GIS - New

Data is gold. Make it ornament!

Dec 2020 | No Comment

All commotion, beginning from the unprecedented lockdowns, strict protocols demanding social distancing, derailing of the economy and the fear of catching the virus …

Prof. Dr. Mahavir

Professor of Planning, School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, India

The entire social media, intelligentsia, the new world and technical journals are flooded with data and information on Covid-19 ever since the onslaught of the Pandemic, early this year. All commotion, beginning from the unprecedented lockdowns, strict protocols demanding social distancing, derailing of the economy and the fear of catching the virus … led to a situation on uncertainty. So much so, the agency concerned had to defer the conduct of sacrosanct decennial Census of population, due to be published in 2021.

Plethora of data was being generated elsewhere, everywhere, in every form. The number of tests conducted, the number of confirmed cases, the deaths, the misery, the loss of employment, the ‘urban’ streets being taken over by the ‘wild’ and so on. Apart from converting hotels and other large buildings into ‘make shift’ hospitals and quarantine facilities, the Indian Government also came up with innovative idea of converting railway coaches into quarantine centres, which could be moved to remote rural areas when required.

The data emerging during these times, though not much organised and structured, can be decoded and studied to make some meaningful insights to the Pandemic and planning for the future.

The ‘reverse migration’, not experienced before in the living memory in India, raised questions… the need for regional planning, currently almost absent both form the National and (State) scenario. It is a double whammy.. . the manufacturing sector (in major cities) is opening up without the labour to work.. and labour has reverse-migrated to small towns and villages without employment.

All migrants, going back, were screened at three places, a data base must have been created. If and when available, this will provide huge opportunity to study their demographic and movement patterns at a National/ regional scale. Whether or not they carried the Covid-19 virus from urban to rural areas can also be studied when data on that becomes available. In terms of migrant labour, why and how they defied the initial lockdowns.. wanting to go home, complemented with socio-economic-political pressures to make arrangements for their travel back home by making available special buses, shramik express trains.., amidst the fear that they may have become the carriers of virus from ‘urban’ to ‘rural’ or rurban areas. So on a national map, if we are able to show the bulk of ‘from’ areas and ‘to’ areas, the complete pattern of ‘reverse migration’ and possibly the travel trail of Covid-19 could be traced.

This leads to a further question. How, after all, the ‘from’ cities became the ‘hotspots’. Some correlation of National hotspot cities in terms of their population size, density, demographics, percentage population living in slums and squatters, deaths per million resident population, etc. can provide some insight, as well guide what needs to be done to prevent such situation in future.

At a more local scale, how certain areas of cities became ‘containment zones’. What areas do these represent in terms of planning structure, density, typical road widths, demographics, congestion, etc.

Will it lead to revisiting norms and standards for minimum plot sizes, residential units, FAR and densities? Is mixed land use one of the major culprits? Or, simply the irresponsible behaviour at the community level is to be blamed? Will it also mean more per cent land use for hospitals and less for educational and office considering much can be ‘worked from home’?

The Pandemic and the following protocols also saw the term ‘Social Distancing’ coined. In effect, it only calls for ‘physical distancing’ . On the contrary, it has been converted (unintentionally) into an opportunity for ‘Social Bonding’.

The increase in usage of social media, much enhanced number and duration of telephone calls, WhatsApp calls and messages, video-conferencing, Google meets, etc., say during last six months, is a strong enough proof. Families have made WhatsApp groups to share their daily lives and exchange of greetings and knowing the wellbeing of each other.

A lot of business and social meetings were conducted without having to travel, and thus saving all the time, resources, stress and receiving a relatively less polluted and less congested city environment. The increased ‘online shopping’ and ‘delivery’ has changed the rules of the game. Most planning norms and theory (e.g., Christaller’s Central Place Theory and Clarence Parry’s Neighbourhood Concept) is based on distance to market and work, etc. Sorry, the equations have reversed. ‘Market’ has come home! The ‘work’ has come home! The ‘school’ has come home! It is also possible that all stakeholders forget everything post recovery, and then, it is life as usual.

Nonetheless, an insight to all the data can certainly be beneficial in planning for the distribution of medicine and inoculation, when available for mass dispensing. Should it start with the ‘hotspot’ cities? Should it be first targeted towards ‘containment zones’? Do the rural areas not require the vaccine urgently?

There is plenty of data and plenty of possibilities to explore, make sense and meaningful discourse for the future. I am reminded of Sh. G. N. Rao, IAS (Retd.), Convenor of the Expert Committee to suggest Comprehensive Development Strategy for the entire State of Andhra Pradesh, India, including Capital – of which I was a member. In one of the meetings of the Committee, he took my personal-office diary from me and wrote in his hand, “Data is Gold. Make it Ornament”. That was a few weeks before the Covid-19 struck. I believe, the Covid-19 has given us the Goldmine. Let us make ornaments.

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