LIS in India - Perspective and restrospective
India's development strategies in past:
At the dawn of Indian Independence, India was beset with problems of poverty, lack of basic infrastructure facilities and inadequate resources. The country, therefore opted for a state controlled planned economy to optimise its scarce resources, for achieving a basic minimum standard in respect of essentials of physical and social well being for its people. The Planning Commission laid emphasis on creation of basic infrastructure for industrial, agricultural and scientific growth. Realising the importance of upto-date land records, the planners emphasised the need for well maintained land records for good administration even from the First Five Year Plan. The early plans which followed the Top-Down approach, failed to fully meet their stated objectives as the plans generated at the macro-level did not realistically address the geo-physical and socio-economic variations at the regional level. In the later plans, the planning process was decentralised so as to make them more area specific. The Government also launched direct attack on poverty and unemployment by introducing schemes for providing gainful employment to the land less and unemployed poor in the rural areas.
As a result of all these plan programmes and initiatives, many heavy industries, institutes of higher learning and Research Laboratories were established. Number of large and medium size irrigation projects were started and through the Green Revolution, the country was able to achieve self sufficiency on the food front. The country today stands in the forefront in many fields of scientific research and is the acknowledged leader in the field of Information Technology. India has the largest Technical manpower and ranks amongst the front runners in space research.
In as much as all the foregoing appears impressive, the stark reality of the situation is that there is a perceptible gap between the stated goals and achievements. In absolute terms, the number of people below poverty line has increased. The dream of universal education is still a far cry. Many villages even today lack proper approach roads and many villages do not have easy access to safe drinking water. Health facilities are concentrated in and around urban areas where only quarter of the country's population resides. The country needs another Green Revolution to meet the future food requirement, as the annual growth of agriculture is not adequate to meet the needs of the estimated 1.3 billion population by the year 2030. Lack of adequate employment opportunities in the rural areas coupled with, almost cyclic and frequent occurrences of floods and droughts leading to crop failures are forcing marginal farmers and land less poor to migrate to urban areas, thus putting a heavy strain on the already over-stretched infra-structure facilities of towns and cities. In many instances, projects and industries set up for a particular purpose have ostensibly achieved their objective, but have adversely affected in other ways as the environmental impact of these industries and projects had not been properly studied. We therefore hear of many industries being ordered to shut down or shift, leading to further unemployment. Another interesting example is the recent havoc wrought by floods in Hyderabad due to the city's improvement and beautification schemes being taken up without proper environmental impact studies and also the unnoticed encroachments on lake beds and river beds.
Thus all this calls for a close hard look at the Planning concepts in the past so as to chalk out a strategy for sustainable development in the future. An underlying cause for most of the aforestated short comings, is lack of authentic and upto-date information, be it about the beneficiary groups, existing facilities, terrain and soil conditions or land ownership and occupancy position. The planners were therefore, severely, handicapped for want of information. Hence there is an urgent need to establish a reliable information system, as envisaged in 'Agenda 21', to achieve environmentally sustainable development.
Information System for Sustainable development:
The factors governing sustainable development will vary from country to country, depending on the needs and conditions prevalent therein. Hence a sustainable development model applicable in a developed country may not be suitable model for developing and less developed nations. In India, where three fourths of the population lives in rural areas, a large proportion of whom are dependent on agriculture, any strategy for sustainable development should have agriculture and agro industries as the primary underlying theme. It should also take into consideration the fact that majority of the agriculturists are marginal farmers with low levels of resilience to factors having adverse impact on agriculture. ( The plight of these farmers will get further accentuated if the WTO stipulations for withdrawal of all subsidies is to be implemented.) The development plans will have to therefore focus on improving land management and introducing sustainable agricultural practices to increase productivity on one hand, and on the other, on improving the rural infrastructure for agricultural production, processing and marketing.
There are today number of agencies engaged in collection of data pertaining to such items as physical features of land, natural resources, man-made features, environmental conditions and socioeconomic factors. A resource called INFORMATION is extracted from this data which is useful for planning and development. With the advent of computers it has become possible to relate this information content to its geographic position which has brought about the concept of Geographic Information System.
Geographic Information System (GIS) is defined as a collection of data, storage and analysis with relation to their spatial distribution at various stages of information handling. When the data in the GIS is related to various quantitative and qualitative aspects of land resource, it is termed as Land Information System (LIS).
The definition of LIS implies that the spatially referenced land data stored in the database should be related to its ground location. In the Indian context of an information system for sustainable development the obvious choice of geographical location is the land parcel available in cadastral records. It is both easily locatable on a map and described in legal records. Such a land information system generated from the cadastral surveys will provide the information base for village level or micro level planning. The LIS will comprise of graphic elements derived from cadastral maps and non-graphic attribute data obtained from cadastral records suitably supplemented with additional information useful for planning purposes.
In rural development, plans are formulated at various levels and the data requirement at each level of planning is different, hence information systems should be designed for each level of decision making and planning. The higher level information systems can be derived by aggregation of village level LIS's through a process of generalisation of the graphic elements and filtering and supplementing of attribute information.