NSDI in India: Status and the road ahead

Dec 2013 | One Comment

During the XII Plan (2012-2017), NSDI is being upscaled to develop the National Geographical Information System (NGIS) by setting up of a National Data Registry, a National Geo-spatial Platform, and development of products/ application services for a select group of end users.

Maj Gen Dr R Siva Kumar

CEO NSDI & Head NRDMS Division, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India

PS Acharya

Adviser/ Scientist G, Department of Science & Technology,
Government of India


There is a growing emphasis on sustainable management of natural resources and preservation of environment due to the realization that these are vital to our socio- economic development. Citizens have to be provided with better quality of life, health care and education. Challenges like internal security, energy security, inclusive growth, climate change, disaster mitigation etc. are required to be effectively addressed. Towards these goals, there is a need to design, implement and monitor focused intervention measures while taking into account the multiple issues involved in each of the situations. At the heart of this strategy lie the appropriate compilation, sharing, and integration of diverse spatial data (i.e. data with reference to a location on the earth’s surface) and statistical data that can permit incisive analysis and enablement of decision support systems. The 12th Five Year Plan (2012-2017) thus recognizes the importance of digital spatial data, satellite imageries, positioning systems, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and various other computational and analytical means to provide decision support. Spatial data sets compiled and provided by various data providing agencies at the national level (See Box: NSDI Shareholders) form a major component of these diverse sets of data.

Despite elaborate in situ mechanism for compilation of spatial and statistical data sets in the agencies above, there are inherent problems inhibiting data sharing, integration and effective utilisation by the end user (See Box: NSDI Stakeholders/ End Users). Inaccessibility to up-to-date and GIS-processable data, inefficient data discovery mechanism, lack of standardisation, absence of seamlessness in data layers, non-availability of decision support tools, inadequate integration of GIS with the end user workflows, insufficient capacity amongst end users have been some of the major bottlenecks.


Recognizing the above, the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) Initiative has been set up jointly by the Department of Science & Technology and Department of Space. The Initiative aims at developing and maintaining standard digital collection of spatial data, common solutions for discovery, access and use of spatial data in response to needs of diverse user groups, and to increase awareness and understanding of the vision, concept and benefits of NSDI.

Since December 2009, the India Geo Portal has been increasingly making accessible the data holdings of various agencies through interoperable geographic information services like Catalogue Service on Web (CSW), Web Map Service (WMS), Web Feature Service (WFS), and Web Processing Service (WPS). In order to make the higher resolution data sets available with the State level Line Departments/ Agencies accessible to the end users, the State level Spatial Data Infrastructures are being set up during the XII Plan period. State Geo Portal prototypes are being developed in States like Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal, the North East, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and Jammu & Kashmir.

Geo-Information and Communication Technologies (Geo-ICT), on the other hand, have further evolved with advancements in Data and Service Registry, Geo-spatial Interoperability Specifications, Volunteered Geographic Information (Crowd-Sourcing), Cloud Computing, Social Media Applications, Open Source Technologies, Linked Data, Smart Phones etc. Potential of these emerging concepts and technologies are required to be assessed, explored and utilised.

Current Status

Taking note of the above, the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) is being re-oriented and upscaled towards improving sharing, discovery and access to GIS-processable data sets acquired by various national agencies. Provision of GIS-processable data is expected to not only improve its direct entry and efficient processing in standard GIS software packages but also to help in the development of applications accessible by end users on Web and Mobile Devices. Provision of nationwide seamless and current data services in a standard interoperable form, making available state-of-art facilities for product/ application development services for decision support, and framing required policies are three important aspects of the newly emerging NSDI.

Supporting Policy Framework

In order to improve access and facilitate sharing of processable spatial data, several policy level changes have been brought about in the recent past. Revised National Map Policy (2005), Constitution of NSDI (2006) for spatial data governance, Revised Remote Sensing Policy (2011) and the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP, 2012) have been the major steps in this direction. NDSAP mandates various agencies and departments for making the data sets acquired by using public resources shareable in a processable form in the public domain. The agencies are required to publish an Exclusion list (Negative List) indicating the data sets that they would not share under the mandate considering issues like security. In support of this requirement, agencies are expected to provide access to their data sets – both spatial and non-spatial (attribute) – by setting up data nodes.

Open access to processable data through – implemented by National Informatics Centre – has been a major outcome of the NDSAP. A set of 4936 data sets including spatial data sets are now accessible through the Data Portal. More spatial data nodes are under development by various agencies for making their data accessible through the Data Portal.

NSDI Data Nodes and Data Re-engineering

Setting up of a web-accessible spatial data node in each Data Providing Agency is a pre-requisite to an operational NSDI. Data nodes have been established in agencies like SOI, GSI, and FSI and existing nodes (e.g. NRSC’s BHUVAN) harmonised for improving access to spatial data and satellite images from the single window gateway of India Geo Portal set up in NSDI. Built on a simple system configuration aimed at compiling and sharing metadata sets, the Data Nodes are expected to provide access by end users to GIS-ready data sets and services in 24×7 mode. Preparation of GIS-ready vector data from the existing digital cartographic data, development and maintenance of geo-relational database, compilation and sharing of metadata, and provision of catalogue, feature and map services are core activities at each Data Node. A Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) is now available for re-engineering of Survey of India digital topographic data (Figure 1) to GIS-ready format.


Metadata (i.e. data about data) helps discover and search digital spatial data over the web. Useful in assessing a data set’s fitness for purpose in an application, metadata should be documented in a standard form, regularly updated, and made accessible to the users. A Metadata Tool based on NSDI Metadata Standard version 2.0 (founded on ISO 19115) has been developed and shared with the Data Providing Agencies for documenting and uploading the metadata on the centralised NSDI Server. Metadata in the NSDI Server has been recently updated with the involvement of the data providers for improving utilisation (Figure 2). Some of the Agencies have begun to share detailed metadata sets from their individual data nodes (Figure 3) for the benefit of the end users. Summary metadata available on the Central Server through the single window India Geo Portal will be regularly and automatically updated from the detailed metadata of individual data nodes by the help of web-based crawlers.

NSDI Web Services

For application development and analysis, standard Geographical Information System (GIS) software packages require online access to up-to-date data or images through Web Services. NSDI Data Nodes are in the process of providing OGC/ ISO -compliant Web Map Services (WMS) and Web Feature Services (WFS) for provision of maps and feature data owned by the individual Data Providing Agencies. A variety of spatial data sets from SOI (Surveykshan Portal) (Figure 4), NRSC (Bhuvan Portal) (Figure 5), FSI, and GSI are available for access from respective vector data of corresponding servers by end user as PNG or JPEG files for display on browsers (e.g. Mozilla, IE etc.) or on GIS software packages for developing applications around the WMS. Similarly, GIS-ready vector data could be downloaded in OGC/ISO-compliant Geography Mark Up Language (GML) for analysis at the end of the user. Web-based Catalogue Services (CS-W) are being developed for on-line provision of metadata to end users/ clients.

State Spatial Data Infrastructures (SSDIs)

Line Departments and Agencies in the State Governments acquire spatial data for their own use. These include Survey Settlement & Land Records, Roads & Building, Planning Board, Public Health, Irrigation, Geology & Mines, Forest, Groundwater Board, Municipal Bodies, Remote Sensing Centre, Lake Development Authority, Biodiversity Board etc. Data holdings of these Departments and Agencies are mostly in analogue and proprietary forms inhibiting sharing and integration amongst themselves and also with those from national level data providers. Taking this problem into account, the State SDI Initiative has been launched. State level clearinghouses, databases, and Geo Portals are being set up in selected States (e.g. Karnataka, Kerala, West Bengal, the North East covering 8 States, Haryana, Uttarakhand, and J & K) to improve spatial data discovery, sharing and utilisation. Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi has created a sound base for setting up of Delhi State SDI.

Advanced Lab on Geo-Information Science & Engineering (GISE)

An Advanced Laboratory on Geo- Information Science & Engineering (GISE) has been set up at the Department of Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) of Indian Institute of Technology Bombay to provide the required technical back up to the NSDI activities. In addition to its thrust on pursuing Research & Development in the frontier areas of GISE, the Laboratory conducts pilots and demonstrates proof-of-concept for adoption in operationalisation of NSDI. Training and Capacity Building of scientists and officials from the Data Providing Agencies are an important priority for the Laboratory.

GISE Initiative on Emerging Standards and Concepts

A framework for collaborative work in GISE involving academic and research institutions has been evolved with the active participation of the Advanced Lab at IIT Bombay. This is aimed at working on emerging standard specifications from OGC and advanced concepts in GISE: GeoSMS, Web Processing Services (WPS), IndoorGML, RESTful Geo- Web Services, Sensor Web Enablement, Location Based Services (LBS), Linked Data, Geo-Semantic Web, LIDAR Standards, Geo-Visualisation etc. A series of indicative studies launched in the past year may be seen in Table 1.

Outputs and insights gained in the above studies will be useful in further upscaling the NSDI and provision of product/ application services.

Training and outreach

Training / demonstration workshops for officials/ scientists/ potential users and Awareness Campaigns for Stakeholders in the Civil Society so as to develop the requisite human resource base form a vital component of the NSDI strategy. Capacity building of institutions/ organisations receives priority. Training workshops are conducted from time to time for the staff from the Data Providing Agencies on ‘Data Modelling’, ‘Spatial Data Re-engineering’, ‘Geospatial Interoperability’, ‘Provision of Spatial Data Services’ etc. in order to equip them with the requisite skill set for setting up and maintaining Spatial Data Nodes.

During Awareness Campaigns amongst the school children, utility of tools like GIS, Positioning Systems, extracts of topographic maps and satellite imageries is demonstrated through elementary survey exercises. A Resource Book – ‘Geography in Everyday Life’ – has been prepared in various regional languages (Telugu, Bengali, and Punjabi) and distributed amongst the school children as a part of the resource kits.

In a similar endeavour involving students from educational institutions like universities and colleges, elementary survey kits have been distributed for surveying the disaster affected areas in the Garhwal and Kumaon regions for assessing the damage under the Sub-programme ‘Mapping the Neighbourhood in Uttarakand (MANU)’. The students are initially trained on the techniques of surveying and uploading the spatial data sets to centralised servers for analysis and integration by Geospatial Domain Experts.

In order to enhance the capability and expertise in handling advanced technologies, Geospatial Chairs have been set up in selected leading academic and R & D Institutions/ universities to appoint reputed academicians or researchers for imparting training and pursuing research.

Specific training programmes and summer and winter courses are organised and supported to promote geospatial technologies and increasing their outreach up to lowest level of the planning and decision-making hierarchy. A Capacity Building Resource Portal has been developed to provide materials, data sets, tools and kits useful in imparting training in Geospatial Technologies. Management Structure A two-tier management structure governs NSDI. The higher tier – National Spatial Data Committee (NSDC) – is the apex body and is chaired by the Minister of Science & Technology and Earth Sciences with Secretaries from various concerned Departments of the Government as members. Surveyor General of India and the Director, National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) act as the Member Secretaries. NSDC provides policy level guidance to the implementation of NSDI.

The NSDI Executive Committee (EC) at the lower tier implements the decisions/ recommendations of the NSDC. Both Surveyor General of India and the Director, NRSC act as co-chairmen in the Committee with Heads of Data Providing Agencies as members. Chief Executive Officer, NSDI is the Member Secretary. The EC defines and implements standards, constitute working level sub-committees, defines and formulates rules for data sharing and access, and facilitate capacity building activities.

Working Groups have been constituted under the chairmanship of nodal officers from various Data Providing Agencies to help work out details of the strategies and implement the decisions of the EC (see Table 2).

DST’s NRDMS Programme Steering Committee, Expert Committees and nationwide network of leading academic institutions, R & D Laboratories, universities, State S & T Councils, Remote Sensing Centres, autonomous institutions, Non-Governmental Organisations participating in the NRDMS activities provide the required R & D support to the operational activities of NSDI and the State SDIs. NSDI has a modest budgetary support of Rs. 2.0 Crore per annum to support its activities.


NSDI has established effective linkages with various national and international agencies and organisations. Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) – the national agency for standardisation – has set up a dedicated BIS Sectional Committee – the Electronics & Information Technology Division 22 (LITD-22) – for establishing national standards in the field of Geospatial Information. The Sectional Committee is expected to act as the National Mirror Committee for International Standardisation Organisations (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 211 concerned with the domain. India has upgraded its status from that of an Observer Member to a Participating Member in ISO TC 211.

DST has been a Primary Member in the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) – a not-for-profit international consortium of about 475 companies, government agencies, research organizations, and universities participating in a consensus process to develop publicly available geospatial standards. OGC Standards support interoperable solutions that “geoenable” the Web, wireless and locationbased services, and mainstream IT. NSDI by virtue of DST’s membership has access to OGC’s internal resources (draft specifications, artefacts, tools etc.) for promoting and customising international spatial data and process standards. The December 2013 OGC Technical Committee and Planning Committee Meetings are taking place at IIT Bombay on 2-6 December 2013.

NSDI has been actively associated with the initiatives launched by the United Nations Global Geospatial Information Management (UNGGIM) and Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) Association towards furtherance of its vision and goals.

The road ahead

NSDI Aspirations

In order to firm up a strategy for upgrading NSDI to a more robust and effective infrastructure, a wide-ranging consultation was recently carried out with the involvement of the Shareholders and the Stakeholders of NSDI. NSDI has so far been operating in the ‘Data domain’. Aspirations of the stakeholders like end users in the Government, Industry, Academia, and the Civil Society call for availability of accessibility to solutions in the form of products and applications and not the data alone. It has thus been recommended that NSDI should migrate from the present ‘Data Domain’ of enabling infrastructure to ‘Product Domain’ of a performing infrastructure in the coming years.

Towards National Geographical Information System (NGIS)

With the availability of the Geo Portals, various stakeholders like the Governments, Academia, Industry, and the Civil Society Organisations are in a position to access geo-spatial data sets/ resources. For effective utilization of these spatial data sets in governance (for Geospatial Governance or ‘g-Governance’) and businesses, there is a need to adopt suitable Spatial Information Processing Models and reusable web-enabled software based application utilities and analytics from relevant domains of applications. Towards this goal, domain-specific algorithms for multidimensional data analysis or product design, forecast models, predictive analytics, scenario generation and simulation should be developed with the help of participation of the shareholders and stakeholders.

A high level architecture showing the concept of the proposed NGIS may be seen in Figure 6. Based on the request of the end user to the Electronic Front Door, the Information Utility is expected to develop the required products or applications using the basic data/ products and the process definition specifications in the Execution Area. The resulting products/ applications will be delivered to the end user through the Electronic Front Door. Various Data/ Metadata Services like WMS, WFS, CSW etc. made accessible from NSDI will be used in the development of products/ applications.

This will require collaborative work between various agencies involving (i) setting up of the National Data Registry by networking the spatial data nodes from various NSDI Shareholders, (ii) National Spatial Data Technology Platform, and (iii) development of necessary products and applications for decision support (Geo-DSS) with the state-of-the-art utilities and systems. During the XII Plan, efforts will be made towards operationalising the National GIS using the network of Spatial Data Nodes of Data Providing Agencies built under the NSDI Initiative and Upscaling the NSDI Clearinghouse to a National Data Registry.


Over the years, a robust network of shareholders has been installed and sustained for provision of various webbased services in an interoperable form over the web. Utility of Geo Portals, Standard Specifications, Spatial Data Reengineering, Interoperapability etc. has been demonstrated with the involvement of the Advanced Laboratory on Geo- Information Science & Engineering at IIT Bombay and the network of R & D Institutions of Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS). These are being adopted and used by the NSDI Shareholders. Required capacities are being built in various organisations and agencies at the National and State levels to operationalise Spatial Data Nodes for provision of web-based Data Services. There is a greater degree of awareness about NSDI Web Services amongst the Stakeholders and End Users. However, the gap exists between end user’s access to Data Services and their effective utilisation in decision support. NSDI is thus currently migrating itself from the present ‘Data Space’ to ‘Product Space’ to meet the aspirations of the NSDI Shareholders and the Stakeholders.

The paper was presented at NSDI 13, IIT Bombay during November 29-30, 2013

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One Comment »

  • Asmat Ali said:

    At last, pundits have valued PPP approach.

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