India is projected to become the world's 5th largest economy by 2020. The IEA estimates that India will require 600-1200 GW of new electric power generation capacity by 2050. But 30% of India's power generation is lost to "aggregate technical and commercial" (AT&C) losses. To address this challenge, the Union Government created the India Smart Grid Task Force, chaired by Sam Pitroda, advisor to the Prime Minister. Sam Pitroda has a reputation for making change happen. As an advisor to a previous prime minister, Sam Pitroda spearheaded the telecom revolution in India which in 20 years transformed India from a country with 2 million phones to 900 million phones. He is a strong believer in the power of technology for enabling change for the benefit and betterment of society. Today at the ESRI User Conference Pitroda reiterated this theme.
Pitroda ponted out that India is a complex country, both geographically and with respect to the diversity of its people. Technology has been the key driver in India since 1947 when the British left. Agriculture, telecommunications, higher education, energy, and space technologies were among the initial focus areas. India is now able to feed 1.3 billion people and send satellites into space. 20 years ago there were 2 million telephones for about 800 million people. Now there are about 900 million phones, mostly wiereless, in India as a result of the telecommunications revolution that Pitroda helped to initiate.
The challenge that India is facing is 400 million people below the poverty line. Every national policy has to take this economic pyramid into account. India is also a very young country with 550 million people under the age of 25. These demographics means that the Indian development model has to be different from the Western model. It is simply inconceivable that every household in India (and China) will have a a car, pay $30,000 per year for education, and $70 000 for a bypass operation as in the United States.
The primary challenges that India faces are social equity, lessening the disparity between the affluent and the poor, urban and rural, educated and uneducated, reinforcing Indian democracy, and demography - creating economic opportunities for the young.
In Pitroda's view the key to meeting these challenges is information. People are poor because of a lack of information. Access to information is essential for making democracy work. Information is also a great leveler which helps reduce disparity. It is also going to help provide the 15 to 20 million new jobs that India needs to create every year.
Already most Indians have access to voice communications. The next challenge is data communications. India and tthe US jointly developed an open platform for sharing government data that is being made available to other countries. At a cost of about $2 billion, India has developed a Knowledge Network linking Indian universities and technical institutes. The next step is to create a fiber optic network linking Indian cities, towns, and villages, at an estmated cost of $7 billion over the next 18 to 24 months. The long term objective is to empower over a billion people.
A key part of the the IT platfom is developing geospatial infrastructure including data and technology. The XI Five-Year Plan mandated the use of geospatial technology in new mission-critical projects. The objective is to provide a seamless, nationwide, geospatially-enabled database, which will serve as a platform for data sharing amongst various national government departments and state governments.
Several years ago it was realized that just about every department has its own base map. The Water Department, the Revenue Department, the Gas Authority all had different base maps with different boundaries. Information is power and no one wants to share. It was recognized that it was essential to get everyone working together to agree on one common standard base map. It took a year and half to achieve this. It is not easy to get 30 different states some of which have populations of 200 million to agree on common standards and this requires changing people's mindset. From Pitroda's perspective the problem is a 19th Century mindset, 20th Century policies, and 21st Century technology. The solution is to get the younger generation to think differently.
Pitroda's vision is that a national information infrastructure based on a common geospatial platform will help make government more transparent and accountable, reduce corruption, reduce the waste of resources, empower citizens and provide a foundation for a uniquely Indian approach to innovation and economic development that will reduce disparity and create jobs for the young Indian workforce over the next decade or two. Based on the Indian experience with revolutionizing communications, Sam Pitroda is optimistic that access to information incorporating geospatial techology will transform Indian society. This is an incredible vision for transforming the lives of 1.3 billion people.