Digitising Delhi: Using geospatial data for efficient urban planning

Using geospatial data for efficient urban planning

Launched in November 2007, the Delhi State Spatial Data Infrastructure (DSSDI) project is a significant initiative undertaken by the Department of Information Technology (IT), Delhi government, to assist authorities and utility providers in undertaking effective governance and urban planning activities. It was implemented by the Survey of India and involved the setting up of an integrated, high quality and reliable geospatial information system (GIS) comprising 3D spatial datasets for the city.

As a part of the project, mapping of the entire land area, buildings and underground utilities in the city was carried out through high-accuracy global positioning system (GPS) surveys, photogrammetric capture (from aerial photographs and in 3D), ground probing radars, etc. The dataset of the DSSDI project includes over 357 geospatial layers with attribute data from 27 line departments. To facilitate the utilisation of this data, the IT department has created a common geospatial platform, a DSSDI portal that contains images of all above-ground and underground utilities. This common database is available to various departments for urban planning, land management, infrastructure development and disaster management.

To encourage the utilisation of geospatial data in urban planning, the Delhi government passed the Delhi Geospatial Data Infrastructure (Management, Control, Administration, Security and Safety) Act, 2011 on March 23, 2011. This mandates all line departments, local bodies, and private and public agencies that render public utility services in the city to share, access and use the GIS for planning and executing infrastructure development projects. Further, a special purpose vehicle, Geospatial Delhi Limited (GSDL), was constituted under the IT department for the creation and maintenance of the GIS database. The company is responsible for the integration and authentication of departmental data, cadastral mapping and utility mapping through digital modelling, aerial triangulation and block adjustment, vectorisation, orthophotography etc. GSDL has deployed 28 IP cameras, 10 monitoring centres and two control centres for obtaining real-time information on infrastructure facilities, monitoring illegal changes and managing disasters.

Besides maintaining the database, GSDL provides value-added services and consultancy to the government. So far, the geospatial database has been used by various departments and agencies for effective planning and utilisation of resources. A recent project carried out by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) involved the redelineation of boundaries through superimposition of geospatial data on the existing maps.

The planning department of the DDA had undertaken a pilot project to redelineate the boundaries of peripheral zones – Zone P-I and P-II, Narela – through georeferencing of planning zones with 3D GIS data available from the DSSDI portal and satellite images on Bing and Google. The procedure involved superimposition of geospatial data and existing zonal maps for the identification of errors and distortions such as overlapping and omission of areas. These deviations and discrepancies were then resolved by holding discussions with the concerned zones and units. On authentication, the redrafted boundaries were transferred to the zonal development plans. One of the biggest advantages of this is that it can greatly simplify project implementation. By addressing errors and potential disputes in the preliminary stage itself, execution becomes faster and cheaper. Further, accurate georeferencing can assist utility providers in locating faults and undertaking maintenance activities in a timely manner.

Other agencies that have used GIS data in planning and implementing infrastructure projects include Indraprastha Gas Limited, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, power utility companies such as BSES Rajdhani Power Limited, and the Irrigation and Flood Control Department. Moreover, GSDL has also provided utility data to the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation, created customised Delhi Jal Board utility maps at different levels – division-wise and ward-wise – and developed a tablet-based GIS application for the Department of Revenue.

Challenges faced in using GIS data

The biggest challenge faced by agencies in using geospatial data is the absence of a comprehensive and updated GIS database. At present, end-users like the DDA rely on multiple sources for accessing GIS data. These sources include the DSSDI portal, satellite imagery, updated base maps available from various public and private agencies and aerial photography techniques. Information is generally fragmented and spread amongst various departments, which makes gathering, checking, collating and analysing the data an arduous task.

Since the project covers the entire National Capital Territory of Delhi which is spread over an area of 1,500 square km, GSDL is facing difficulties in maintaining and updating the database for such a large area. Besides, updating of DSSDI geospatial datasets using high resolution satellite imagery has to be outsourced as it requires associated industry standard photogrammetry and stereo image handling software and hardware. This has led to non-conformity in scales and projects, to some extent. On the whole, owing to frequent delays in the updating process, users are often unable to incorporate a temporal analysis of changes in land use and development of urban features in the planning process.

Also, at times, backward integration with the GIS data is not possible, which necessitates the creation of a common database, particularly a base map that can be easily updated by facilities such as sharing of data by stakeholders, satellite imagery and aerial photography. Lastly, the geospatial database is not user friendly, as maps cannot be downloaded or modified by users to suit their requirements. In such a scenario, it is necessary to develop an interface that can be integrated with the GIS platform so that agencies can work extensively on the platform.

Conclusion and the future road map

Various government departments and agencies are developing customised replications of the GIS database to focus on features of particular interest. GSDL has already developed customised applications for the Department of Post and Directorate of Education. These involved the setting up of a web portal for the Department of Post and updating the dataset in order to align it with the Department of Education’s database. In addition, the DDA is considering setting up a separate department for developing a DDA-specific geospatial application using the GSDL database.

GSDL is revamping the existing portal to provide a web-based single-window system for registration and obtaining permission for construction and excavation activity. The database will initially be accessible only to contractors. GSDL also plans to set up a separate geoportal for the public in the years to come. Further, it is undertaking the Development of a Smart City using the DSSDI dataset project, which aims to assist departments in transforming to a modern way of working by using an interactive, web-enabled GIS interface for providing public services and disseminating information. The key objectives of this project are:

  • Enhancing the usefulness and effectiveness of DSSDI datasets.
  • Encouraging practical usage of DSSDI datasets in governance activities.
  • Improving services associated with geospatial data and attribute data handling (addition, update and validation) at the user’s end.
  • Facilitating capacity building in stakeholder departments by organising workshops and training sessions.

The project will be operated in two phases wherein the first phase will cover the designing of use-specific applications, followed by the development and implementation of services. The proposed applications include development and deployment of a tourist-friendly geoportal for Delhi, GIS-assisted detailed riverbank mapping of O-Zone (Master Plan Delhi 2021), development of a geospatial-supported system to ensure the implementation of selected health policies of the Delhi government, real-time monitoring of public transport using geoportal and GPS feeds, and setting up of a geospatial data-based disaster response centre. These solutions are important not only for enhancing revenue and managing the assets of various departments, but also for carrying services to the doorsteps of citizens.

With inputs from presentations by P.S. Uttarwar and K.J.V.S. Prasad at a conference on GIS and Other Geospatial Technologies for Infrastructure