New Delhi: Enthused by the panoramic information accessible via software applications such as Google Maps, where a search and a few clicks could throw up detailed maps of neighbourhoods, the government is set to approve a similar project.
Called the National Geographical Information System (nat-GIS) project, it will be implemented at a cost of Rs 3,000 crore.
Three officials from different wings of the government, none of whom wanted to be identified, said that when the project is ready, the information from a locality’s real estate value to its groundwater levels will be available as easily as restaurant locations and food menus are accessible now.
Mint’s Jacob Koshy looks at how soon the government could implement its ambitious National Geographical Information System project.
The project will consolidate similar work already happening in some states and collaborate with private companies that have done such work to avoid duplication.
One of the officials said the project’s scope extends beyond mere mapping.
“Google (Maps) is only a rough analogy,” said a another official involved with the project. “There will be maps, but there will be far more information available. Also, the government doesn’t plan on actually going out and gathering data.”
The state’s role will be to set up the infrastructure—servers, communication links that will enable them to piggyback on existing fibre optic networks such as those manned by the National Informatics Centre—and to get the ministries and the government departments, both at the state and the district levels, to make their data accessible.
“There’re troves of data, some digitized, some still as physical documents. A good number of what’s digitized still exists in formats that are mutually incompatible. For this to work, all of this data has to move seamlessly,” the same official said.
Currently, the departments of space, telecom, information technology and the earth sciences ministry are involved in the programme, which is expected to be up for review by the cabinet secretariat, the official added.
Another government official who is part of the project said significant data from organizations such as the Survey of India and Forest Survey of India will be used.
“Currently, (data exists from the) many surveys that the government undertakes, (such as) Survey of India, which does topography review etc. However, they are all in silos. The (nat-GIS) project will put all these data sets together and integrate them into one platform,”she said.
Several government departments have mapping projects underway such as the urban renewable mission, which has a mandate for mapping 65 cities, and the National Informatics Centre, which has a similar mandate for seven mega cities.
Government departments involved with mapping use satellite images from firms such as Microsoft (Bing) or Google (Earth), who in turn buy it from agencies that carry out satellite imagery, according to the second official.
“There are different kinds of data sets already available with companies too. We’ll ensure that there’s no unnecessary duplication of work,” he added.
A third official, who also didn’t want to be identified, said the private sector will be a key partner in the initiative.
Even at the stage of preparing the vision document, inputs from all experts were taken on board, including from companies such as Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. because it was recognized that a lot of work has already been done on this. The idea would be to integrate and not duplicate all the work done by the different agencies and orient nat-GIS for socially relevant purposes, this official said.
Independent experts said they didn’t expect such a project to materialize anytime soon. “I think it’s too futuristic,” said Sanjay Mehendale, an independent GIS consultant. “Making data compatible is the most challenging aspect and there are several impediments—legal, administrative—to it. I don’t see anything before 2020.”
Kirthi Rao contributed to this story.