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From the 14% at the time of independence to almost 32% according to the 2011 Census, urban settlements in India have witnessed a rapid population growth – which is only projected for further increase by hitting 40% by 2026 and 50% by the year 2051. As rapid as this growth may be, when it comes to smaller settlements, the expansion has been rather haphazard and unplanned with non-conforming land use, burgeoning unauthorized colonies and conversion of agricultural land to urban – which has resulted in environmental degradation and poor quality of life. This highlights the need for proper management of urban areas, which can only be done if accurate, vital spatial information is available in real-time.
Currently, the major tool for urban land development which provides detailed land use allocation for sustainable development of a city or a town is a Master Plan or Development Plan. Formulation of these starts with base map preparations, land-use surveys and the collection of socio-economic data that is necessary for the reviewing of the existing situation and future proposals. With the advancements that have been seen in remote sensing and geographic information system, the plan-making process can now be expedited by integrating both spatial and attribute data. This can help in detail assessment of the spatial growth of towns and cities, the land-use status, the kind of physical infrastructure facilities available etc. which can be done in anticipation of the population growth that is projected.
All these factors in mind, the government of India launched the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT), in 2015 as a centrally sponsored scheme, which could be the beginning of the creation of an India Geospatial Stack. Taking a cue from the creation of India Stack – an ambitious project that aims to create a unified software platform that can bring India’s population into the digital age with the help of four distinct technology layers; In a similar vein creating a single platform space for geospatial data that could be powered by community-driven data creation – can help in creating an impact upon both urban and rural sector, by enhancing the effectiveness of the governing bodies.
Despite the use of GIS as technology in India being wide, its potential has not been exploited fully for decision support by planners, decision-makers, stakeholders, citizens, etc. While there have been initiatives that have proven to be quite successful and demarcated its potential, yet achieving a full-service orientation, to go on and become a core component for governance, planning, and nation-building is something that is still yet to be achieved.
Creating India Geospatial Stack can go on and address issues such as:
- Bringing about governance process that would be supported by a comprehensive, easy to use GIS-based decision support system and would bring dimensions of scientific, participatory and quality decision-making planning and development.
- Making sure that geospatial data is easily available and maintained by the addition of critical capability differentiators over images and maps, invested in already.
In this direction, the preparation of base maps as per AMRUT guidelines can actually be a starting point for making data available for cities to the common man as well as the business fraternity. When applicable for smart cities, the production of geospatial data can be compared on a single platform in order to assess the performance and learnings. One of the best ways moving on forward would be to have a community of contributors and developers who can access data and develop the platform on a pro bono basis with its open API architecture. This will help in combining all the data available from open source to a single platform.
With a vision to create a new paradigm for governance and development with special emphasis on reducing disparity, expediting growth and also bringing forth demographic dividends that are unique – India Geospatial Stack would enable the scientific mapping of resources, the disparities present and also meet the aspirations of beneficiaries, society – especially the disadvantaged. It can also go on to support sustainable spatial planning, reliable and fast monitoring of the implementation of plans and also the status of development of projects at hand. This will definitely help in bringing about transparent systems of inclusivity, by real-time mapping of feedbacks and putting redressal systems in place.
The building of India Geospatial Stack will be divided into two phases ideally-firstly there would be the need to design a land information system that would serve local conditions and land practices and then go on to design the core implementation phase which would involve data creation, spatial publishing and integration.
By involving the private sector and individuals in creating a single platform, the creation of a geospatial stack which government departments will also follow as the same database schema for various applications will be possible. This will also create an infrastructure for boosting education and research in GIS – With research programs focused on training the leaders of tomorrow in spatial thinking concepts and the core principles.
Going on to the fact that almost 80% of all the data existent in the world today has a spatial component, we know that geospatial data infrastructure would be one of the foundational components of data infrastructure. India Geospatial Stack would serve not only as an infrastructural service but also as a knowledge repository and service provider. Given that we want to move ahead and become a 5 trillion USD economy by the year 2024, being able to leverage digital transformation and establish a geospatial data infrastructure would be a big leap to that end.
An open API-based location intelligence technology platform can help India move forward in an efficient, cohesive, effective manner as an India Geospatial Stack can make significant contributions towards planning, monitoring, implementation of welfare programs as well as development projects that encompass both public and private sectors. This, in turn, would not only help in improving national productivity and bring higher returns, but it would also help in expanding and strengthening the Indian geospatial industry which would add significant societal and economic value itself.