New Delhi: Alerting train drivers about broken tracks and unmanned railway crossings, mapping of malaria and cholera-prone zones in countries, alerting forest departments about forest fires in real time and virtual tours of tourist sites in India are just some of the programmes that the central and state governments are set to start in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).

Soon after assuming power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while attending a satellite launch vehicle lift-off at Sriharikota in June 2014, batted for the utilization of space technology for the common man’s welfare and had asked ministries to find ways to collaborate with Isro. Fifteen months later, the authorities are armed with nearly 170 such projects to be rolled out in the next couple of years.

More than 1,500 officials of the central and state governments and scientists from across India attended a national meeting in New Delhi on Monday where they discussed applications of space-based technology in agriculture, energy and environment, infrastructure planning, water resources, technology diffusion, developmental planning, communication and navigation, weather and disaster management, health and education.

While addressing the meeting, the Prime Minister said “sky is the limit" for the adoption of space technology in our daily lives. And he was not exaggerating.

Ashok Lavasa, secretary of the Union environment ministry, said space technology would be effectively used for an automated real-time forest fire alert system (March 2016), monitoring of stubble burning in the Indo-Gangetic plains (September 2016) to control air pollution, coral reef mapping, monitoring and mapping of coal mine fires (in five years) and others.

Secretary of urban development ministry Madhusudan Prasad said space technology was to be utilized for the development of 100 smart cities and developing a master plan of 500 cities, based on geographical information system (GIS).

“Railways is going to use space technology for GIS mapping of all railway routes and monitoring of railway assets, alerts in real time at unmanned railway crossing, geo-hazards like floods and landslides and synchronization of all clocks across India," said Prasad, while highlighting that this way, they would be able to avoid railway accidents like the one in Madhya Pradesh recently where floods had damaged railway tracks.

While the road transport ministry revealed that it would take Isro’s help in monitoring national highway projects and finding alignment in complex and hilly terrains, the tourism and culture ministry said it is planning virtual tours, 3D GIS mapping for adventure tourists like trekkers and site management plans of India’s 3,687 monuments of national importance.

In other interesting applications of space technology, the Union water resources ministry said it would use space technology for identifying critical river bank erosion sites and aquifer mapping.

Other proposed programmes included identification of potential fishery zones to help fishermen in getting a good catch, giving land rights to tribals and forests dwellers, high-speed broadband in remote areas using dedicated satellite, tracking fishing vessels using satellite links via embedded chips, monitoring of oil spills in ecologically sensitive zones, indigenous navigation system to replace GPS (global positioning system) and surveillance of maritime areas from security perspective, among others.

Speaking at the meeting, the Prime Minister recounted his days as Gujarat chief minister when he, along with Isro chief A.S. Kiran Kumar, who was then director of Space Application Centre in Ahmedabad, used space technology to help fishermen. He said they used to give fishermen longitudinal and latitudinal information about potential fishing sites where they could get a good yield, thereby saving both time and resources like diesel.

During the meeting, the officials admitted that space technology is already being used by several departments but often departments were working in silos.

The central government ministries and states exhorted Isro to meet challenges like adequate satellite capacity to meet their needs, proper training and hand-holding of officials in using space technology, and coordination with states.

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