India Narrative, February 27, 2022
By Swati Verma and Yatika Agrawal
“When we have all the data online it will be great for humanity. It is a prerequisite to solving many problems that humankind faces.” – Robert Cailliau, Belgian informatics engineer and computer scientist who, together with Tim Berners-Lee, developed the World Wide Web. The importance of data in information gathering, analytics, and insights cannot be measured easily. Data has revolutionised the world and is now a crucial part of informed decision-making process. However, access to data is often hindered by no-real time information, a variety of resources for the same data, and the high price of data collected by private stakeholders.
These problems often force individual researchers, academicians, as well as government officials to make evidence-based decisions.
Data enables better policy-making. However, for this to be true, data-driven planning at the initial stages of a project is required. Infrastructure development is one such area where data is important for effective planning and decision making.
For instance, for the Department of Science and Technology under the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, maps in paper format had been the key information source for decision making. These maps are often not revised and have no real-time updates.
This, in turn, made the decision-making process longer and inefficient.
The absence of a database with scientific management and analysis of infrastructure statistics has severely constrained the ability to formulate sound infrastructure plans and reliably assess the impact of different projects carried out in various locations. The reliability and accuracy of even the available data are suspect at present as much of the data collected is either a part of a specific study or collected with a specific project in mind.
Also, available data is scattered over a multiplicity of different agencies and is often difficult to obtain. Moreover, the data is not available at regular intervals and does not lend itself to any kind of trend analysis. This seems to be a major problem across India, which is why infrastructure management and analysis remains a major challenge.
All these are expected to change with the anvil of the Prime Minister’s Gati Shakti National Master Plan for Multi-modal Connectivity as it can truly be a game-changer for issues related to data inaccessibility in infrastructure development and connectivity. It is a transformative approach for economic growth and sustainable development, and is driven by seven engines, viz. roads, railways, airports, ports, mass transport, waterways, and logistics infrastructure.
The data exchange among all mode operators will be brought on the Unified Logistics Interface Platform (ULIP), designed for application programming interface (API). This will provide real-time information to all stakeholders and improve international competitiveness.
This approach will be helped by technological innovation that has enabled decision-makers to start using spatially-referenced data and information. The GIS-enabled (geographically-enabled information system) mapping of infrastructure development proposed under the Gati Shakti Master Plan can be an efficient solution to address coordination and implementation challenges, which result in delayed implementation.
It will include information about all cross-sectoral projects in association with the Gati Shakti Master Plan. Furthermore, it will ease the review, monitoring, and evaluation process of projects.
It is expected to show real-time information about the existing projects and upcoming projects with recent developments.
In short, the Gati Shakti Master Plan has the potential and the capacity to unite different ministries and departments working in silos. If enables, it would help policy-makers in informed decision-making. It would also efficiently reduce the efforts, time, and costs of academicians, researchers, and other stakeholders by providing as well as accessing all relevant information at a common platform. However, the gap between planned and actual implementation may be huge.
Therefore, constant monitoring and evaluation of this Plan would be an imperative for its successful operation.
(Agrawal and Verma are Research Associates at CUTS International)
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