Current status and management of scientific information relating to Indian environment

Gadgil, Madhav ; Rathore, Chinmaya S. (2015) Current status and management of scientific information relating to Indian environment Proceedings of the Indian National Science Academy - Part B: Biological Sciences, 81 (5). pp. 1087-1112. ISSN 0073-6600

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To address the important challenge of taking good care of India’s environment, we require substantial, good quality, and reliable information. Unfortunately, such information is in very short supply. Most of it is collected through the state machinery. With a few notable exceptions like India Meteorological Department and the Indian Space Research Organization, the agencies involved exhibit a number of shortcomings. These include: (1) Failure to maintain records, (2) Very patchy, incomplete information, (3) Suppression of accurate information, (4) Deliberately falsified information, (5) Failure to make information publicly available, and (6) Failure to involve public in generating useful information. Three significant avenues for involving the public in generating useful environmental information, namely, preparation of ward-wise Environmental Status Reports by Local Bodies under the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendments, preparation of People’s Biodiversity Registers by Local Bodies under Biological Diversity Act, and compilation of information generated through student projects under educational system-wide compulsory Environmental Education courses are being scarcely tapped. To address this challenge, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEF&CC) established around 1983 an Environmental Information System whose 68 centers focus on newsletters, research papers, court orders, etc. and little on useable environmental databases. In view of this inadequacy MOEF & CC started a new environmental information facility called the Environmental Information Centre in 2002. Regretfully EIC has altogether stopped functioning around 2010. Evidently, the prevalent exclusionary culture of bureaucratic management of information cannot be maintained in the modern, open democratic society of India. In response, the Government has promulgated the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy and set up a Nataional Spatial Data Infrastructure. This ought to lead to a sustained effort to geocode environmental information and make it available as GIS ready datasets. To this end, we need to start a fresh initiative to create a new Environment Infromation Infrastructure that can act as an umbrella platform to collate and disseminate environmental information in the country . We must also strive towards creating partnerships with public sector and private sector digital platforms, in particular (a) ISRO’s Bhuvan and (b) Google Public Data Explorer. To these proposals, we must now add one more dimension, namely, that the information system should not only be publicly accessible, but be a participatory system involving all interested citizens. It should be broad in scope and involve not only various Central and State Government agencies, but also all the Local Bodies and organizations such as industries and mines that are expected to document their pertinent activities. However, the fact that with the notable exception of the Sikkim springs programme of the Government of Sikkim, several long-standing opportunities such as Biological Diversity Act have so far not led to any concrete actions, indicates that the citizens must step in and take the initiative on their own. Such a people’s movement for making good environmental information openly available could very effectively piggyback on the hugely successful Wikipedia experiment.

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