India’s NSDI – Back into the future
The Government of India has formally approved the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) programme – I told myself AT LONG LAST, IT IS DONE!!! I also heaved a sigh of relief – a sigh which has been weighing on my mind for the past 5 years (from February, 2001 onwards). In that sense of relief – that marked a feeling of achievement and success for the benefit of the country, I closed my eyes and …
The initial phase
My thoughts went back to December 5, 2000 – when the first meeting of the then NGDI Task Force was held in Department of Science and Technology (DST) to consider the National geographic Data Infrastructure (NGDI) programme. Fortunately, a great personality of Indian Space – Dr K Kasturirangan – whom I have the highest regard and respect for, had nominated me to that committee and I met yet another great person – Dr V S Ramamurthy, then Secretary, DST. These two were the torchbearers of India’s NSDI who laid a foundation for a movement that was visionary and way ahead of times. At that first meeting, I vividly recall my first interaction with an ebullient and dynamic personality – Mr Amitabha Pande, then Joint Secretary, DST who is yet another driving force for NSDI. In that committee, I also developed close association with many friends from Survey of India (SoI), Geological Survey of India (GSI), National Informatics Centre (NIC), industry and many other agencies and committed team was formed. Each member was charged and motivated and wanted a good vision for NSDI – un-shackling the Indian spatial data community to contribute to a successful nation-building enterprise.
Soon within two months we had a blue-print for NSDI – NSDI Strategy and Action Plan document. I worked with Mr Pande assiduously to see that ISRO produced a beautiful document for the country. I always believed that NSDI was a programme that had to be owned by all and thus strived always to obtain technical and programmatic consensus for NSDI from all stake-holders. It was not an easy task (in 2001) when the concept of “sharing and owning” had different connotations. I recall the innumerous debates we had – is it NGDI or NSDI; what is the concept of SDI; is NSDI a monolith or a distributed architecture; technologies required for NSDI; organisational structures required for NSDI; sensitizing to the multi-farious drivers of different agencies – binding them to a common goal and many other aspects. But the tenacity of the Committee, and a good leadership role by Dr Prithvish Nag brought all issues to a common understanding. And soon the blue NSDI document was ready … and that was January, 2001.
Looking back, my grand time came when I, thanks to the magnanimous and motivating vision of Dr Kasturirangan, Dr Ramamurthy and Mr Pande, was called upon to present the NSDI Strategy and Action Plan to the Indian Community at the 1st NGDI Conference on February 5, 2001. The Strategy was adopted and February, 2001 saw the dawn of a new dream for all of us – the dream of a NSDI.
The Ooty high and a dampener
We soon moved on to Ooty for the 2nd NSDI Conference – we in the NSDI (finally NSDI was chosen) Committee felt that the NSDI movement required constant high-profile visibility and focus. Ooty Conference, in July, 2002, was a watershed of a sort for NSDI. Expectations were high and the “iron was hot” (as they say). Six key Secretaries of Government of India (GOI) and about 180 Indian NSDI stakeholders and a fantastic action plan brought a forward-looking Ooty communiqué – which brought the NSDI dream a bit closer to reality. I continued my saga in the Committee of envisioning great things for NSDI and led the NSDI Metadata Standard effort and after excellent interactions with many colleagues – we brought out the Metadata Standard document in a successful manner. At the same time other groups addressed the NSDI Exchange Standard and the NSDI Applications protocol and the NSDI Network Framework – all of which brought out the intense and high-level of technical knowledge and professionalism of the Indian spatial technology experts.
I must mention an important incident that happened at Ooty. I was involved, with the best of ISRO colleagues and colleagues from SOI and GSI (of course, supported by industry), in developing a NSDI Portal that was to be unveiled in Ooty. Our thinking was that once the NSDI Portal was
The development of the NSDI Portal was enhanced and it was to be shown in an important Secretary-level meeting. 18 July, 2003 – I still remember that date. I was closely involved and steered an extremely good and on- line presentation and demonstration of NSDI to a group of Secretaries (we
Then started the trudge ahead – and it has been a long wait of 4 years. What happened between August 2003 and June, 2006 is now history – which some of us know.
Incidentally the proto-type NSDI Portal was later unveiled in Agra in November, 2003 and whatever was developed as the proto-type NSDI Portal was then released as part of NNRMS Portal by the Hon’ble President of India in July, 2004. Madhavan Nair, Chairman, ISRO provided the visionary lead for this initiative; Dr Jayaraman was supportive and my colleagues – Dr Rajeev Jaiswal and Ms Padmavathy and a few other colleagues from ISRO played a vanguard role.
Then came Lucknow in November, 2004 and Hyderabad in December, 2005. While NSDI Conferences became a ritual, progress was slow. Things changed and a feeling of despondency crept in. But many of us had still the fire and passion for NSDI and relentlessly pursued the goal of holding on for NSDI and making it a reality. Here I must mention Dr Sivakumar; Maj Gen Gopal Rao and many of my colleagues in ISRO and SOI, NIC, GSI, NBSSLUP, FSI etc who were committed and never let the “string-loosen”.
But looking back, one thing I can say that somewhere down the line – the basic concept of NSDI – “collective ownership and a good for all” was shaken. I always believed that NSDI was not of one agency – it had to be COLLECTIVE; NSDI was not just for government – it had all stakeholders and citizens were the greatest beneficiaries; NSDI was not a turf-war – it was intelligent networking and collective action for the good of the country; NSDI was not a “take all” – but give some and take some for success; NSDI was a modern movement – it was not just a programme or a project; NSDI was not crafted for a few individuals – but was driven by a few individuals for success and benefit in the country. Somewhere, I personally feel, these issues lost focus – maybe because of delays and changing scenarios – change of people, change of strategies, change of environment and change of technologies. I personally believe that we would have been far ahead of Google-Earth – at least for India.
I must mention here a very good development that happened at that time and was concertedly driven by the NSDI Committee. It was the New Map Policy. There was intense discussions and debates and drafts on the Map Policy issue – there was overall consensus that a more pragmatic policy was required but the definition of such a policy addressing all concerns took a lot of time. In this activity again, many of our colleagues in Defense, Home and agencies like DST/SOI, ISRO, NIC etc have played a leading role – pragmatism was everywhere on this issue but “nailing” a policy was a tough task. At last hat too was achieved last year when a New
In the meantime there were many other developments that spurred the spatial data and applications – India had excellent images from Resourcesat and then Cartosat; India also hosted the Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association Conference in Bangalore in February, 2004 (I had the privilege of serving as the President of GSDI in 2004 and 2005; that gave me great insights to the SDI movement all over the world); agencies embarked on creating a wealth of GIS databases and activities etc – all these helped create the right environment in the country.
So things were moving – slowly and steadily but certainly moving.
Let me get back to the future…
Now my dreams are back and once again I dream … soon we shall have India NSDI Portal and we shall have the best of SDI programmes in the world. I believe in this and feel it can easily happen. What are the stakes for the future?