Nearly everything that occurs in the public realm occurs in the context of geography. Geographic Information System (GIS) is evolving rapidly and the adoption of geospatial data is already emplaced in most governmental initiatives for service delivery. GeoPortals (web portals with GIS functionalities) enable sharing of spatial data, services and resources within the government. Department involved in agriculture, forestry and ecology, water resources, health care, education, disaster management, natural resources management and climate change have found that their objectives are carried out more effectively and efficiently with the use of geospatial data and services.
Governance, e-Governance and m-Governance
Governance is a broad concept that describes the forms of governing (Hughes, 2012). There are evidences of historical co-evolution of governance and technology (Tunzelmann, 2003), which now stands at the cusp of a new era, thanks to information technology and the Internet. Modern communication technologies offer new channels for contacting officials, discussing issues, accessing information and mobilizing action. This has resulted in bringing people to use technologies as a group instead of individuals (Mossberger et al., 2007). The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is envisaged to enhance the “delivery of government services to benefit citizens, business partners and employees” while e-Governance is credited with reducing the cost of government operations and improving transparence and accountability (Panazardi et al., 2002). Mobile governance or m-Governance refers to a collection of services where strategic use of government services and applications are made possible using cellular/mobile telephones, laptop computers, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and wireless internet infrastructure. m-Governance is a sub-domain of e-Governance which ensures the availability of services to people via mobile technology. Mobile phones are also considered to be an effective tool in strengthening democracy through better citizen-government interaction, thus influencing the political decision making governments accountable for their activities.
e-Governance in India
The launch of National Informatics Centre Network (NICNET) which is a satellite based computer network and the formulation of the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) in 2006 paved the foundation for e-Governance in India (Zoughbi, 2017) says that “The NeGP was conceptualized to focus on e-Governance initiatives at the national level with an aim to make all government services accessible to the common man in his locality, through common service delivery outlets and ensure efficiency, transparency and reliability of such services at affordable costs to realize the basic needs of the common man”.
Augmentation of m-Governance started on December 23, 2013 under the guidance of Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) to develop it as the core infrastructure for enabling public services through mobile devices. The m-Governance portal and the m-App store can be accessed at mgov.gov.in for services oriented statistics. Time series data for m-Governance shows marked improvement in delivery of government services to the citizens through mobile technology.
g-Governance and its practice in India
Geospatial tools and technologies have tow characteristics–the first is that they are multipurpose power-tools that quickly and accurately provide information about locations, distances, directions, routes, travel time and cost and the characteristics of places and second that geospatial tools and technologies contain a powerful set of functions that are built into smartphones that allow for the identification of the location of the device and hence the location of the user/vehicle (Downs, 2014).
The current Earth observation (EO) system in India is capable of serving the evolving needs and fundamental priorities of the Indian government. Over the past decades, EO data, integrated with in-situ observations and tools, have been supporting a host of applications in the areas of land and water, ocean and atmosphere, environment and ecosystems and urban and rural applications including disaster risk reduction (Jaiswal and Bhatawdekar, 2017).
Geospatial technologies enable us to understand problems better as they encompass the data in the form of maps and coordinates, helping in administration, planning, monitoring, management and decision support. The technology provides an edge over conventional methods with location-based knowledge and hence it can help promote both good governance and decentralized governance.
Space-based applications, derived through the synergetic use of EO, meteorological, communication or hybrid navigation satellites, complemented with ground-based observations, play a key role in harnessing the benefits of space technology for socio-economic security (like food, shelter infrastructure and etc.), sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and efficient governance.
Geospatial data acts as a backbone for g-Governance. Essentially this component contains base data in the form of high resolution satellite data (complete coverage of the country and temporal updating capability), nation-wide digital elevation model (DEM), thematic data and various ‘points of interest’ (PoI) data. The current EO system in India is capable of serving the evolving needs and fundamental priorities of the government. Over the past decades, EO data, integrated with in-situ observations and tools, has been supporting a host of applications in all possible sectors (Jaiswal and Bhatawdekar, 2017) Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has launched three categories of EO satellites:
- Land and water resources observing systems–Resourcesat and RISAT series
- Cartography (Cartosast series), and
- Oceanographic atmosphere and weather series (Oceansat and INSAT)
A series of satellites are catering to the data need for addressing the multiple aspects of resource inventory. Some of the major applications carried out are land use/land cover mapping at various scales, forest cover mapping, biodiversity characterization, snow and glaciers inventory, wetland inventory, wasteland monitoring and many other applications at state and regional levels. Cartosat series of satellites are high-resolution imaging sensors and are primarily intended for application in the areas of cartography and large-scale mapping. Image processing technologies like multi-sensor fusion combines relevant information from two or more sensor data to form a single image. Fusing the imagery from resourcesat and Cartosat preserves both the high spatial resolution information as well as the spectral information.
Cartosat 2S (E) was launched by ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C38), along with 30 co-passenger satellites on June 23, 2017 from Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SHAR), Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. Cartosat-2S (E), referred to as Cartosat-2 Series is sixth in the series of India’s EO satellites for cartographic applications.
This satellite is capable of providing high resolution imagery with a high degree of agility. Cartosat-2S (E) provides panchromatic imagery with a spatial resolution of .65 m and multispectral imagery in four spectral bands with a spatial resolution of 0.65 m and multispectral imagery in four spectral bands with a spatial resolution better than 2 m, with a nominal swath around 9.6 km. Cartosat-2S (E) data will meet the increasing user demands for cartographic applications at cadastral level, agriculture applications that require precision information (like crop insurance), disasters and planning studies at micro level and more. Figure 1 shows Cartosat 2S (E) data acquired over a rural area. National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) is responsible for acquisition, processing and disseminating aerial and satellite remote sensing data.
Another part of the g-Governance backbone is the collection of geoportals that empowers the services using web enabled GIS (WebGIS) concepts. A geoportal is a type of web portal used to find and access geographic information and associated geographic services (display, editing, analysis, etc.) via the Internet (Karabegovic and Ponjavic, 2012). Geoortals are important for effective use of GIS and act as key elements for spatial data infrastructure (SDI). ISRO’s Bhuvan (bhuvan.nrsc.gov.in, 2018) is a national geoportal, which is being widely used by the government, public, NGOs and the academia. Bhuvan was developed to provide satellite images and theme-oriented services that help planning, monitoring and evaluation of stakeholder’s activities in governance and development. Open Government Data (2015) specifies that Bhuvan platform provides nationwide seamless ortho-corrected image base, thematic datasets for natural resources, digital surface model (DSM), hydrologic base (from basin to watershed), millions of POI data, customized application tools for governmental data collaboration enabling g-Governance. It also renders near real-time data and information support towards management of natural disasters (like floods, landslides, forest fires and cyclones) in the country (Evangelidis et al., 2014; PIB 2016).
Applications developed on Bhuvan can be categorized as information, decision support, inventory, early warning and disaster support, inventory, early warning and disaster management and online mapping systems (Mehta and Sharma, 2015). The online/offline asset mapping applications built in juxtaposition with Android based mobile apps facilitate integration of crowd sourced data or field data (Bhuvan, 2018) into the platform and results in boosting citizen participation.
Currently, Bhuvan platform accumulates data pertaining to banks, health establishments, emergency services and more. This institutional authoritative data along high-resolution satellite data, thematic maps, visualization techniques, backend spatial analysis functions and mobile based field collection apps lead to the successful implementation of government-to-citizen, government-to-business, government-to-education and government-to-government applications that would integrate all levels and enable open access, citizen collaboration and transparency.
GIS, remote sensing, global positioning system (GPS), satellite and mobile communication systems and web technologies fall under geo-ICT. Many Indian scientific organizations are dealing to improve the technical competence in the area of geo-ICT along with industry participation. National Informatics Centre (NIC), Survey of India (SoI), Census of India, Forest Survey of India, Geological Survey of India, National Atlas and Thematic Mapping Organization and India Meteorological Department have taken major initiatives in g-governance (Singh, 2009). NIC provides networking infrastructure and e-Governance support to the government at various administrative levels like federal, state and district, while the SoI is responsible for providing base maps and to psheets at various scales.
The Department of Space in September 2015 started joint action for ‘effective use of space technology’ for national development and good governance (PIB, 2015). Numerous projects emerged for various application areas that support flagship programmes–Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation for smart city development, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (housing for all scheme), Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (irrigation and agriculture uplifting programme), National Mission for Clean Ganga, social safety net programmes and Digital India (Aliberti, 2018; Rajagopalan & Prasad, 2018).
Some of the major users of g-Governance are the ministries of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare; Rural development; Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation; Culture; Panchayati Raj; Law and justice; Health and Family Welfare; Environment, Forest and Climate Change; Communication and Information Technology; Drinking Water Supply and Sanitation; Human Resource Development and Home Affairs apart from state forest departments and government departments.
g-Governance has established a framework for India’s vision of a socially inclusive society using ICT. Effective utilization of satellite communication (SATCOM) infrastructure, supplemented by terrestrial system, with high bandwidth for broadcasting and in-situ observations enable efficient governance of societal applications like tele-education, tele-medicine and disaster risk reduction,. Geospatial technology has identified and ensured access to social services for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable families, including those in remote areas, ethnic minorities and currently helping in monitoring, evaluation of the frameworks, programme implementation, regular reporting, clear and concise accountability mechanisms. With appropriate combinational use of ICT and geospatial tools along with an efficient strategy, India’s g-Governance is bound to ensure all the elements of good governance.