, 2009.

My Coordinates
Mark your calendar
August 2012 TO June 2013
His Coordinates
Freis Porteman, Jack Dangermond

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