Democratization of data through use of GIS technology

A view of a village in Almora district of Uttarakhand (Image: Raja Harjai, Flickr Commons)
A view of a village in Almora district of Uttarakhand (Image: Raja Harjai, Flickr Commons)

Developments in geographical information systems (GIS) in India, both in policy and law, have thus far empowered to a greater extent government and business at national and regional level. The real challenge in this sector is to extend this technology to local communities for self-governance and to enable them to participate on an equal footing in regional and national development.

Development Centre for Alternative Policies (DCAP) has made an attempt to fill this gap by taking up a challenging project to bring GIS to local communities as a tool for developmental planning on a block-level pilot scale atTakula block in Almora district, Uttarakhand.  

A program was implemented with the objective of empowering local communities and panchayat raj institutions to prepare local development plans [annual and five year plans] with the help of latest GIS tools, aimed at integrated natural resource management, with a focus on the conservation, development and management of water resources.

Genesis of the project

As a part of an impact study of the Uttarakhand Water Act of 1975 by DCAP, water resources data was sourced from Government agencies at various levels. An analysis of this data revealed that the real condition of water resources at village level, as well as land and forest resources which are determinant factors, could not be assessed by the kind of official data available. The latter focused only on the water systems (irrigation or drinking water) constructed by Government agencies, their physical characteristics, and intended coverage.

Time series data showed little else than ‘increase’ in coverage, with no information on water sources per se. The Minor Irrigation Census, which commenced in 1986/87 also provided very limited understanding of water resources and systems. Official data on water, however, have always been and continue to be isolated from these integral factors.

Under the legal impact study, DCAP undertook a comprehensive primary survey on water resources covering 60 villages in four districts in Uttarakhand to assess the ground level situation. This experience led to the conviction that participatory natural resources inventory on a larger scale was required for not only understanding the real status of water resources, but also to enable decentralized location-specific planning.

In 2011-14, DCAP implemented a program “Strengthening the role of PRIs in natural resources inventory and water resources development planning in Almora district” with the support of the Natural Resources Data Management System (NRDMS), a Division of the Department of Science and Technology, Govt of India.

The objectives of the program were to inventorize natural resources and other related data through participatory methods using latest scientific tools on a block level, convert data to digital GIS format, facilitate local village level planning on the basis of such data, and lay the basis for developing block level perspective plans for water resources conservation and management, in tandem with land and forest resources. The larger goal of the program was to revive the Kosi River through protection and development of its tributary watersheds.

A sequence of laboratory based scientific work in computer cartography/GIS application, orientation and dialogue with Panchayat and community representatives, and community based participatory survey and planning was adopted for the program. The institutions involved were Gram Sabha members of 175 villages, representatives of 89 village panchayats, Takula block Kshettra panchayat and Almora zilla panchayat, as well as the district administration, and departmental officials at district level.

Activities include –

  • Orientation and consultation meetings with Gram Sabha and Panchayat representatives from all 175 villages in a series of workshops;
  • Digitization of village cadastral maps and conversion of image files into vector files in GIS software;
  • Participatory survey and collection of demographic, natural resources and infrastructure data from all villages of block;
  • Survey of felt needs and problems in each village;
  • Preparation of database on GIS platform, village resources map on GIS platform;
  • Distribution of printed maps to each village, and consultative meetings with gram sabha members to finalize map and prepare annual/five year plans;
  • Incorporation of updated data and plans on VRMs;
  • Preparation of planning map; distribution of printed village resources and planning map to all village panchayats;
  • Presentation of data to district administration and orientation to departmental officers, besides uploading data on office computers;
  • Presentation of report to NRDMS, DST, GoI, and data for uploading of all village maps on NSDI website.

Community resource and planning map of Kharaun villagein Almora (Image: DCAP)


Relevance of project concept for hill areas

In the hill regions of Uttarakhand, the actual boundaries of villages have never been delineated in cadastral maps since the initial land revenue settlements two centuries ago. Boundary points have only been described in revenue settlement processes as the distances are very large and terrain very difficult. Only the agricultural plots and settlement areas have been delineated in village cadastral maps. Forest areas are not included, as they are provided for separately in forest maps.

For the first time, through GIS mapping, village boundaries have been delineated, including forest, barren, agricultural and settlement areas, and all other infrastructural resources have been included. By this method, an integrated natural resources-based development planning at micro-level is made possible. Village maps may be integrated with watershed maps for watershed planning and development.

Since hill villages are scattered and far flung, accessibility is a critical issue in achieving development support. Once a database for a village is created and uploaded on a server at block, district, or state level, the issue of accessibility is overcome, besides opening up possibilities of data exchange and participatory data management on all developmental issues with local communities, using emerging communication technologies.

The technology enables monitoring and evaluation, or comparative analysis of developmental data from village to state level to improve targeting of developmental assistance.

The technology can enable participatory multi-village planning, implementation and dispute resolution purposes in contiguous villages. In the hilly areas, upstream and downstream villages are intimately connected in resource availability and use. Streams and rivulets cross village boundaries, and forests are used by more than one village in tandem.

Many Van Panchayat areas are managed or accessed by more than one village. Water sources are located in one village and the water supplied by pipeline to another village. About 45 percent of total piped water supply systems in Almora district are multi-village systems. Conflicts in resource use abound. Natural resources boundaries rarely correspond with administrative boundaries, and maps based on contiguity and watershed basis would be very useful to understand problems and needs and find solutions for the same.

Larger relevance

The project concept may be replicated to good effect throughout the country, in any geographical terrain. GIS technology can enable the democratization of data, which is critical for real participation of citizens in their own development, in a continuing process, thereby strengthening local self-governance as prescribed in the Constitution. When developed in future, it will strengthen the scope of decentralized governance based on actual conditions and needs as experienced by people, and help to reduce the present disjoint that prevails between the current developmental paradigm and society’s needs and real conditions.

The full report by DCAP is attached below.

Post By: Amita Bhaduri