Misgivings over utility value of GIS project

HYDERABAD Nov. 9. Doubts are being raised by environmentalists over the methodology and utility value of the ambitious World Bank-funded Geographical Information System (GIS) project, under the Industrial Pollution Prevention Project-II, commissioned on a pilot basis for Visakhapatnam district by the AP Pollution Control Board (APPCB).

Pointing to certain gaps, inadequacies and insufficient database in the project, they have demanded that the pilot project be thoroughly reviewed, before it can be applied for other districts, as the funding is in the form of loan and not grant.

The project assigned to Indian Resources Information and

Management Technologies (INRIMT) is aimed at holistic and quick assessment and management of environmental and non- environmental resource-use by industrial investors. The resource mapping using digitised satellite imageries developed by the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) is expected to provide multiple-user maps of 1:50,000 and 1:12,500, depending on the depth and spread of planning and management required.

The maps in turn would provide baseline data on environmental quality of selected micro watersheds along the growth paths indicated by the Vision 2020 document. These baselines would help making Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) more consistent adhering to acknowledged environmental quality of zoned areas, besides enabling faster clearances and improved environmental monitoring.

In short the GIS is expected to be an information tool for enabling access to investors to understand online, the development objectives and assess the environmental quality in a given location, plan his investment accordingly without jeopardising the environment in that particular location further.

But the first thing the environmentalists want to know is how is the project, going by the methodology adopted, different from the zoning atlas project in eight districts taken up by the Environment Protection Training and Research Institute (EPTRI) for the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in Andhra Pradesh.

They question its applicability, given the fact that the firm assigned the task has claimed that it might take three years for the project to be fully applicable "owing to lack of proper and comprehensive information and data''. Notwithstanding the contention that it is a dynamic project and the APPCB can expand the monitoring network with this experience, there was no mention of how this dynamism has been factored into the project.

Though the firm says it has followed CPCB guidelines in the development of risk area map, certain aspects of sensitive zones were completely ignored. The mapping exercise has missed to include land use categories, predominant in every coastal district: flood prone area, sandy area, mangroves, estuaries, reef area, etc.

The report also ignored the impact on health and a morbidity analysis in terms of gender, adults/ children, and rural/ urban areas. Information of incidence of diseases was lacking. There was no link up between the Coastal Regulation Zone provisions with the GIS platform so as to enable the user to have specific outputs.

It is on database prepared by the INRMIT, the APPCB has the task of assessing the policy instruments which can define industrial development in a particular location, based on the environmental quality and the potential impact of the proposed development/ industrial activity. But the database appears insufficient to enable such an assessment, they said.

It was also expected that the environmental quality resource maps developed under this project would be completely integrated with the APGIS of the Planning department and similar databases were already available for micro watershed level applications. From the project, one was not sure whether these objectives could be fulfilled.

They also feel lot more parameters should have been included in the pilot project, which impact the natural resources. At present it lists out parameters on which information or data is already available from APPCB. If the goal is to assess environment quality, it should have taken into consideration bio- indicators, ecosystems and distinct species which can be an important source of information for assessment. Primary data collection should have focused on the parameters linked to biodiversity, rather than merely on physico-chemical features.

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