Dr R Siva Kumar has been heading the Natural Resources Data Management Systems (NRDMS) and National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), Department of Science and Technology, Government of India for the past 10 years. The affable scientist holds a doctorate from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi; an engineering degree from Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati and a post graduate degree in Computer Methods and Programming and Production Photogrammetry from ITC, The Netherlands – all with distinction. In conversation with Krishma Seth, the dynamic officer outlines the role of GIS in shaping the future.
Geographic information system (GIS) has made enormous headway in the global framework. Where do you position India in this context?
GIS today is a part of many core organisations and is being used and uently understood by academia as well as the industry. However, further awareness about the power of the
tool still needs to be created. In India with the availability of satellite images, considerable progress has been made in the GIS arena, alongside mapping and surveying technologies and a variety of GIS applications are being developed by organisations both within and beyond the government. GIS software is allowing wide integration of map layers and generating decision support. With about 70,000 GIS licenses in the country almost all departments at the centre and in the states
are using the technology in some form – the development process in India thus has one of the largest user and consumer base of geospatial technology.
At the global level, in the past few years
the geospatial industry has been estimated to be about USD ~4-5 billion, with a major share coming from GIS solution projects all over the world. Even in India in the 11th Plan period, the government sector allocation on projects using geospatial technology was INR 5000 – 6000 crores (GIS Development, 2010).
Is implementing GIS in India more of a ‘lack of trained personnel’ issue or ‘lack of data’ issue?
Both, but at varied levels. One of the key issues is the need for a skilled and trained workforce in the geospatial arena. A ‘National Task Force on Evolving Geospatial Education Strategy’ constituted by Ministry of Human Resource Development under the chairmanship of Dr K Kasturirangan, Member Science, Planning Commission, assessed the requirement of number of GIS skilled users and estimated that about 5,00,000 persons will be needed in the next 5 years. Whether it is a tehsildar, or a Secretary to Government of India – everyone needs this technology. The task force has analysed the requirement, identified the path to its fulfilment and made pertinent recommendations.
GIS was introduced in schools as an extra curricular activity and the results were very encouraging. The subject has now been introduced in the Central Board for Secondary Education (CBSE) class XI and XII curriculum and is being offered as a course in over 10,000 schools following CBSE curriculum- this is a big step. However, GIS may still take some time to develop as a pure stream. It is also proposed that the technology be taught as a sub section of other subjects – projection, datum, size of the earth, vector data, etc. in mathematics, remote sensing in physics, etc. GIS ingrained in various subjects may become acceptable in a relatively short time span.
At the college level, institutes offer GIS and remote sensing as optional as well as full fledged BTech and MTech courses. The Department of Science and Technology has supported centres of excellence in Kumaun University, Uttarakhand and Kerala University as well as in the Advanced Research Lab for Geospatial Information Science and Engineering, in the computer science department of Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, Mumbai. Geospatial chairs are established in Indian Institute of Science, Andhra University, University of Hyderabad, Anna University and University of Calcutta and we are processing a request from BR Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad. In collaboration with Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) a distance education programme will shortly be available.
However, to bring geospatial literacy among various communities we need to work with a much larger section of people. We need to look at NGOs and other community related organisations. A large number of proposals were received in response to our call for summer and winter schools from all over the country and we expect over 500 teachers to attend the first series being organised in various institutions in the country in the summer of 2012.
As for the ‘lack of data’ aspect – well, if one wants data, it is available, but in various permutations and combinations. Recently we have launched a Web Map Service (WMS) providing Survey of India topographic map data on scale 1:50,000 which can be overlaid on satellite images from the Bhuvan portal of the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC). Data from Geological Survey of India and Forest Survey of India would also be available as WMS through the India Geoportal (www.nsdiindia.gov.in). Also, archived satellite images can be freely downloaded from Bhuvan. Open Series Maps are readily available and the Remote Sensing Data Policy 2011 permits access to satellite images of 1m resolution.
Do you think we have adequate GIS courses?
The courses are not sufficient – even if courses are in place, jobs do not follow and students justifiably lose interest. Most universities running GIS courses remain unable to fill their seats. On the other hand, few institutes are successfully teaching a fair number of students – mainly due to their linkages with the industry. It is a mixed situation. Initially the industry was only interested in training their own personnel and reluctant to address the masses. Today the geospatial industry is prepared to work with academia and the industry has provided software licenses for running courses in schools – a huge leap forward.
GIS cannot be ‘taught’ purely as an academic subject. Do you think industry-academia collaboration could work in India?
Yes, it certainly will work. It is obvious that the profit orientation of the industry will stay but at the same time, industry-academia collaboration would be advantageous – as trained personnel would become readily available for the industry. As industry spends its own time and effort to train the people it would be a good revenue model to work out collaborations. Such ventures are still exceptions rather than a rule, but I am confident that in the near future such models will be immensely successful.
What is your opinion regarding the role of geographers in the Indian GIS context?
Geographers now have to think beyond what they have been doing – cartography and mapping. Geography has matured over time and in my opinion needs to further utilise spatial data to rediscover itself. There are two branches for GIS, one technology oriented and the other application oriented – this is where the geographers should focus. If there is BTech in geospatial technology, there can also be MA/MSc in geography with geospatial applications. In fact, GIS no longer refers to ‘geographic’ but ‘geospatial information system’ – though the abbreviation remains GIS. So, there is a need for geographers also to migrate to fresh curriculum right from school level geography.