GIS or Geographic Information System is the new buzzword in India’s development lexicon. Although many forms of GIS have been used in India for the better part of past 20 years, it is only now that it has seriously entered the country’s policymaking machine. The man leading the charge is Sam Pitroda.
As the country enters a third phase of economic liberalization—the first two being its introduction in the mid 1980s and consolidation in the 1990s and 2000s—India will increasingly need to integrate massive amounts of data specific to millions of different geographical locations. Unless the country is able to create easily readable and standardized maps, graphs and charts containing location specific data, which can achieved through a robust GIS, it will not be able to meet its massive demographic and development challenges.
Laying out the case before an audience of over 10,000 people in San Diego yesterday, as part of the Esri International User Conference, Pitroda spoke in terms of “Creating a nationwide platform for GIS to tag every physical asset.” The primary theme of his address was India’s steadfast focus on its 300 million illiterate citizens and 400 million below the poverty line. “Everything we do has to take into consideration the bottom of the economic pyramid,” he said.
It has been Pitroda’s case for a while now that GIS would be a decisive tool as India goes about addressing its enormous demographic challenges arising out of the numbers of illiterate and poor citizens buffeted by many inequities. He said GIS would be plugged into government and other apps being created with the help of 10,000 software engineers working for the government. There are many building blocks of this system already in place in terms of portals on water, environment, energy and biodiversity.
There are several definitions of GIS but I like the one given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which calls it a computer system that “allows you to map, model, query, and analyze large quantities of data within a single database according to their location.”
There is no way any economy, let alone the world’s fastest growing democratic economy that is India, can do without a sound GIS now. Unlike two decades ago when information and communications technologies were still striking roots in India and elsewhere, we now have enough critical mass of such technologies to let a GIS ride on top. With the growing use of smart phones maps and graphics using GIS will soon be available in your hand.
All stakeholders in India will increasingly need consolidated and integrated information that only GIS can provide. It is from this standpoint that GIS has become a crucial policymaking and planning tool for all governments.
Beyond the skullduggeries of politics, which the media obsesses over, what really builds a nation are such fundamental tools of governance and development as GIS. Like all great technologies, GIS is too is politically agnostic.It will not matter who wins in the next general election in India in 2014 as long as the ruling dispensation is able to effectively employ tools such as GIS to successfully navigate Phase 3 of the economic transformation over the next two decades.