Applications of Geospatial Information Technologies for Rural Development & Inclusive Growth in India
The advent of geospatial information technologies including Remote Sensing (RS), Geographic Information System (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS), individually as well as jointly, are playing a significant role in the development and inclusive growth of the rural areas in India. The applications of remote sensing include forest and wastelands mapping, land-use/land-cover mapping , land-form and land-degradation studies, agriculture and soil mapping,ecology and Geo-sciences and geo-morphologic mapping, and mineral, oil and water exploration, coastal and ocean resources studies, environmental monitoring, disaster management, urban area studies and environmental impact assessment, etc.
The Government of India had set-up the National Natural Resources Management System (NNRMS) in 1983, after recognizing the need and importance of natural resources management, with Department of Space (DOS) as the nodal department. For the speedy operationalization of remote sensing as an integral component of natural resources inventory, monitoring and management, five Regional Remote Sensing Service Centres have been setup at Jodhpur for Western Region, Dehradun for Northern Region, Kharagpur for Eastern Region, Nagpur for Central Region and Bangalore for Southern Region.
In India, satellite systems are of two types, viz. remote sensing satellite and communication satellite. Main satellite programmes of the country include Apple, Aryabhata, Bhaskra, INSAT-1and 2 series, IRS series, Rohini and Soross. The Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellite system was India's first domestic dedicated earth resources satellite programme. Till December 1997, the seven IRS series of satellites launched were IRS-1A, IB, 1E, P2, 1C, P3, 1D. In addition, 2 more satellites viz. IRS-P4 (also called Carto Sat) and IRS-P (also called Ocean Sat) have been launched from the PSLV. The IRS-P4 satellite (also known as the Oceansat-1), launched on 26 May 1999, is currently in orbit. It has a Multi-frequency Scanning Microwave Radiometer (MSMR) and a nine-band Ocean Colour Monitor (OCM) which has opened new vistas in ocean studies. The data collected from ocean colour monitoring is used for conducting fisheries surveys and development of a fisheries forecast model based on the data. The satellite records the chlorophyll concentrations in the oceans which help predict biological productivity in the oceans. The monitoring has proved quite useful in coastal processes like sediment dynamics, dynamics of estuaries and tidal inlets, prediction of shore time changes, circulation & dispersal pattern, up-welling of coastal and oceanic fronts and surface currents. The satellite has a great impact on environment studies as it had proved to be of great use in learning about marine pollution and oil slicks. Also important is its use in coral reef studies. The IRS-P6 (Resourcesat-1) launched in October 2003, provided an excellent opportunity to obtain high resolution multi-spectral data and moderate resolution data in 10-bit, while providing continuity of data. Subsequently, IRS-P5 (Cartosat-1) was launched on May 5, 2005. It catapulted the IRS programme into the world of large scale mapping and terrain modeling applications.Thus, over the years, DOS has built-up a strong research and development and technological base with necessary infrastructure and manpower for implementing the space programme.
Rural Development: From the point of view of direct relevance of remote sensing for rural development and inclusive growth, the main centre is the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), Hyderabad. It is engaged in operational remote sensing activities, and is responsible for aerial and satellite remote sensing data reception/acquisition, processing, dissemination/supply/distribution of data from foreign satellites and exploring the practical uses of remote sensing technology for multilevel applications. It strives to provide end-to-end solutions for utilization of data for natural resource management, geospatial applications and information services for realizing the Indian Space Vision.
The NRSC facilitates various remote sensing & GIS applications for natural resources and environmental management related to food security, water security, energy security, disaster management support and sustainable development. Currently, it is acquiring data from various satellites, viz. NOAA-17, NOAA-18, TERRA, AQUA, ERS and Carto sat. It also acquires and distributes data collected by other satellites like RADARSAT, IKONOS, QUICKBIRD, ORBIMAGE, ORBVIEW and ENVISAT.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system consisting of a network of 24 satellites. The GPS technology is being used for quite some time in aerial and maritime navigation. The applications of the GPS technology include various forms of civilian and military navigation, mapping and surveying, habitat inventories and wildlife tracking, etc. Data received from GPS is used as a field check for remote sensing data and also plays a supplementary and complementary role for remote sensing data.
The Geographic Information System (GIS) is a computer-based system used to capture, store, edit, analyze and display geographically referenced data and locational information is linked to non-spatial data, also called attributes. The GIS is a distinct and powerful tool which strengths the integration of spatial and attribute data and the layering of information in a number of different themes, which may be superimposed upon each other, revealing complex spatial relationships between variables. GIS technology has become an integral tool in a number of applications, including land use, wastelands, urban planning, water exploration, environmental conservation & management, eco-system studies, etc. The GPS has helped improve the accuracy of data, as the availability of useful digital data, remote sensing or otherwise, is often limited and quite costly.
Water Resources: Spatial and non-spatial information when integrated into a GIS environment has a wide range of applications. In the field of water resources (including drinking and irrigation water), there are several areas where geospatial technologies are being applied for scientific planning, management and monitoring. The two most important areas in this respect are: (i) Hydrological studies which include rainfall estimation, forecasting and monitoring, hydrological modeling, urban hydrology and water balance models, and (ii) Watershed conservation, planning and management, including watershed delineation, quantitative analysis of drainage network, watershed, geology, soil mapping, lake and reservoir sedimentation studies. About 210 thousands bore-holes have been drilled annually with an average success rate of 85 %. A comparative study of failed hand-pumps in several states was conducted by the UNICEF in 1995 to assess the impact of geophysical investigations. It was found that Tamil Nadu which used geophysical investigations, had a success rate of 97 %, whereas states like Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, where ad-hoc drilling based on random selection or community convenience drilling was done, the rate of dry bore-holes was as high as 40 %. Similarly, in Mizoram the introduction of geophysical surveying had made it possible to locate high-yielding borewells where previously all efforts in this direction had been failed. The technology has picked up and currently almost all the states in India are using this valuable tool for groundwater investigations and also for locating rainwater harvesting structures.
Drinking Water: The Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission (RGNDWM) in India is the largest rural drinking water supply programme in the world. It serves about 1.5 million habitations and 742 million people. The coverage has demonstrated that there was a five-fold growth, viz. from 18 % in 1974 to 95 % in 2005. The problem of pump breakdown is been taken care of with the introduction of Mark III pumps. In many states like Tamil Nadu, a step further had been taken by replacing all the hand-pump schemes, wherever feasible, with piped water supply which is more reliable and sustainable in terms of operation. In this way, steady but slow progress was being made to fill the gap between coverage and usage caused by dwindling water resources by ensuring a minimum quantity of water supply throughout the year. Measures like rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge are also currently being introduced as an integral part of all rural water supply schemes. These operations are to be geared up with latest technologies, particularly geospatial technologies so that the results could be expedited.
Water Quantity: Geospatial Technologies have emerged as powerful technological tools to identify the location of drinking water wells and also rainwater harvesting structures. While the remote sensing / GIS investigations can narrow down the region of high-yielding aquifers up to a minimum of 12 km, the exact location of borewells within that area has to be identified by geophysical surveys and studies. In Tamil Nadu, the geospatial technologies are being used in all the blocks of the state and favorable zones for groundwater withdrawal and recharge have been successfully delineated. The TW&DB has successfully created a digital database for all the 386 blocks of the state. These databases can be used to identify groundwater sources with high yields for large water supply projects, particularly in remote areas inaccessible to geophysical surveying. A substantial achievement has been made in providing drinking water coverage for rural areas with borewells, pumps and piped water supply schemes.
Water Quality: It has been found that the quality of the water has been deteriorating in some of the states due to natural and anthropogenic causes. A water quality assessment performed by CGWB in 2002 has highlighted that groundwater which contributes 80% of the total drinking water supplied is at a high risk of contamination by natural and man-made sources. The presence of excess fluoride, arsenic, iron, salinity and nitrate in groundwater, leads to serious problems. West Bengal is the worst affected with 65,156 habitations polluted by iron, arsenic, salinity and fluoride. Rajasthan, Orissa and Karnataka are also critical states with at least one of the parameters not within the permissible limits. Tripura, Assam and Gujarat come next, with close to 10,000 affected habitations. Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have close to 5,000 habitations with poor water quality. Among several measures taken to improve the quality of water, some are:
Eradication of Guinea-Worm: Guinea-worm disease is a water-borne infection caused by Dracunculiasis medinensis, a female nematode. The incidence of guinea-worm disease has been mainly concentrated in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, particularly during summer months when water is scarce. The interventions to control this disease have been multi-pronged, including using technology, raising awareness, and imparting education on hygiene and behaviour modification. The technological interventions included conversion of open access step-wells to covered sanitary wells. Awareness was generated about the lifecycle of guinea-worms, importance of filtering water and the need to avoid physical contact with infected persons and water bodies. Multiple organizations such as National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), RGNDWM, WHO, UNICEF and the health departments of various state governments joined hands to combat this painful disease. The number of people affected by guinea-worm disease dropped from 40,000 in 1984 to 60 in 1995 (a 99 % reduction over 11 years). Coordinated efforts along with technological solutions to convert step-wells to sanitary wells paid off, resulting in complete eradication of this dreadful disease by 1997. In 2000, India was certified as free from Guinea-worm Disease by WHO’s International Commission for Certification of Dracunculiasis (Planning Commission, 2002). The eradication of guinea-worm disease is considered a significant achievement of the RGNDWM.
Control of Brackishness in Water: With depleting groundwater and inward saline water intrusion, salinity is a problem that has implications for drinking water supply in the rural areas. Brackish water or saline water has salinity in the range of 1,000-10,000 mg/L. It was estimated by RGNDWM in 2005 that around 23,500 habitations were affected by excess salinity, most of them in states of Rajasthan, Karnataka, West Bengal, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Water with high salinity can be treated by reverse osmosis, electrodialysis, nano filtration, distillation, solar stills, etc. According to RGNDWM, 2005 sources, between 1992 and 1998, about 150 desalination units using reverse osmosis technology had been commissioned in rural areas. Due to several limitations and high costs, almost 90% of the affected areas have been provided with alternative piped water supply from distant surface water sources and only 10% of the affected areas use such small-scale desalination technologies.
Control of Iron: According to RGNDWM, 2005, excess iron has been reported in 1,18,088 habitations, mainly in the eastern states of West Bengal, Orissa, Assam, Tripura as well as in Chhattisgarh and Karnataka. The consumption of water with iron in excess of the permissible limits of 1 mg/L, results in unacceptable taste and odour, and causes constipation and other physiological disorders. There are several treatment technologies for removal of iron, the most common being aeration and oxidation, followed by precipitation and the most effective one is selected and modified to suit the existing water quality in the region. The treatment technologies for iron are low cost and low tech which is the reason why 70 % of the affected habitations are provided with treated local water and only 30 % are provided with alternative water supply from distant sources.
Control of Fluoride: The excess fluoride (>1.5mg/L) in drinking water causes Dental and Skeletal Fluorosis, which is a crippling disease. The fluoride problem, as per RGNDWM, 2005, is prevalent in 17 states and 150 districts of India and the seriously affected states include Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Several effective treatment processes are available such as the activated alumina process and the indigenous Nalgonda process, developed by CSIR. Two systems of treatment procedures have been designed: one for use with hand-pumps and the other to be used in open wells and with piped water supplies. Currently 90% of the affected areas are being provided with alternative water supply and only 10% are using water treated through fluoride removal plants.
Control of Arsenic: According to RGNDWM, 2005, arsenic is a serious pollutant which could lead to severe ailments like skin lesions and cancer of several internal organs when taken in excess quantities. It is prevalent in West Bengal, Bihar and Chhattisgarh areas — the number of habitations affected was reported to be 5,029 in the year 2005, but the number has been rising at an alarming pace that indicates that eradication efforts have had practically no impact. The current treatment technologies for removal of arsenic to permissible levels of 0.05mg/l include co-precipitation methods and absorption techniques. Current limitations have restricted the interventions to providing 90% alternative supply and only 10% treated water supply.
Control of Nitrate: Nitrate in water resources is due to the effect of anthropogenic activities like agriculture and improper sanitation practices. According to the RGNDWM, 2005, report there are 13,958 habitations affected by nitrate and these numbers are rising. There has been no treatment technology adopted for nitrate removal as on date. The interventions have only been by providing alternative supply of water from other sources. Such temporary measures are to stay till a low cost, easy to adopt technology for nitrate removal is put in place.
The applications of geospatial technologies have been developed at a remarkable pace, particularly, over the past two decades. Some states have already prepared their strategic development plans for application of geospatial technologies with gigantic financing endeavours. Now time has come for all decision-makers to discuss the appropriateness of these technologies and their applications to rural development in general and forest management, urban development planning, land information systems, water resources and agricultural development in particular. India maintains a pre-eminent position in the use of spatial imagery. The capabilities in the development of high-resolution satellites and extensive network of associated infrastructure have contributed to the growing interest in the application of geospatial technologies for a variety of India’s development needs.The Information Technology (IT) policy of Government of India, adopted in 1999 emphasizes the availability of spatial data to geospatial technologies user community and industry, thereby enabling the widespread development of Spatial Decision - Support Information System Network including Web-enabled geospatial technologies application services. The areas which are receiving priority attention include natural resources information assessment, monitoring and management; water shed development, environmental planning, urban services and land use planning. Most states in India and several ministries and departments of the central and state governments have initiated special GIS programmes relating to ground-water studies, cadastral mapping, power transmission and transportation infrastructure. The integration of socio-economic data with spatial data is increasing. National Informatics Centre (NIC) is providing assistance to several central, state and local bodies in fulfilling their specific requirements in this field. In recent years, most of the organizations engaged in geospatial technologies activities have felt the need for establishing control points, especially in applications such as land records management, cadastral survey and hydrographical survey. For these tasks, acquisition of Global Positioning System (GPS) has been increasing. The implementation of GIS in research programme has raised a variety of conceptual questions for both ecological and socio-economic sectors. In addition to these basic units of research, spatial links between the two sectors and levels of data abstraction for the spatial database have to be defined. Using the theoretical background of the hierarchical system approach and valuable experiences of spatial data handling, a consistent spatial information database needs to be created. Despite problems with data accuracy, logical consistency and completeness of data, a powerful tool for regional and local planning should be developed which may serve as a framework for a variety of planning programmes at the local and regional levels, as well as the transfer of know-how between governmental agencies and institutions using an interactive approach.