National Spatial Data Infrastructure and its Utility




The information age, also called the computer age, the digital age, or the new media age, is defined as a period in human history that began in the 1970s with a wave of technological innovations like the personal computer, communication networks and related technologies, facilitating free and rapid transfer of data and information. The information age is characterized by a shift from traditional economy which the Industrial Revolution brought through industrialization, to an economy based on information computerization. Information and communication technologies allow us to capture, store, process and display an unprecedented amount of data about a wide variety of environmental, social and cultural phenomena.

Much of this data is spatial that is, it has geographic coordinates as a common denominator, and is representable in map form. Until recently, maps (usually in paper form) were the mainstay for a wide variety of applications and decision-making. This is changing as more spatially referenced data and information on a wider variety of topics or themes (e.g., population, land use, economic transactions, hydrology, agriculture, climate, soils) are being produced, stored, transferred, manipulated, and analyzed in digital form. Current and accurate spatial data must be utilized for local, state and national development and leveraged for economic growth, environmental quality and stability, and social progress.

Over the past two and-a-half centuries, India has produced a rich base of map information through systematic topographic surveys. These maps constitute the basis of geological maps, soil maps, cadastral maps, and various natural resources inventory maps, usually supported by modern techniques of aerial surveys, and ground and airborne geophysics. Further, the availability of precision, high-resolution satellite images, data management tools and processing by state-of-the-art Geographical Information Systems (GIS), combined with the Global Positioning System (GPS), has helped in greatly enhancing the accuracy and information content of these spatial datasets.

The beginning of the 21st Century witnessed a surge in observation of the earth and its various subsystems from space, resulting in availability of large amounts of data, in a variety of formats, pouring in at great speed. This means that we have an unparalleled opportunity to turn this flood of raw data into understandable information about our society and our planet. Success in this endeavor will have broad societal and commercial benefits in areas of scientific research, education, agriculture, land-use planning, disaster and crisis management, resource planning and conservation, decision-making and a sustainable future. Recognition of the fact that spatial information is a national resource and citizens, society, private enterprise and government have a right to access it for legitimate use, requires putting in place a robust system that will facilitate use of these data by all stake holders in the form of a national spatial data infrastructure.

What is Spatial Data Infrastructure:

A spatial data infrastructure is a collection of technologies, policies and institutional arrangements to facilitate availability of spatial data acquired and held by different agencies and organizations to a vast, diverse and ever growing community of users. The SDI also involves the promotion the use of the spatial data at community, local, state, regional and national levels for sustained economic growth of the country. The Government of India, through a Gazette notification of June 2006, established the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) for acquiring, processing, storing, distributing and improving utilization of spatial data. The NSDI is intended to be a gateway of spatial data being generated by various governmental and other agencies. The NSDI functions through a high powered National Spatial Data Committee (NSDC), presided over by the Minister of Science and Technology. The NSDC is responsible for formulating and implementing appropriate policies, strategies and programs for the operation and management of the NSDI, utilization of spatial data, and any other activities related to spatial data in the country.

Origin of the Indian NSDI:

The idea of creating Spatial Data Infrastructures by all countries of the world was floated at a Congress of the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS) held at Amsterdam in 2000. This Congress was attended by Maj. Gen. R. Shiva Kumar, the then Head of the NRDMS Division of the Department of Science and Technology, Lt. Gen. A.K. Ahuja, the then Surveyor General of India, former ISRO Chairman, K.I. Kasturirangan and Dr. Mukund Rao, the then DDEOS, ISRO. All the Indian delegates agreed that there was an urgent need for a spatial data infrastructure in India. On their return, the delegates discussed the idea  with Professor V.S.Ramamurthy of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Mr. Amitabha Pande, Joint Secretary, DST, who were equally intrigued by the idea.  It was agreed that we needed to leverage the data assets which were available with various national mapping organisations viz., the Survey of India (SOI), the Geological Survey of India (GSI), Forest Survey of India (FSI), Indian Meterological Department (IMD), NRSA (now NRSC), National Informatics Centre, the Central Water Commission (CWC), the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) etc. After intensive studies  of the methods of data handling and management adopted by top ranking organizations of the world, a task force was constituted by the DST in October 2000, with Lt.Gen. Ahuja as the Chairman and Maj. Gen. Shiva Kumar as the Member Secretary, and members drawn from various organizations across the country. The first meeting of the Task Force was convened in December 2000 wherein the concept of an Indian NSDI germinated. The first Conference of the NSDI - The National Spatial Data Infrastructure: A Roadmap for India - was organized in February 2001. Discussions centered around evolving a strategy for SDI including technical, institutional, financial and revenue models.

Elements of NSDI:

For smooth functioning of the NSDI, a number of key elements have been incorporated. These include:

1.  A NSDI Standard Standardization of data structures, database formats, exchange and transfer protocols, networks, communication equipment, software, etc. is the crux of NSDI functioning and utilization. Appropriate standards have been defined and agreed to by national agencies and other stake holders.

2.  Metadata is data that describes other data. It summarizes basic information about data, which can make finding and working with particular instances of data easier. A crucial element for smooth functioning of NSDI is the development of metadata standards and development and maintenance of metadata files, so that the users may quickly find the relevant data.

3.  NSDI Nodes and GIS servers hosting the actual spatial information set up in conformity of NSDI Standards. The NSDI Nodes are mainly GIS based spatial databases and development oriented information systems servers integrated and linked to basic spatial/geographic units.

4.  NSDI Search and Access Protocols which enable search and location of desired spatial information. These protocols provide the gateway for users to access NSDI, and also to provide bandwidth on demand to intermediate level and end-users of NSDI.

5.  The Electronic Clearinghouse is the mechanism that provides access to the metadata and finally to the actual data sets. The clearinghouse has a system to authenticate data requests. In case the requested data volumes are large, it can generate media bearing the requested data for transmission by mail.

6.  A User Interface which is the front-end interface for user queries and access to spatial information. The level of penetration by various categories of users has been defined and incorporated into the user interface. For a completely ubiquitous NSDI, online access to data and information applications must be freely available.

7.  NSDI Outreach and Awareness programme so as to increase the public and professional use of NSDI services and encourage e-govemance concepts.

Utility of National Spatial Data Infrastructure:

1.  Support to planning and development activities specially the management of natural resources, disaster management, watershed management/development, district planning, state planning, resources monitoring, rural development, Land capability Analysis; Optimal land use Planning; Water Resources Development; Agricultural Development; Irrigation planning; Watershed Development; Wasteland Development settlement hierarchy, facilities planning etc.

2.  Information bases for infrastructure development in the country specially the road, telecom, water distribution, sewerage management etc. SDI/GIS can provide the base information for addressing issues related to land use, environment, land acquisition, visibility and line of sight, costs of projects etc.

3.  Business can make use of SDI/GIS databases to further business opportunities and enable spatial data commerce.

4.  Universities involved in GIS Research, Education and Training will utilize the NSDI for undertaking specific research of global and national issues; impart GIS education with case studies and practical hands-on training.

5.  Info-Savvy society and communities all over the country would have spatial information access and bring in transparency in governance and insurance against discrimination and exploitation. 

Notes & Handouts

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