National GIS: Views and Voices
“A well defined concept of NGIS is needed”
What according to you is the need for a National GIS?
GIS is an important tool that forms the basis of a decision support system. Such a system plays a catalytic role in a growing economy like India and helps transform the governing system to facilitate a better citizen-government interface. Utilizing the power of GIS would be an advantage not only in terms of making informed decisions but also for improving efficiencies and responses from delivery system. In this scenario, the National GIS is the need of the hour. The concept goes well in the backdrop of remarkable developments over last couple of decades in all related fields in the country – for example, many development programmes of the Government of India, evolution of enviable range of remote sensing satellites and their applications, rise of industrial capabilities, web revolution, environmental trends having bearing on policies, progressive digitization of maps by the Survey of India and initiatives of the Spatial Data Infrastructure, to name a few.
What are the challenges to accomplish NGIS?
The most important challenge is to have a sound system concept, well-defined in terms of goals, components and interfaces of NGIS properly defined. The other challenge is to evolve an appropriate organizational focus which enables the system to perform intended functions through policy empowerment. The third aspect is to initially create an integrated set of data assets satisfying standards and build capacity of the human resources that can generate value out of these assets. The overall architecture of the system should be able to provide necessary access, data integrity, security and application support. Ultimate challenge, when the system begins to deliver, is to evolve a sustainable stake holding interface between public and private sectors in maintaining and growing the system.
What role do you see of present NSDI in this initiative?
The NSDI has spearheaded a lot of awareness in terms of development of standards. Essentially it has evolved as metadata infrastructure. NGIS concept extends beyond NSDI and in fulfilling the mission of NGIS several stake holders including NSDI are working together. How to deal with the reluctance of data providers in the context of data sharing? We have to understand why there is a reluctance of sharing of the data. There may be some concerns of data providers and those concerns need to be appropriately addressed. In the transformed environment and scenario of technology advances, data sources are diverse and data centric approach is giving its place to information centric approach. When a common man accesses Google map information, he does not bother about the source of data. Hence advantage lies in balancing policies towards exclusivity of data with the broader goals. In the current scenario, delivery or governance is demanded by the user or public and NGIS aims to help such delivery. There is increasing trend of decentralization in governance system and need of the hour is a vehicle that is transparent, user friendly and responsive to citizen needs. The aim is to create such an environment where it can happen. NGIS will not decide the policies of its users or data providers. It is they who decide. NGIS will help users to decide better and faster. Hence for a national system like NGIS, I do not perceive data is not the ultimate challenge, although we seem to be weighed down by past baggage. Data providing agencies would be able to realize that NGIS will enable them to realize higher value of their data to the benefit of the citizens of this country. You would notice that several agencies have already improved or reformed the access policies for data. Along with issues of access, with transparent policies, we also need to address the issues related to standards, data integrity and security.
What about the funding of NGIS?
The National GIS is proposed to be established with funding by the Government of India. In addition, standards would be evolved taking cognizance of international trends, conducive policy atmosphere would be created and capability of seamless GIS framework would be convincingly demonstrated. Once that happens, the private sector investment can be encouraged in developing in various applications and services. It is hard to expect that any single private agency will invest and develop the totality of data assets for the entire country like India. Initial funding has to come from the government, at the least.
Do you think we need to be more careful with the use public fund in current difficult economic scenario?
If you compare the economic scenario with a decade before and if you compare the Indian economy with other countries at present, I feel that the Indian economy is more stable, robust, vibrant and promising. It offers more comfort and encouragement. However, we have entirely different kinds of challenges to address. These are sustainability of the growth rate and inclusive development. There perhaps is a need to show how GIS could be a wonderful tool that not only can help us to sustain the growth but can also accelerate it. This is logical as eighty percent of the decisions related to governance have geographical context. If that usefulness is aptly demonstrated, funds may not be a problem.
“The mandate of INGO needs to be carefully drafted”
Do you think India needs National GIS?
The Planning Commission has proposed the establishment of National GIS (NGIS) through Indian National GIS Organization (INGO). It visualizes incorporating GIS in all aspects of planning and development. The concept is still in the initial stage of discussions. Such an initiative will definitely give a boost to GIS activities and a variety of GIS based solutions are likely to emerge to address many governance issues like bringing transparency and accountability in decision making. More importantly, it will make GIS data available and accessible. In this context, I feel that INGO should be mobilized.
What are the challenges in making NGIS a reality?
We must understand that while creating a GIS, several layers of information are required. In government, these layers of information are sourced from various ministries. In this context, such an initiative needs multi-ministerial approach. Moreover, some organizations have strong legacy of geospatial data generation. And many of them have been incorporating GIS in their activities. The mandate of INGO needs to be carefully drafted. It should not be at variance with the existing mandates of the other organizations. Also, it is imperative to build a consensus in order to achieve optimum impact of such an important initiative. The major challenge in making NGIS a reality shall be to define and enforce standards at various levels.
How do you see NSDI initiative in India in context of National GIS?
National GIS certainly complements the NSDI. A considerable work has been done by NSDI, which NGIS would like to leverage upon. NSDI has played a key role in bringing awareness about the importance of Spatial Data Infrastructure in this country. Apart from focus on issues such as Meta data, exchange format, open formats etc. NSDI has been successfully able to develop an environment where there is participation from multiple organizations in forums such as the annual workshop, meetings, discussions etc. A number of issues have been identified for which draft notes have been submitted at higher levels. It will be an advantage for NGIS to learn from the NSDI experiences.
Where do you see NIC in NGIS?
NIC is a premier organization in the country which has been providing e- Governance Solutions for informatics-led development in government ministries and departments to facilitate planning and programme implementation to further the growth of economic and social development. The importance of spatial information was well recognized long back and a number of steps were initiated which included development of high scale Delhi map along with addressing the need on availability of country wide digital maps. The concepts of National GIS was supported by Planning Commission during 2005 which addressed harmonization of information from different sectors through the concept of standards for identified 23 layers. As out come of this project NIC hosted the first National Web GIS model created around largest spatial data repository. The National GIS incorporates versatile NIC Map service with seamless all India maps from 20 Million to 18K scale providing locations of over 6 lac villages with habitations linked with census data. Various innovative features in this portal provide “Mash up”; a facility to overlay NIC maps with external services e.g Google, Bing etc. along with DEM information apart from features such as measurements, shortest path calculations etc. This portal has gained sufficient attention from the user community and work is underway in implementing different data sharing models with different sectors as per the requirements. As regards NGIS, we shall be happy to demonstrate and contribute to the cause. Currently NGIS is at the conceptual stage and role of NIC is expected to be more significant as it moves to operational stages. However, the exact mandate and role will evolve in due course after consultations.
Do you think that current policy scenario provide the conducive atmosphere for NGIS?
I do not think that policy is posing any major challenge. Though it needs to evolved, still at NIC we have been able to take many successful initiatives in the given policy framework. There are many things that still can be done and are being done.
NSDI and National GIS go hand in hand
What is your opinion on National GIS?
The National GIS is a welcome initiative. It is still in the process of consultation and development. The mandate, organizational structure and functionalities of National GIS will emerge in due course.
What role you envisage for you’re the Survey of India in this initiative?
The main objective of the Survey of India remains to map the country suitably and to provide base maps for expeditious and integrated development. The National GIS is an initiative of the Government of India. As the part of the Government of India, we are very much part of this initiative. The SoI see its role as spatial data provider and we will continue to provide the spatial information in the required format.
How do you see this initiative in the context of NSDI in India?
In the government we ensure that organizations do not end up duplicating the work of the other organizations. The mandate of National GIS should be framed in a manner that it does not come in conflict of the exiting mandate and set up of the NSDI. Instead it should synergize the work of NSDI. We will ensure that both coexist and complement each other.
“Academic research should focus on modeling”
The proposed National GIS would help in leveraging geospatial data to become a part of planning, governance and nation building. Geography is the context of most of our decisions as they affect earth resources. It is extremely important to showcase and demonstrate the capability of such systems in planning, monitoring and decision support. The proposed National GIS, when implemented, will change the ways of planning and governance in a positive way.
How academia is going to be benefitted by NGIS?
It has not always been easy to get the data for academic research. Even if data are available, they are from different agencies and with consistency issues in scale, format and uptodate-ness. It is expected that NGIS would be able to provide seamless and updated data.
What is the role of academia?
The role of academia has been the capacity building in education and research. Academia will contribute in developing manpower, technologies and innovative solutions at least at the prototyping levels. Equally important would be to focus on multi-disciplinary and multi-dimensional research and on developing models for understanding complex earth and environment related processes and their various parameters and correlation among them. Academia should be allowed to play an independent role in developing such models for various applications especially on issues pertaining to disaster and environment management. In addition, the research should focus on technology on data collection, processes and accessibility.
How NGIS is different from NSDI?
The NGIS is the next logical step of the NSDI. The NSDI has focused on creating a platform which data can be shared by geosource data agencies to publish their metadata. It has created standards and emphasized importance of sharing for inter-operability for crossdiscipline applications. However, there is no explicit responsibility with the NSDI to provide these data seamlessly and temporally in a single platform. That is proposed as the main objective for N-GIS. N-GIS will also assist in developing and hosting applications to realize itsobjective of leveraging geo-spatial data in DSS.
Do you think that the data access would be hassled with security issues?
The data access control would naturally be in conformity with data related policies at national level. It should be linked with nature of the data, type of data, purpose of the use and also on the credentials of users or user agencies. I anticipate multiple criteria for allow access to the data.
What are the challenges?
The most important challenge would to provide current and updated geo-spatial data in a standard format since this will involve coordination and participation of multiple datacollecting agencies. N-GIS will have to also play pro-active role in defining state-of-art applications for various user organizations.
What would be your parameters to measure the success of NGIS?
Bringing the data from various multiple agencies to one platform itself will be a major success. I will consider NGIS successful if it is able to make these data seamlessly available. It is equally important to ensure that these data are used for critical application purposes.
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