Geospatial Information for Development
Indian Space Research Organization
In May 1983 a few eminent Indian scientists visualized an institutional framework of the National Natural Resources Management System that would enable the utilization of spatial images from Indian satellites to support national development activities. Spatial information was visualized from the beginning as a resource that could be used for a number of applications by a number of users in the government, the private sector, and academia, and by the public. Spatial information could be used by the government for land management, property management, water resources management, environmental assessment, and so on. The private sector would need it for business applications, development, and marketing services. Academia would be a major user of the spatial information, using the information for research, such as global change research and climate modeling. Private citizens would also be major users of spatial data. The spectrum of users of spatial data is quite wide and today in India it is a resource that can serve all these users.
Satellite-based observations across India are a major source of spatial information for developmental activities. India has satellite images from 1 km resolution, which provides images every half an hour, to 1 m resolution. The satellite images should be converted to spatial information, such as land use maps, groundwater maps, and forest maps, and then these spatial data sets should be linked with nonspatial data, such as human census data and village development data, to make them more useful. The position information from the Global Positioning System satellites can give the precise location information that is required for high-resolution satellite image analysis today. Satellite images can provide cartographic-quality maps, terrain models, models of topography, cadastral maps, and support a whole systematic mapping process.
USE OF GEOSPATIAL INFORMATION FOR DEVELOPMENT IN INDIA
There are many examples of how satellite images and related spatial data and information are used in India for development. Spatial information forms the basic unit for supporting the area development process and planning development. Indian remote-sensing satellite data for the entire country have been used to map the wasteland areas. A digital database containing the basic wasteland information is used to plan the use of land, and such plans for land management are now available.
Spatial information is also used to find sources of drinking water in India. A very exhaustive map is prepared using satellite images and other information to assist villages in finding drinking water within a 1 km radius that
can be tapped. This information is regularly used by district administrators and decision makers to solve many of the drinking-water problems that they have in their areas.
Spatial information is also useful for crop production estimations. Every year satellite images are used in conjunction with meteorological observations and market information to provide four estimates of crop production in a crop growth cycle. This is done for wheat, paddy, groundnut, jute, cotton, and a variety of other crops for the entire country. This information, which is based on satellite images and integrated models, is used by decision makers to plan the stocking and movement of food grains and also on decisions for food import and export. This is a national project conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture in India.
Spatial information is also used in urban development. Annual monitoring of cities is done using satellite images, which are mapped and studied to find out how a city is growing. A digital database is created and the exact location for the future growth is modeled to determine the type of development a city should adopt.
Disaster management is an area where space images play a very major role. For example, the Indian Remote Sensing Satellite observed the flooding in the state of West Bengal. The flood inundation information was abstracted from the satellite images and superimposed in digital format onto a map. Such statistics as extent of inundation, villages affected, and areas damaged are passed to the district administrator who decides the type of rescue operation, damage assessment, and measures needed to see that these disasters are mitigated.
Drought occurs quite frequently in India. There is a program that uses satellite images to generate the weekly normalized difference vegetation indices (NDVI) during the summer season. The NDVI is used as a reference and compared to an estimate to find out whether they differ. The NDVI is modeled across time to discover the onset of a drought. This operational program, which is done using satellite images and related information, is used by administrators to decide whether any mitigation measures should be taken for the drought.
India has a variety of biodiversity hot spots, and a unique application focuses on biodiversity characterization. This project involves using satellite images to map these hot spots, as well as forest density and forest types. Similarly, satellite-image-based modeling is done for a species assessment at the ground level. These maps are augmented by in situ collection of species information to generate a biodiversity index that categorizes areas as rich or poor in biodiversity. This program is done using geographic information systems (GIS) and satellite imagery.
Another application uses terrain models at the district level to determine where water conservation efforts should be directed. This prognostic terrain and land use information is generated using GIS and spatial modeling tools and is available for the district administrator to plan water-harvesting structures for that area. This information also assists district administrators with decisions about employment opportunities or subsidies.
A major program in India has been the establishment of a Natural Resources Information System in which an integrated GIS database of 22 spatial and 8 nonspatial parameters is generated as decision support for district authorities. This integrated database, apart from supporting natural resources management, is used at a district level to determine the location of such amenities as primary schools, health centers, and general facilities. Criteria have been developed to assist with narrowing down sites to determine the optimal location for these facilities.
BUILDING A NATIONAL SPATIAL DATA INFRASTRUCTURE FOR INDIA
Over the last 20 years India has generated a large archive of geospatial data and information. Until recently most of this information was in different formats, and many different agencies were working on it. The data were also in different scales. There were various obstacles limiting access to this information, including difficulty in finding the information, reproducing it, and using it in GIS to support development activities. The government is now establishing a National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) to standardize formats, standardize archival of spatial data, and make them easier to access. The underlying idea is to adopt an open-access approach and view the spatial information of India as a national resource.
Many databases have been generated using the satellite images, as well as the related information derived from those images. This information supports national, state, and district development projects. NSDI provides access to organized spatial data and information. The goal is that the infrastructure is used for a sustained economic growth.
Multiple servers are being established in different agencies to support the NSDI. For example, the Soil Department has digitized its data and put up a soil server that has all the soil information. The Environment and the Forest Departments have put all the forest information and the satellite images on separate servers and so on. Thus, NSDI provides a single gateway that allows users to go to these servers and extract the information they need.
Access rights and users must be defined for the NSDI to be operational. The public access will be mainly in a preview mode. The generator of information will have the full right of access. Other policy issues involving costs, regulation of access, and classification of information, for example, are currently being defined.
A server that contains the metadata of the spatial data is available. Through these metadata one can find out the information that is available in different agencies for different areas. This metadata server will eventually be linked to the individual digital GIS databases, which will reside on different servers. The user will then be able to go to the metadata and access the information through the total network that will be established for the NSDI.
In addition, a remote-sensing data policy has already been approved by the Government of India. This policy clearly states that the satellite images are seen as a public good. Through this policy the government will ensure the continuous availability of the Indian remote-sensing satellite images through a series of future missions.
Satellite images of up to 5 m resolution are available on a nondiscriminatory open-access basis, but for the high-resolution images that are 1 m, access is regulated by authentication of the user and the use of the application. This process ensures that a right to add value is given to the user, while the original copyright of all the satellite images rests with the responsible national agency.
We are slowly moving toward consolidating the issues of a spatial information policy. We are trying to position spatial information, which includes not just the satellite images but also a variety of other information from photographic service, cartographic service, the GPS, and ground tools service as a societal good. This is especially important if these data and information are going to be useful for development. One constraint that surfaces in providing complete open access is the strategic value of high-resolution satellite imagery and large-scale map information from a national security perspective; this type of information would not reside on the NSDI.
A major concern of most of the agencies is their rights as the information producer. How does the NSDI defend the rights of the information producer? Other issues involve copyright, which is complicated in the digital domain and includes licensing, as well as technological protection measures.
The crux of the whole policy is the right to access. Who has the right to access all the spatial data and what are their rights? They should be very clearly documented and known; transparent policy is critical. Different user groups should be granted different rights. The public should have certain rights; an individual should be able to access data that are required by the public. The government should have different types of rights because they are the actual owners of the information. The private sector should be given a different type of right for accessing the information, for operating the database, and producing it for development. Academia, for research purposes, should have yet another type of rights. The process of defining these categories of users and their rights is ongoing.
There is a major debate concerning the right to add value to the data and information and how that right is defined. What is value addition? If someone changes just some attributes of the data do they become value-added? The scope by which one defines the term “value-added,” especially in the spatial domain, needs more clarity. Other issues involve the marketing of value-added data, as well as the rights of the producers of the original raw data. Map information is treated as value-added because the map is a derivative of the process. The development of an NSDI engenders even more questions. For example, could some of the spatial data be used against individuals and society? There are also privacy issues, both individual and societal.
NSDI must also consider cost models. One model, which charges the cost of reproduction and dissemination, would be applied mainly to most of the government-owned information because the government has the obligation to society to generate the right information and make it available. Of course, the commercial, or total cost recovery model, is another to consider, particularly when information is in the commercial domain.
It is anticipated that the NSDI strategies and guidelines will be released in the near future. After discussion within the government, it will then be made public how the NSDI will actually be accessible or available to different groups of users.