The success of the National GIS would be in its effective utilization for various applications
What has triggered the idea of National GIS?
The idea of National GIS (NGIS) has been driven by the needs of the Planning Commission, Government of India. The Planning Commission looks for lot of information which helps them in the process of planning. The need has been felt to integrate many of these information so that they can utilized effectively for various planning processes and applications. There has been discussion going on for quite some time in the Planning Commission under the leadership of Dr K Kasturirangan, Member, Planning Commission, where GIS is perceived as an effecting tool that can be integrated in the developmental plans and programmes of the Planning Commission. This is how the idea of the NGIS has emerged.
The Planning Commission envisages that the NGIS could become a fundamental component of India’s planning and developmental infrastructure, providing visibility into various aspects of the national economic and governance process, development process, etc and at the same time also bringing value to enterprise commerces and citizen services, truly making it a national system.
What is the role of Ministry of Earth Sciences in the NGIS?
As of now, the Ministry of Earth Sciences has been given the lead-task by the Planning Commission, through the ICG which is a team of geospatial experts, to prepare a blueprint for the development of the NGIS.
We are focussing on mainly three aspects. The first is to understand the user requirements. This will provide the base for NGIS needs. The second important aspect is the availability of different types of data that could be easily organised into a nation-wide GIS and made accessible, and utilized for developing decision support systems for various applications. Thirdly, we are also looking at what kind of infrastructure (considering the tremendous advancements in Imaging/Mapping/Surveying; geospatial databases; GIS applications; IT, computing, etc) would be needed so that national GIS Applications on a standardised national GIS data/information can be easily served/accessible to users for various applications, even for real time applications.
We have decided to undertake all-round consultations – with government, industries, academia and NGOs – and obtain inputs so that a true ‘national character’ can be in-built into the system.
All users/data generators/service providers/researchers/social scientists can participate and “own” the national system. We are debating on the organisational set up required for such a system – the structure, role of various players, and other organisational focus aspects. Many of these issues will evolve in due course.
What are the challenges before the National GIS?
The main focus of National GIS is to position a strong foundation of a Decision Support System of GIS Applications which depend not only on developing wide variety of GIS Application software, but also on the currency of the GIS data/information, its availability/usability in an easy-manner, and how it is presented/served to the prospective users. In this context, I would like to highlight three challenges. The first challenge is to keep the GIS data/information ‘always’ updated and establish a mechanism for this to happen regularly.
The second challenge is to make GIS data/information and applications that any user could easily use it. When the users are most comfortable to use the system, then they will drive it towards success.
The third and the real challenge is developing a GIS system that supports real time decision making – a decision to be taken NOW has to be taken now and must be supported with the right GIS Apps and GIS data. For example, if there is a fire in a large area of a city, then the GIS system should be able to support the firemen in planning and executing rescue operations by providing them the insights of city area, roads, building structures, etc and even integrated with real time video capturing. Or say, if Planning Commission wants to allocate funds for education sector, then the GIS system must be able to provide an analysis of schools in the country, their density, access distances, population served, investment status of each school already made in earlier plans, and so on. So the success of a National GIS really comes when “users” are served what they want in an easy-manner – we are even listing performance metrics for measuring (at any time) the success factor of National GIS.
Does that mean that technological advancements have to be utilized in effective application developments, and NGIS has a role there?
That’s true. In this context, I would like to share the example of Tsunami Warning System. The system has been possible because we have adopted the most advanced and sophisticated technology that has enabled us to get the required data in a reliable manner without any disturbances. Moreover, we must also realise that a range of technologies – measurement technologies, GIS technology, IT, etc may all in a “combined manner” be making these applications successful and operational – thereby, recognising that technology platforms have to be viewed seamlessly and integrated across national applications platforms.
Do you think that data availability will be an issue?
On a comprehensive data level, data related issues are there (just like in any country). A large number of GIS Apps and DSS applications can be easily developed and positioned based on available data sets. To that extent there is not constraint – we have many examples. You know how GPS positioning data is easily available and integrated in India. I, myself, have found GPS very useful while moving around in Delhi when I had not much idea of Delhi roads and streets. One needs to clearly understand the type of data that is required for a specific purpose. One may not use Google maps for cartographic purposes but for common man it is a useful tool. The point I would like to emphasize here is that a lot of applications can be positioned with the GIS data/information are available, and to ensure that the GIS data/information serve the purpose.
How are organizations responding to the initiative of NGIS? Do you also have to deal with data sharing and ownership issues?
We are getting very good response. In fact, there has been increasing realisation in government organisations that data sharing is in the larger interest of society and national development. By sharing data we do not lose but in fact we get access to the data of other organisations as well. The approach towards data sharing is changing.
How is it going to be different from National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI)?
In the ICG, we have debated on this and recognised that NSDI has been an excellent enabling mechanism for GIS standardization and also for generating testbeds for inter-operability. In fact, Planning Commission has clearly envisioned that National GIS is a DSS on a national GIS dataset and thus is unique and distinct from NSDI. In fact, I must mention that the experiences of NSDI and NNRMS – especially in the excellent work on standards, GIS databases and even the various GIS projects that have been done have been considered while defining National GIS. Thus, the NGIS would focus upon developing decision support system on a standardised and updated/maintained nation-wide GIS data/information for various applications.