Government recognizes that GIS is an important tool for meeting the key issues that Planning Commission is addressing of good governance – planning scientifically, implementing and monitoring the plans effectively and also assessing the benefits outreach in the most effective and equitable manner. In this, the key elements of good governance touch upon many aspects of natural resources, as well as processes relating to economic, social and political governance. The information system required to undertake these critical nation-building and decision-making activities is going to be enormously complex and highly demanding – we need to start revitalizing and positioning such information systems. GIS will be one critical component of such an information system.
India has made tremendous progress in GIS – in fact, India started using GIS way back in mid 1980s and since then, a large number of projects and programmes have been implemented. Over the years, notable strides were taken by several ministries and agencies such as Department of Space, Department of Science and Technology, National Informatics Centre, Survey of India, Geological Survey of India, Forest Survey of India, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Power and even many state government agencies in this regard. Even looking from global perspectives, our programmes like NRIS, NRDMS, NNRMS, NSDI, NUIS, had many unique and visionary underpinnings. However, from a national perspective we had not utilized the fullest potentials of GIS technology yet. The potentials of a myriad applications which are enabled by the GIS due to rapid advances in related technological domains, have to be innovatively and cost effectively applied in support of our inclusive growth agenda.
Let us turn towards the GIS eco-system today in the country. There is tremendous focus for growth in the country, both in terms of achieving it rapidly and sustainably. Here sustainability concept integrates inclusive growth objective also. Achievement of these goals crucially depends upon quality of decision making at all levels. GIS has been playing ever expanding role globally in supporting decision making process. Hence, when it comes to GIS our focus of GIS must be on Decision Support Systems application and our emphasis must be on improving quality of decision making. GIS can be a major differentiator at all levels of governance and nation-building – be it in government, in enterprises or by citizens. In fact, as it relates to such GIS impact, the Planning Commission is interested to address all the hierarchical levels – national, regional and state level and then going down to district and Panchayats level and also covering all government, enterprise and citizen needs.
We should remember that GIS is not just about images and maps, but also of a whole host of spatial data representation of geo-tagged tabular attributes – all of which comprises the GIS-content. So to say, we produce best images, best topographic maps, best forest maps etc is just half the solution – unless these are all usable at the end of a user or decision-maker, the second half is not bridged. Structurally, the government is organized in sectors – thus data collection and mapping is sectoral – but what GIS can do is enrichment of information by cutting across these “sectoral systems” into an integrated data system. Governance demands that these sectoral spatial datasets are combined and new paradigm of information regime created bringing to fore new geographical relationships that enables visualizing spatial patterns in data, hither-to unavailable, and bringing new developmental perspectives right down to grass-roots level and also allowing for making better and qualified decisions. With the potential to construct and visualise maps, analyze information vis-à-vis its spatial attributes, create interactive queries and use results for easy decision-making, geospatial technologies are fast becoming the strongest DSS toolset of decision makers, government, industry and citizens.
Next comes another issue of the user. The user, be it from government, enterprise or a citizen, today faces a major “deterrent” in using GIS. India today lacks GISReady data which is most current and which a user can easily access and use (though pockets of data maybe with some agency here and there) – in spite of the finest of data collection and surveying that is done for topographic map, forest maps, census data or even image data etc. Thus, either the user has to struggle to put tremendous efforts in making these maps/ images to GIS-Ready for his usage or somebody should give this to him ready. So, many a time, even if a user wants to use GIS for his decision-making he may be discouraged by the tremendous technological “bind” he has to get into – and thus he may not use the GIS. Second, if the user has to embed GIS DSS in his work-process, then he needs to be assured of constantly updated data – this GISReady datasets must also be constantly and regularly updated and maintained so that currency of data is most recent for the governance process.
New sets of GIS data that technology today provides and that can be generated – say, maps on 1:10k scale or larger; re-surveyed land ownership data; terrain data on 3D; underground assets data in cities; crowd sourced data and so on are also extremely useful for a user – but these are yet to be available easily to him. We want this major 3-fold gap be removed for the user. The user must not be bothered and worried for GIS-Ready data and must be assured that GIS-Ready data that is needed would be available to him. This is a key paradigm that we want to bring in the eco-system.
So, I come to the key issue that was then taken up after Hon’ble Prime Minister asked Planning Commission to look into the way beyond GIS. What can we do about these 3 important issues – first, how can we ensure that our decision/governance system is supported by a comprehensive, easy-to-use GIS Decision Support System – whatever the decision-maker wants must be supported by GIS; second, how can any user be rid of the “hassles” of GIS data organization that he now faces – ensuring that GISReady data is readily available; third, how can we have an institutional system in the country that is responsible for GIS and is accountable to meet the GIS needs of the country.
Today, we have come far in addressing these issues and we shall see actionable answers to these. This Workshop will discuss the Vision of National GIS and set forth a series of directions and actions that the country can initiate and in a time-bound manner, bridging all the gaps that exist today and make GIS a part and parcel of our total national system. It is against this backdrop that the Planning Commission has initiated this major step…
Mr Sam Pitroda, while addressing the workshop, appreciated the vision and concept of the National GIS and expressed support to the programme. He mentioned that India is at the cusp of another technological and development curve and in its drive for inclusive growth, social equity & development a major requirement would be to re-engineer many systems and processes. He mentioned that Information will be the 4th pillar of democracy and GIS will be that important element of the 4th pillar – helping in the concept of unified information infrastructures and bring one important level of unification and collaboration amongst many stake-holders. The Public Information Infrastructure (PII) had been envisaged to provide broad-band connectivity and a host of e-services to every citizen – be in urban or rural areas. He mentioned that PII aimed to be enabling repositories of citizen needs, geographical and physical characters of our country and programmes of government. He mentioned major technological thrust being taken up – first, the laying of a fibre-network for connecting 250k panchayats; establishment of the National Knowledge Network (NKN) and now the National GIS.
Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, in his inaugural address, mentioned that in the 12th Plan, focus is on social and physical infrastructure with key areas being agriculture; manufacturing; infrastructure, rural connectivity, health and education services and addressing special challenges for vulnerable/ deprived areas. He stressed that the need and demand is for good governance – essentially for effective implementation of development and also in context of better functioning of government and private sector in the economy. He emphasized that GIS is an important technology area which can form the basis of a DSS. He highlighted that a national-level GIS that can serve multiple needs – government, enterprises and citizens and mentioned that National GIS must power more open government and, thereby, leverage economic and social development and reaching the gains of development to the most needy and at the right place. He noted that GIS must also aim to bring accountability and responsibility of public activities where decision-making can be centered around GIS – thus factoring location and time-domain map information. Noting that National GIS will be one capability that can support the nation, he highlighted how spatial planning and determining options and alternatives for planning will become important.
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Chief Software Architect and cofounder of SBG Systems
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