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The Role of Geospatial Knowledge in E-Governance

Having adopted model remote sensing and GIS technology for various development projects, India today recognizes that empowering its citizens and modernizing governance is imperative for future nation-building. With a population of more than 1.2 billion, spread over 3,290,000 km², India, is composed of more than 600,000 villages and 7000 cities which means that it features varied geography with a rapidly evolving complex social and economic character. Dealing with ways and methods to comprehend social and economic challenges, India as a democracy, aims to bring a good quality of life to all its citizens by aiming to breach the chasm of disparity in economic and social character.

The Indian government has launched the initiative of Digital India which aims at the reformation of public services through technology and provide electronic delivery of services. Geographic Information System (GIS), to this end, plays an important role in aiding e-governance by mapping the country, noting the changes and understanding the complex interplay of social order as well as economic growth. In today’s digital era, geospatial technologies are being used to revolutionize the economy. Obtaining a better understanding and management of digital location-based data as well as services, when integrated with urban planning can enable much more efficient resource allocation so as to obtain better service delivery.

Since location is an essential parameter in almost every aspect of government functioning, hence GIS is a critical component for most mission mode projects that have been implemented and conceptualized by the government.

For any sort of developmental program to be implemented at a state or district level, there needs to be a lot of microlevel information available and planning, such as the identification of the right areas, target demography, allocation of funds, monitoring of activity, assessment of results etc. There have been myriad cases wherein development programs have faced challenges in achieving their objectives due to lack of appropriate technology to design the right plan – GIS allows us to develop a database of any spatially connected geographical area, which helps in every aspect of planning, monitoring as well as vision making.

The unique microlevel planning and coordination done by the deployment of GIS when coupled with satellite imagery and digitized data banks can help in various aspects of planning in the state. Historically speaking a lot of programs such as the Janmabhoomi Programme, Neeru-Meeru, Velugu, Prime Minister Gramin Sadak Yojana are all initiatives related to different sectors and departments that have benefited greatly from GIS.

Another area that can benefit from efficient, economical and meaningful administration is the Municipal Corporation. A comprehensive municipal information system that is integrated with GIS is the need of the hour for effective e-governance. A GIS-based municipal information system can address various functions like property assessment and reassessment, tax collection status, property tax on maps, public grievance redressal for utilities etc.

Knowing the location of things is essential for any rational decision making in e-governance. For example, if a natural disaster like floods strikes, a platform that is GIS enabled would be able to provide a common operating picture to all the stakeholders involved, which could include agencies that are involved in the relief operations, NGOs, bureaucrats etc. this can really help in a much more informed decision making process.

Even when it comes to flagship projects like Smart City, AMRUT, Digital India, Integrated Watershed Management System, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, land records modernization programs etc. GIS can power all of them and also be at the core of the technology initiatives that drive them. When it comes to the Smart City initiative GIS can help in integrating all the various systems like Command Control Centre, transportation, security, solid waste management with the government being set around a GIS-based service delivery platform.

By geo-enabling e-Governance projects and embedding geographical dimensions into all the services that are being provided to the citizens, decision-making can become more holistic and comprehensive. Some of the key factors that are imperative so that geospatial technologies can have a successful adoption across e-governance projects are:

  • The availability of geographical information products which would include vector maps, satellite imagery, aerial photographs, drones etc. This would also mean the need for re-engineering of certain data sets by national mapping agencies, to make them GIS compatible.
  • Data collection technology such as GPS, Lidar, aerial photography, drones  etc. will have to be adopted in order to capture data in a more accurate and faster manner. This also implies that the private sector will have a significant role to play in the creation of GIS data sets and also the dissemination of the services which would demand strong PPPs that can facilitate interoperability among various department and systems.
  • There will have to be a re-engineering of the business processes that exist in government departments, so that the geospatial dimension can be embedded in the information systems.
  • Capacity building is of the essence as a technical manpower that is capable of conceptualization, design, development and implementation of enterprise system that can leverage contemporary geospatial technology, will be at the core of the operations.

All these factors when combined with  an enabling geospatial policy will help in the facilitation of accurate, standard geospatial information to all users. The protection of intellectual property rights of data producers and also encouraging the creation of value-added products will extend the segment of users from government to private sector to NGOs, to academia and also citizens.

The bottom line is that geospatial technologies can play a pivotal role in creating a successful e-governance ecosystem in India. By providing a new paradigm for decision-making which will come from the enabling of geographical visualization representation of information, can help all the stakeholders in making much more informed decisions. This, in turn, will lead to the strengthening of governance, its transparency, as well as a marked improvement in the delivery of citizen services.