India, has over the past years, produced a rich base of map information through systematic, topographic, geological, soil and cadastral surveys, various natural resource inventory programmes and use of remote sensing images. Further, with the availability of precision, high resolution, satellite images and organisation of GIS, combined with the Global Positioning System (GPS), the accuracy and content of spatial data sets or maps have become extremely high.
With the recognition that spatial information is a national resource and citizens, society, private enterprise and government have a right to access it appropriately, a Secretariat has been newly constituted by the National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) Act in June 2006. Although NSDI started functioning in early 2000, it is only now that, eight years, later that its efforts are near fruition. Through common conventions and technical agreements, standards, definitions, network and access protocols NSDI is today facilitating the coming together of various ‘groups’ and harmonising their efforts in making this national endeavour a success. The NSDI will be an important element for supporting economic and sustainable growth in the country providing,
- An information infrastructure
- Framework to collate standardised information from identified and selected sources
- Information from various agencies
- Value added data for diverse user applications, and
- Business of spatial data with user bodies in open access public domains.
Putting in place a spatial data infrastructure is a global concept, which is working successfully in several countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and the European Union. Among developing nations Dubai and Indonesia are making considerable headway in organising and standardising its spatial data. However, India presents a unique problem with climatic, vegetative, soil, cultural and many other complex variations that are difficult to converge in specific layers. Thus steps in issues of interoperability wherein data sets have to have common standards of specifics such as metadata, data models, nomenclatures, systematic structuring and so forth is facilitated by the NSDI Secretariat.
The NSDI’s vision is to create a national infrastructure for the availability and access to organized spatial data for use at community, local, regional and national level for sustainable development. The user has to only access the electronic front door, place the query and discover the results. The data infrastructure in the backdrop, will work with all the agencies involved (fourteen at present, named nodes) to take security clearance and prepare a transparent system of operation. NSDI also maintains user level records to avoid duplication of access.
India has possibly the longest known tradition of systematically collecting scientific spatial data, Survey of India (SoI) having organise data for the past 235 years. The SoI is the leader of topographical data followed by Indian Meteorological Department and Geological Survey of India each over 150 years. Similarly, other departments such as Central Ground Water Board, Forest Survey of India, National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning etc., have collected a wealth of data over long periods. In the past three decades, Department of Space has produced a variety of data from satellites. However, this data could not be effectively utilised for developmental use in the country. The basic encumbrances are technical, institutional, attitudinal and policy related. Technical problems are mainly platform oriented. Fortunately, in India, most of the spatial data is based on SoI topographic maps on scale 1: 50,000 or 1: 250,000. However, the analogue data when converted into digital format is obtained in machine formats of the platform on which it is generated. Despite of the best conversion software available, there is loss of data when converted from one format to another. The procedures to secure digital geospatial data and share it with stakeholders had so far been a long drawn and cumbersome process. As a consequence, geospatial data sharing with a large number of stakeholders had been totally non-existent. With the launching of a full-fledged initiative, difficulty in access is being overcome.
Although NSDI has completed several landmark achievements till date, foremost amongst them is the consensus among data providers. The fourteen agencies working in tandem today, have each appointed nodal officers who interact closely with the NSDI Secretariat to iron out all differences that arise while creating a single window solution for the user. The task of convincing each party was uphill for the lean NSDI force but ultimately a path of synergy was paved towards meaningful infrastructure. Thus national standards for metadata and data exchange were developed. The NSDI also established a working relationship with Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), Global Spatial Data Infrastructure Association (GSDI) and Permanent Committee on GIS Infrastructure for Asia and the Pacific (PCGIAP). It also developed tools for web enabled, interoperable data and created data model that would enable spatial data sets.
NSDI Secretariat frequently organises training programmes for the nodal officers. Recently a month long training programme on Geographical Markup Language (GML) a new variant of XML was held at the NSDI Secretariat. Capacity building is also assisted through nodal officers’ conferences. The achievements of NSDI has been the release of Metadata Standard Ver 3.0 and National Spatial Data Exchange Ver 1.1. NSDI has also developed tools for data conversion from legacy topographical data to interoperable data sets (GML), data models and tools for semantic interoperability.
NSDI Road Map
Although all data providers are ready to make data available and accessible in digital form on WGS 84 datum (Map Policy) NSDI needs to revisit and update existing standards in conformity with international standards. It also needs to develop standards to achieve common good applications along with the creation of Spatial Information Processing (SIP) Models for online solutions. In the next few months operationalisation of India Geoportal will be underway and metadata by all data providers will be available. Operationalisation of domain portals and completion of conversion/generation of domain digital data (WGS-84) will be undertaken thereafter, evolving a National Spatial Information Policy which will finalise outreach and awareness strategy. NSDI’s long term goals constitute the establishment of Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) at various levels such as state, district and village, enable national Land Information System (LIS) and build capacity to facilitate growth of geospatial industry based services/solutions. This will no doubt enable NSDI assume leadership role in the international arena.
The NSDI Secretariat is now confidant of an enhanced regime of spatial data usage by the end of 2008. Although the payment gateways are yet to be formalised, the metadata systems are in place and the standardisation process complete. This brilliant new era of data synergy will no doubt revolutionise the planning process.
Inputs: Dr R Siva Kumar, Head, Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS), New Delhi. (SoI 2007-08/4)