LIS in India - Perspective and restrospective
Brig. M. Gopal Rao
Digital Mapping Centre, Survey of India
Telephone: 040-7200430, Fax: 040-7200430
Man, Land and the Natural Resources supported by the land, always had an intrinsic and dynamic relationship. History shows us that early civilizations flourished wherever the natural resources were in plenty to sustain the needs of its people. Any tilt in the balance of the ecosystems generally led to the decadence of these early civilizations. It is perhaps on account of this, that our ancient Indian thinkers and Philosophers, emphasised the symbiotic and intrinsic relationship which exists between man and land, with land here being taken in its broader all encompassing view, including all the natural resources and living beings. They thus tried to describe the complex and interactive support role played by the various eco-subsystems for sustenance of the environment.
Through the ages, land thus played a pivotal role in shaping the fortunes of human beings. In the pre-Industrial Revolution era, when agriculture was the principal source of revenue, land served as a symbol of status and wealth. However, the dawn of the industrial age saw a paradigm shift in man's relationship with land. Land and land supported resources were increasingly viewed as a commodity for meeting the needs of industry and industrial inputs. This, coupled with the heavy pressure on land, by the ever increasing population, led to over exploitation of land resources, leading to irreparable damage to the eco-systems and depletion of life supporting natural resources. The scale and magnitude of this man made disaster reached such alarming proportions, that it prompted the United Nations to convene a Conference of the world nations, to discuss the urgent issues relating to Environment and Development.
The earth summit:
The Earth Summit, which was held in Rio de Janeiro from 3rd to 14th June 1992 enunciated twenty seven principles to guide National conduct on environmental protection and development. The very first principle reads, "Human beings are at the center of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature". It thus brings into focus the pivotal role of human beings in any sustainable development effort and at the same time the need to sustain the ecological balance in nature. The other principles reiterate, amongst other issues, the States' sovereign rights to exploit its resources without detriment to the environment, as also the need to curb unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. Three of these principles are, relevant to the concerns of third world and developing countries, such as India, and they are Principles 3, 4 and 5.
Principle 3, "The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet the development and environmental needs of present and future generations".
Principle 4, "In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it".
Principle 5, "All States and all people shall cooperate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world".
The Earth Summit also formulated another important document "Agenda 21" which presents the detailed work plans for sustainable development. The first section of this document deals with Social and Economic issues including the need to eradicate poverty and hunger and to accelerate sustainable development in Developing Countries. The second section, covers issues concerning Conservation and Management of Resources for Development, in which Chapter 10, deals with Integrated Planning and Management of Land Resources and high lights the need to allocate land to uses that provide the greatest sustainable benefits. The third section deals with the role and importance of major groups in implementing the sustainable development and the fourth section discusses issues relating to means of implementation in which the last chapter, chapter 40, deals with Information for Decision Making, where in the importance of collecting and using information for sustainable development and for implementing Agenda 21 is high lighted. Agenda 21 also requires creation of efficient and accessible land markets to meet community requirements, streamlining land transaction procedures by improving land registry systems and to establish appropriate land tenure to provide security to all land users.
Agenda 21, though legally not binding, became a moral commitment for all the nations to work towards achieving the objectives of the Earth Summit. Thus any action plan for developing a Land Information System, should be within the frame work of providing a decision support system for achieving sustainable development as enunciated in Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit. However, before discussing issues relating to requirements to be met by a National LIS, it will be pertinent to briefly recall India's developmental efforts over the last five decades and analyse the results.