July 2013

Putting GIS at core of e-Gov Initiatives

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Ashis Sanyal

Consulting Editor, egov

It is important to appreciate that most of the interactions between government and citizens can be interpreted geographically. In a way, most of the government data is geographic in character. Geographical Information System (GIS) software processes data related to real geographic locations available in maps containing spatial data, through common databases to produce various inferences based on statistics, visualisation and graphic analysis.
On the other hand, e-Governance, expected to use technology abundantly to meet the governance objectives more efficiently, is actually a synthesis of information with communication technologies (ICT), supporting and transforming the governance by processing and communicating data. e-Governance mainly involves accepting, storing, processing, outputting or transmitting data/information, supporting current processes of decision-making and implementation. Database Management, Data Warehousing and Data Mining, are the core implements of decision-making in e-Governance, widely applied for computer based Decision Support System (DSS) in various application areas. GIS technology is the most effective tool which would meet nearly all abovementioned promises of e-Government. Among all types of data processed in e-government, spatial data are perhaps the most important information, revealing geographical relations with various attributes of development and overall governance e.g. planning, preparation and approval of megaplans, management of existing infrastructure and restructuring of facilities, citizen services etc. This new discipline of Geomatics has helped evolving a shift from ‘conventional’ Decision Support System (DSS) to the ‘spatial’ DSS (S-DSS).
In the past decade usefulness of GIS in governance has been appreciated, although in an islanded manner, in many government entities.
State of Chhattisgarh, through its agency Chips,has been a forerunner in this regard and executed a state-wide project. In West Bengal, with the funding from World Bank, DFID, GIS is being deployed for better and holistic planning of the Urban Local Bodies. GIS-enabled Land Management System was developed for Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), Mumbai, using RDBMS and Geomatics, which would include planning layouts of industrial sites, attracting entrepreneurs for investment, leasing of industrial plot, construction and maintenance of infrastructure and amenities such as roads, drainage systems,providing streetlights, water supply and other utility amenities such as built-up accommodation for banks, post offices, telecom facilities, police station,fire station, medical and tourism facilities, canteens,shops etc. in the industrial areas in the State.Such is the over-encompassing potential of deployment of GIS in governance matters which would empower a citizen or the government to mutually interact for services, planning, decision-making for development and implementation of government programmes. Report generation, research related to planning, demand forecasting, demographic analysis, distribution logistics, all would be made available so easily by use of appropriate GIS tools.However, as governmental roles are multi-sectored and complex, any GIS system has to manage the different data formats and operate in various environments, in order to meet data sharing and exchange requirements between different sources.Therefore, interoperability of spatial databases,the unification of multi-department application systems and integration of GIS into management information systems (MIS) and other non-spatial systems are critical issues in GIS applications in governance.
Potential of GIS as a tool in development planning, implementation of various welfare schemes, facilitating citizen services and good governance, has been well appreciated by the government for quite some time and in 2011 Planning Commission constituted the National GIS Interim Core Group (ICG) which had very wide level of stakeholders consultations, in order to formulate a national vision and implementation strategy for deployment of GIS as an essential tool for government businesses. Having noted the prevalent activities of the existing institutions and the initiatives in this area, like,National Resources Information System (NRIS) and National Natural Resources Management System (NNRMS) of the Indian Space Research Organization, National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) and National Resources Data Management System (NRDMS) of Department of Science and Technology, GIS platform established in National Informatics Centre (NIC),the ICG submitted its final Vision Document on October 2011 and suggested many actions,including establishing Indian National GIS Organisation (INGO) that would be responsible for the National GIS system, maintaining and operating a comprehensive GIS Platform. In the Section 5.1.3 of this Vision Document GIS based Decision Support System and specifically in the Sub-section 5.3.1.1, GIS-based governance applications in different application areas as a service for different ministries/departments in government, target groups in private enterprises and also for citizens, have been identified.These are the important sectors of governance on which the Report identified some core GIS Applications like, Plan-GIS, Rural-GIS, City-GIS, Roads-GIS, Health-GIS, Water Resources-GIS, Agri-GIS, GIS for Disaster Management,GIS for Infrastructure sector, Environment-GIS,GIS for Aadhaar, Census-GIS, Weather-GIS,Earth Sciences-GIS, GIS for Security, Coal-GIS, Heavy Industry-GIS, New Energy-GIS,Tourism-GIS, Panchayati Raj-GIS, Power-GIS, Defence-GIS, Steel-GIS, GIS for private sector applications, GIS for citizen services applications and integrated e-services and so on.
Getting an Expert Report on comprehensive GIS deployment in government in order to work out a strategy in this regard, including establishment of a National GIS Organisation, is another timely testimony of our government going in the right direction. The report prepared by the ICG, under the stewardship of Secretary Earth Sciences, is one of the most comprehensive and directional packages of activity-laden information between two covers. Some years back, at the World GIS Summit held in Hyderabad, this columnist had the unique privilege of having a brief interaction with the Management Guru late CK Prahlad who insisted on essentiality of  bundant use of GIS in governance. Let us implement it now in letter and spirit…let the proposed INGO become another crucial tool for inclusive growth for our country.

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