Monday, September 12, 2011

Data Problems In The Indian Geospatial Industry

Geospatial World has several articles (1, 2, 3 ) on the current state of the Indian Geospatial Industry. As I have been writing on this blog, there have been several initiatives taken by the Indian government to encourage growth of this industry. Of primary concern to users is the unavailability or slow availability of useful data.

Aditi Bahn Assistant Editor, Geospatial Media and Communications Pvt. Ltd. writes:

There is no single window where all the information can be obtained. For example, if a user requires information about topography and demography of a place, he has to approach Survey of India and Census of India respectively. The two have their own procedures in place and would provide data in their own time frame. She quotes industry specialists : 

“The overhanging issue is the availability of data under one umbrella. Information is scattered and varied and have to be collated very frequently. It has become extremely challenging,” explains Aiyer.

..and (Mr. Agarwalla) -  “Even before we talk about public-private partnership, we need to talk about public-public partnership. For most of my users, just the map or census data by itself is not good enough. So can Survey of India and Census of India partner together?”

That is not unusual. Having data in two or several different places need not by itself be a big problem. Even in countries  where spatial data is relatively freely available like the U.S, many state agencies and federal agencies have ownership of their data. Finding it though is easier by going to a central data listing like the one maintained by the U.S. National Spatial Data Infrastructure. Most government agencies who produce spatial data are registered with their NSDI and follow agreed upon data standards and data dissemination practices.

In fact it is inevitable that various central and state agencies responsible for the data will want to keep ownership of it. The Indian National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI) was meant to deal with exactly this problem by issuing guidelines and standards for data creation, data storage formats and data access thereby enabling users to find and combine data from different agencies with ease. The important challenge is not whether different agencies can partner each other, but getting agencies to follow standard practices in a time bound manner. The NSDI portal would then list agency addresses to go to for your data needs.

I remember talking to a senior geologist with the Geological Survey of India in 2004. I was told that digitization of 1:1 million scale geological maps is almost done and work is going on the 1:250K and selected 1:50k series. Most of this data would be ready to go online by 2006. Five years since this self-proclaimed deadline, there is still no easy way to access geology digital data.

Why has the NSDI not been successful in getting organizations to cooperate in a timely manner?


  1. I get similar difficulties whilst trying to obtain human & physical geography data for the same areas from both Canada and the UK. Some of it feels like unnecessary security of data that should be available with no credentials, since there's no price tag attached.

  2. its getting easier to obtain satellite imagery here in India,but getting vector base datasets like Admin boundaries, forests, soils , geology, etc in a GIS enabled format is still difficult.. i'm hoping initiatives like the NSDI and the National GIS will put pressure to loosen the strings on data accessibility