The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016 – A terminator to the scientific spatial planning dreams of village panchayats.

We the citizens of India collectively and continuously trying every moment, to make this country into a more desirable place on earth. We expect favourable and supportive actions from the higher tiers our whole government machinery, but unfortunately many times it appears not so.

The geospatial information regulation bill(2016) is out for public opinion and many people have already written critiques on various forums. I am not going to repeat all those everything. I am a village panchayat employee as well as a research student. There are a number of researchers in this country who know what geospatial information is, and they can collectively defend themselves. But, only a very few village panchayat employees know the significance of geospatial information in their profession. So I would rather focus on, how this new bill would adversely affect their future.

Months ago, I have written a report on a mapping exercise we have done at the village panchayat, where I am an incumbent. It was an activity, one of the first of its kind. It was a success, because of the active participation of the students who study GIS and remote sensing, enthusiast community members of wiki and free software domains. All that was possible because everyone can access, use and create geospatial data as granted. We can do great things with the help of volunteer communities, and village panchayats are masters of utilising that possibility. In case of geospatial information, village panchayats are a kind of underprivileged bodies, inside the government. I have portrayed how we applied for spatial data of our area of interest, from the privileged higher government organisations, and how that was denied for us in the first place. Even if we are part of the whole governing structure of this country, we didn’t receive a favourable response till the date. So I am forced to believe that, we are not entitled to access the government resources of geospatial data. Our only hope is the expert people in the communities.

Now, let me examine the current legal and administrative provisions favourable to the village panchayats to have a scientific spatial plan. And my comments on them, follow.

On legality, we would first take the Constitution of India:
“Part III Fundamental rights; Right to Freedom 19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.- (1) All citizens shall have the right-(g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.”

Comment: People can take up jobs having a geospatial component. So, that they can deal with n number of types of geospatial data available in the web, and eventually become experts in that domain. Their expertise can be utilised for the betterment of the nation.

“Part IVA Fundamental Duties; 51 A. It shall be the duty of every citizen of India- (h) to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;”

Comment: While doing their business or in their personal life, those experts we met in the previous line, can develop the scientific temper, humanism, and the spirit of inquiry and reform. They could make this nation a better place eventually.

Now we will take the Kerala Panchayat Raj Act 1994:
“Section 162.A. Subjects to be dealt with by the standing committees. – (1) The following subjects shall be dealt with by the standing committees of the panchayat, namely: –

(a) in a village panchayat, – (ii) The standing committee for development shall deal with the subjects of development planning, socio-economic planning, spatial planning, agriculture, soil conservation, social forestry, animal husbandry, dairy development, minor irrigation, fisheries, small-scale industry, public works, housing, regulation of building construction, electricity, etc;”

Comment: Well, in a village panchayat of Kerala, there will be four standing committees, and the standing committee for development is one among them. as we can see in the above proviso of the K P R Act, spatial planning is the responsibility of this committee. When we combine the fundamental duty – “to develop the scientific temper” in the constitution to this proviso, we can see that spatial planning should be done in a scientific fashion. Every committee, is a group of citizens right?

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005
Section 16. (3) Every Gram Panchayat shall, after considering the recommendations of the Gram Sabha and the Ward Sabhas, prepare a development plan and maintain a shelf of possible works to be taken up under the Scheme as and when demand for work arises.

Comment: Okay, we the village panchayat people should prepare a development plan, after considering the recommendations of the Gram Sabha and the Ward Sabhas. Also we should maintain a shelf of possible works. Being an important poverty alleviation scheme, there are associated guidelines and activities take place inline with Mahatma Gandhi NREGA. See:

Under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Village Panchayats need to prepare a development plan – Watershed based master plan more precisely, as detailed in Watershed Works Manual (published in october 2007 by Baba Amte Centre for People’s Empowerment for Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India). It’s two chapters 5 Mapping and 6 Technical Surveys of a Watershed, details the techniques of mapping.

The Common Guidelines for Watershed Development Projects of Government of India, 2008 details two entire chapters about the need of Technology inputs and GIS while preparing plans: Chapter 2. Guiding Principles – V. Capacity Building and Technology Inputs: Current trends & advances in IT & Remote Sensing and Chapter 3. Technology Inputs – Core GIS facilities, DPR – Resource Maps, Cadastral maps etc.

State Perspective and Strategic Plan (SPSP) for Integrated Watershed Management Programme (for IWMP), was submitted to Dept. of Land Resources, MoRD, Government of India By Local Self Government Department, Government of Kerala, which talks about the availability of GIS layers of cadastral map at Information Kerala Mission(IKM) in the scale 1:5000.

So we the people at the village panchayat level need to use GIS and remote sensing techniques, while preparing plans, right? That is the scientific way as well.
Now, let us see a recent law enacted in this year – The Kerala Town and Country Planning Act, 2016. Being a new entrant, many people don’t know much about it. As it says, it is enacted for the promotion of planned development and regulation of growth of urban and rural areas in the state with focus on scientific spatial planning and to secure to their present and future inhabitants, sanitary conditions, amenity and convenience and for other matters connected therewith. It makes the village panchayat into a local planning area, and Section 30 of the act mandates the panchayat to develop a master plan, execution plan and a detailed town planning scheme.

A master plan (section 34) is a comprehensive plan for a local planning area, conceived within the framework of the district level perspective plan, providing long-term policies, programmes and detailed proposals for spatial development of the use of land and development etc.

An execution plan (section 37) is prepared for a period of five years for the local planning area providing the goals, policies, strategies, priorities and programmes for spatial development of the area for the period.

A Detailed Town Planning Scheme (section 44, 45) is a comprehensive plan for a particular area within the local planning area, conceived within the framework of the master plan for the local planning area, providing detailed proposals for spatial development in which the use of land and development shall be carried out.

As per the section 31 of this act, village Panchayat can delegate several parts of these duties to the standing committee for development.

Comment: So we the panchayat people are seriously stepping onto the field of scientific spatial planning.
Also it should be noted that, state government issued a circular to constitute “Sevagram” Gramakendram, and an order is issued framing the detailed work chart of them. It is an extension centre of Village Panchayat in each ward, important statistics, various maps (political, resource, social, drainage, land use) relating to that ward should be displayed for public information. We really need maps depicting ward-level details.
There is a recently launched central government scheme, called Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY). It was launched by the Prime Minister Sri. Narendra Modi on 11 October 2014. Each Member of the parliament can adopt two of the village panchayats in his/her constituency for this programme. It is a rural development programme focusing upon the all-inclusive development of the village panchayats.
Para 10  Planning – of the guidelines for SAGY requires to prepare Social Map, Resource map, maps showing Land Use, Water bodies, Irrigation Structures, Physical layout of the land – showing slopes, undulations, drainage patterns etc through participatory approach. It also requires the data collected through the situation analysis should be captured on a GIS platform.

Para 13. Use of Technology & Innovations – of the guideline encourages the adoption and adaptation of technology and introduction of innovations in this programme. One among them is (i). Space applications and remote sensing, which will be used in the planning and monitoring of the programmes. Assets will also be mapped using GIS.

Comment: The government know, the use of geospatial data is an innovative way for getting things done.

Enough. What the hell in this new geospatial information regulation bill badly affect you dirty panchayat man? We are trying to make this country more secure you know?

Wait. I have already described, about the difficulties in getting the geospatial data from government agencies for the use of village panchayat. Our only hope is the skilled volunteers, who know to handle geospatial data.

The section 1(2) and 1(3) will discourage our potential volunteers who might be helpful for us in carrying out our duties described above. No volunteer would have courage to challenge the section 1(3)Every person shall be liable to punishment under this Act..” clause, as this act (asper the section 1(2)) “shall extend to the whole of India and it applies also to- (a) citizens of India outside India; (b) persons in the service of the Government, wherever they may be; and (c) persons on ships and aircrafts, registered in India, wherever they may be.

The section 3. Acquisition of Geospatial Information of India.- would discourage the volunteers, as they can’t practically get the special permission from the Security Vetting Authority before they acquire each an every GPS reading, or value addition automatically occurs while they are in the field.

Section 4. Dissemination, Publication or Distribution of the Geospatial Information of India.- would discourage the volunteers, because as a collective we use the open community driven geospatial data visualisation platforms and services, for our work get done. Volunteers practically can’t apply for special permission from the Security Vetting Authority each and every time they update the data on these platforms.

Section 9. Licence to acquire, disseminate, publish or distribute any Geospatial Information of India.- and Section 10. Suspension or revocation of licence.- If these sections got strictly enforced, no volunteer would be there to help any village panchayat for any of the geospatial exercise. Why do they bother to get a licence, and renew to help somebody else?

Section 12. Penalty for illegal acquisition of geospatial information of India.- and Section 13. Penalty for illegal dissemination, publication or distribution of geospatial information of India.- A fine ranging from Rupees ten lac to Rupees one hundred crore and / or imprisonment for a period up to seven years – No volunteer would have this much amount of money to pay unnecessarily to the authorities.

You might say, about the section 37. – Act not to apply to Indian Governmental Bodies.- But, We already have that feeling of “underprivileged” class among the government organs, so this clause will not going to help us in any way.

Being a research student, I use geospatial data available in the numerous web sources as granted, with due attribution. Many researchers keep geospatial data of their area of interest. All of them would suddenly become guilty on the day this bill get enacted. That is as ridiculous as, the consumption of drinking water would become illegal, unless you obtain a newly introduced license from the government. What if you have to obtain a license for each drop of water, and each modification of it like, sharbat, juice, soda etc?



For home land security, the authorities can make their own better innovative systems using the current technological advancements. Instead, creating hurdles in the natural flow of information would adversely affect the grass-root level technical expertise of the whole nation.



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