Geographical Information Systems and Remote Sensing for the empowerment of grassroots level NGOs and rural communities

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the key enabler and a vital component of the new knowledge-based economy and information revolution. It is a major factor in economic growth and increasing productivity. India is increasingly integrating ICT into its national development plans and adopting strategies for its widespread promotion in all the spheres of economic activities. There is a need to ensure that the benefit of the ICT percolates to the diverse socio-economic strata at rural grassroots. The rural areas in India cannot be compared with their urban areas, where needs and service requirements are at a very different level. With the poor existing infrastructure in the rural areas, delivery of services of essential requirements becomes a formidable task in the villages spread out in every type of agro-ecological zones.

To meet the challenge of handling large data, people’s participation and local resource planning, geographical information system (GIS) offer an easy and distinct possibility. Looking at the importance of ICT and GIS in the development process in general and natural resources management in particular, SPWD set up a Geographical Information System (GIS) Service Cell at its Udaipur office and later at Ranchi office. The Cell works on the application of GIS in combining information about the location of features, natural as well as man-made, in a given area with other kinds of information to generate location-based data. This is possible by integrating different kinds of maps. The most important advantage of GIS is to make information visual thereby enhancing transparency and encouraging participation by people. GIS is also useful in database preparation, decision-making, monitoring, and impact assessment. It will have a distinct advantage in improving efficiency, providing equity, community participation and transparency. GIS offers a solution for social, rural & urban development planning and management. It provides an opportunity for panchayats and other local bodies to use it for local development.

In mid 2000s SPWD had linked its GIS cell to a Village Resource Centre (VRC) at Bambora, Udaipur established by SPWD with partner organization Prayatna Samiti in collaboration with Regional Remote Sensing Service Centre (RRSSC), Jodhpur and National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA), Hyderabad. This initiative which helped reach the un-reached, un-served and underserved areas more effectively by using state-of-the-art high-tech ICT is now withdrawn.

At present the GIS cell is involved in building up capacities of local NGOs for developmental planning in various states through application of modern science and technology. It is designed to provide the local NGO planners and implementers sensitive tools and techniques for rapid information retrieval, analysis and integration of multiple data sets in the regional matrix. This helps them in arriving at informed planning decisions through optimization exercises based on the convergence of traditional geographical knowledge and data obtained through the application of modern technology of geographic information system (GIS), remote sensing (RS) and global positioning system (GPS). Three basic targets are conceived
The main focus is on:

• Documentation and appraisal of natural resources;
• Documentation and analysis of the present status of utilization of natural resources along with the identification of constraints and scope of exploitation of untapped resources;
• Analysis of the problems of resource depletion and environmental/ ecological degradation;
• Documentation and analysis of the demographic and socio-economic scenario, analysis of man – environment equations and assessment of the quality of life; and
• Training of personnel at the NGO level for the adoption of the new technology.