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Role of ISRO in rural development

 Rural life in India is essentially agricultural, its settlement system consists of villages or homesteads; socially it connotes greater interdependence among people leading to more deeply rooted community life, and occupationally it is highly dependent on crop farming, animal keeping, small-scale plantation, and related activities.

As a concept, rural development connotes overall development of rural areas with a view to improve the quality of life of rural people. In this sense, it is a comprehensive and multidimensional concept and encompasses the development of agriculture and allied activities, village and cottage industries, socio-economic infrastructure, community services and facilities, and above all the human resources in rural areas

But more than 700 million Indians live in rural areas and far-flung villages that do not yet have basic services such as electricity, sanitation, and water, much less knowledge-enhancing technologies such as telecommunication services.

In order to bring about development and enhance the quality of life of the villagers, a definite policy with regard to communication support must be formulated and pursued. 

Space technology, as the powerful enabler, provides a variety of vital inputs for holistic and rapid development of rural areas, and villages in specific. India has been among the world leaders in developing end-to-end capability in both satellite remote sensing and communication. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has made remarkable progress in building state of the art space infrastructure such as the Indian National Satellite (INSAT) for communication and the Indian Remote Sensing (IRS) satellites for earth observation. ISRO has also been a champion in demonstrating the use of space technology for societal good. ISRO has piloted several socially relevant space application projects like the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), the Training and Development Communication Channel (TDCC), the Jhabua Development Communications Project (JDCP) using INSAT; and finding prospective groundwater zones to provide drinking water in villages, providing land and water resources development plans at watershed level using IRS. Space based services, emanating from Satellite Communication (SatCom) and Earth Observation (EO) hold much value in transforming the village society. While SatCom provides the conduit for effective delivery of information and services across vast regions; the EO provides community-centric spatial information in terms of geo-referenced land record, natural resources, sites for exploiting groundwater for potable and recharge, incidence of wastelands having reclamation potential, watershed attributes, environment, infrastructure related information, alternative cropping pattern, etc. Synthesising the spatial information with other collateral and weather information, EO also facilitates locale-specific advisory services at community level. Space based systems are effective in supporting disaster management at community level, wherein the vulnerability and risk related information, early warning, forecast of unusual/extreme weather conditions, etc., provide for building resilience at village community level.

Thus Space technology should be harnessed by the local bodies to create an information base and for providing service.

Space Technology Applications for Rural Development are discussed below:
Satellite communication and earth observation satellites have demonstrated their capabilities to provide the services relating to healthcare, education, weather, land and water resources, land records, agricultural advisories, etc., relevant at communities/ village level.  The value-added, high-resolution earth observation images provide community-centric, geo-referenced spatial information for management of natural resources, such as land use/ land cover, terrain morphology, surface water and groundwater, soil characteristics, environment and infrastructure. 

• Village resource centre

ISRO has embarked upon VRC programme to disseminate the portfolio of services emanating from the space systems as well as other Information Technology (IT) tools, directly down-the-line to the rural communities. VRCs essentially have: digital connectivity (for videoconferencing and information transfer) with knowledge centers and specialty healthcare providers enabled via INSAT; spatial information on natural resources generated using IRS data; a host of information pertaining to management of natural resources and socio-economic relevance; and facilities for primary healthcare services and distance education.

With the involvement of stakeholders, VRCs will catalyse rural entrepreneurship; and facilitate e-Governance and other services of social relevance. ISRO is implementing VRC programme in partnership with reputed NGOs, Trusts and other agencies including the Governmental ones.

VRC Services – Portfolio 

Tele-education: Focus is on imparting vocational training at local level - aimed at skill development and capacity building to catalyse livelihood support in rural areas; supplementary teaching to rural children; and non-formal and adult education.

Tele-healthcare: Thrust is on both preventive and curative healthcare at primary level. The Telemedicine system at VRCs consists of customised medical software, with certain medical diagnostic instruments. With the help of local doctor/ paramedic, expert medical consultation and counseling are provided to the villagers from specialty hospitals. Healthcare awareness is also a major activity of VRCs.

Land and Water Resources Management: Information on land and water resources extracted from satellite images is organised in Geographical Information System (GIS), and provided to the villagers through the VRC. The local farmers, availing the support of the skilled/ trained personnel managing VRCs, utilise this information for better management of their land resources.

Interactive Advisory Services: VRCs facilitate interactions between the local people and experts at knowledge centers - Agricultural Universities, Technical Institutions, etc - on a wide range of subjects such as alternative cropping systems, optimisation of agricultural inputs-like seeds, water, fertilizer, insecticides, pesticides, producer oriented marketing opportunities, crop insurance, etc.

Tele-fishery: VRCs located at coastal tracts are being provided with near real time information on satellite derived Potential Fishing Zones (PFZ). Information pertaining to inland fisheries, aquaculture, etc., is also provided through VRCs as relevant.

e-Governance services: The services include information and guidance to local people on village oriented governmental schemes on agriculture, poverty alleviation, rural employment, social safety nets and other basic entitlements, animal husbandry and livestock related, micro-finance related, etc.
Weather Services: Short, medium and long-term weather forecasts, at local level; and agrometeorology advisory services are being enabled.

Others: Depending on the local needs, each VRC provides a host of other services.

• Satellite Communication

One of the major components and driving force related to rural development is communication.  It has been given highest priority for bringing desirable social and behavioural change among the most vulnerable rural society.  Satellite communications has the ability to simultaneously reach a large population, spread over vast distances, and inherently is a powerful tool to support development education and training. 

ISRO had undertaken several projects that focused on development of humanity through sophisticated satellite-based communication.  Right from the inception of utilizing space programmes for development, the experiments like Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), Kheda Communications Project (KCP), Jhabua Development Communications Project (JDCP), Training and Development Communication Channel (TDCC) have been carried out.  


ISRO''s Gram SAT satellite connects rural development ministry with 1100 panchayats. The exercise was aimed at getting feedback on the various rural development schemes under operation in the state and to gain an insight into the problems at the field level, on which the ministry needed to focus further planning efforts.
The effort was equally aimed at enhancing the awareness of the beneficiaries on their entitlement and various processes involved for availing the benefit of the schemes.

The communication initiative was part of the ministry's effort to bring about transparency and efficiency in implementation of its various schemes all over the country, for which it has been initiating different proactive measures like online monitoring and social auditing, among others.

Gram SAT pilot projects are being run in some select states of the country and are being utilised very to reach out development messages directly to the villagers by ensuring community listening, viewing and linking up large body of villagers.

• Tele-Education

The tele-education programme launched by ISRO, serviced by the exclusive satellite ‘EDUSAT’, is primarily intended for school, college and higher levels of education to support both curricula based as well as vocational education.  With 5 Ku-band transponders providing spot beams, and one Ku-band transponder providing national beam, and 6 extended C-band transponders with national coverage beams, EDUSAT is specifically configured for audio-visual medium, employing digital interactive classroom and multimedia multi-centric system.  Many important institutions such as the IGNOU, UGC, IITs, and many State Education Departments and Universities are making use of the EDUSAT network. Presently, more than 34,500 
classrooms are in the EDUSAT network out of which 3,400 are interactive terminals.  
Satellites can establish the connectivity between urban educational institutions with adequate infrastructure imparting quality education and the large number of rural and semi-urban educational institutions that lack the necessary infrastructure. Besides supporting formal education, a satellite system can facilitate the dissemination of knowledge to the rural and remote population about important aspects like health, hygiene and personality development and allow professionals to update their knowledge base as well. Thus, in spite of limited trained and skilled teachers, the aspirations of the growing student population at all levels can be met through the concept of tele-education.

• Tele-Medicine

A healthy citizen contributes to make a healthy nation.  Over the years, the government has introduced various healthcare initiatives and policies, which has resulted in the increase in life expectancy of our citizens.  However, providing healthcare to millions of people in rural India is really a formidable challenge.  It is a matter of concern that a meager 3% of the qualified doctors, who are attached to about 23,000 Primary and 3,000 Community Health Centres, are available to attend to the 70% of the Indian population.  Satellite communication technology, combined with information technology provides a technological means of taking the benefits of the advances in medical sciences to large sections of people spread out in remote and inaccessible villages.  

Telemedicine is a confluence of Communication Technology, Information Technology, Biomedical Engineering and Medical Science. The Telemedicine system consists of customised hardware and software at both the Patient and Specialist doctor ends with some of the Diagnostic Equipments like ECG, X-ray and pathology Microscope/Camera provided at the patient end. They are connected through a Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) system and controlled by the Network Hub Station of ISRO. Through a Telemedicine system consisting of simple computer with communication systems, the medical images and other information pertaining to the patients can be sent to the specialist doctors, either in advance or on a real time basis through the satellite link in the form of Digital Data Packets. These packets are received at the specialist centre. 

ISRO’s telemedicine network has enabled many poor rural villagers hitherto denied with quality medical services to get the best of medical services available in the country.  As of now, we have 377 tele-medicine nodes consisting of 320 remote/ district/ medical college/ mobile hospitals connected to 57 super specialty hospitals in different cities through ISRO’s satellites.  The ISRO telemedicine network is expanding to various regions in the country and has become one of the most visible and sociological applications in the world today.  

Mobile Telemedicine Unit consisting of Medical equipment along with Telemedicine hardware, software and VSAT system mounted in a Bus/Van can establish a Mobile Telemedicine centre at any place. The major area of Mobile Telemedicine applications are in the field of Tele Opthalmology and Community Health. Under Mobile Tele Opthalmology, Rural Eye Camps can be conducted and the Rural Population can undergo eye screening for Cataract, Glaucoma and Diabetic Retinopathy. Under Community Health Program, Mobile Telemedicine units are very useful not only for Disease Prevention but also for Health Promotion in terms of running awareness camps & teaching hygienic practices. Village Resource Centres and Telemedicine Recently, ISRO has also initiated pilot projects for integrating Telemedicine/Tele-health with the Resource Information database as well as Tele-Education facilities at the Village Resource Centres/Community Centres (VRC) to reach out to more rural areas of the country. The first of the pilot projects has been implemented in the state of Tamil Nadu wherein the nodal centre operated by an NGO agency at Chennai is connected to remote villages in three districts and more are to come in the future.

One of the major advantages of Telemedicine technology has been the saving of cost and effort to the rural patients as they are not required to travel long distances for obtaining consultation and treatment. A study conducted by an independent agency on one thousand patients in the Chamarajanagar district hospital in Karnataka has revealed that there was a cost saving of 81% to the patient. That is, the patients who availed the telemedicine consultation and treatment spent only 19% of the money which they would have otherwise spent if they had to travel to the nearest cities for a similar treatment. In the case of remote off shore islands, this is much more significant both to the patient and the Government administration. In such cases, not only the patients have the cost saving but can be provided with quick and timely medical aid.

• Disaster Management Support

India is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world with increasing vulnerability to cyclones, floods, landslides, droughts and earthquakes.  The Disaster Management Support (DMS) Programme of ISRO, provides timely support and services from aero-space systems, both imaging and communications, towards efficient management of disasters in the country. The DMS programme addresses disasters such as flood, cyclone, drought, forest fire, landslide and Earthquake. These include creation of digital data base for facilitating hazard zonation, damage assessment, etc., monitoring of major natural disasters using satellite and aerial data; development of appropriate techniques and tools for decision support, establishing satellite based reliable communication network, deployment of emergency communication equipments and R&D towards early warning of disasters.

To support the total cycle of disaster/ emergency management for the country, in near real time, the database creation is addressed through National Database for Emergency Management (NDEM), a GIS based repository of data. NDEM is envisaged to have core data, hazard-specific data, and dynamic data in spatial as well as a spatial form. 

Airborne ALTM-DC data acquisition is being carried out for the flood prone basins in the country. The development of flight model of C band DMSAR is nearing completion. SAR data was acquired over selected basins using Development model of DMSAR. Towards providing emergency communication for disaster management activities, and at the behest of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), ISRO has set up a satellite based Virtual Private Network (VPN) linking the National Control Room at MHA with DMS-DSC at NRSC, important national agencies, key Government Offices in Delhi and the Control Rooms of 22 multi-hazard-prone States. Further ISRO has developed and deployed INSAT Type-D terminals (portable satellite phones), INSAT based Distress Alert Transmitter (DAT) for fishermen, Cyclone Warning Dissemination System (CWCS) and DTH based Digital Disaster Warning System (DDWS) in disaster prone areas.

As part of R&D support to DMS for remote sensing applications, work on Tropical Cyclone Track intensity and landfall prediction, Earthquake Precursor studies, Coastal Vulnerability mapping and Early Warning of Landslides are being carried out. 

The DMS programme is also supporting the many international initiatives by sharing data and information. Through International Charter ‘Space and Major Disasters’ and Sentinel Asia (SA) initiative for supporting disaster management activities in the Asia-Pacific region, ISRO is providing IRS datasets and other information for use during major calamities. 

Remote sensing applications

Remote sensing has enabled mapping, studying, monitoring and management of various resources like agriculture, forestry, geology, water, ocean etc. It has further enabled monitoring of environment and thereby helping in conservation. In the last four decades it has grown as a major tool for collecting information on almost every aspect on the earth. With the availability of very high spatial resolution satellites in the recent years, the applications have multiplied. In India remote sensing has been used for various applications during the last four decades and has contributed significantly towards development.

India has its own satellites like Indian Remote Sensing Satellite (IRS) series – Resourcesat, Cartosat, Oceansat etc which provide required data for carrying out various projects. Some of the important projects carried out in the country include Groundwater Prospects Mapping under Drinking Water Mission, Forecasting Agricultural output using Space, Agro-meteorology and Land based observations (FASAL), Forest Cover/Type Mapping, Grassland Mapping, Biodiversity Characterization, Snow & Glacier Studies, Land Use/Cover mapping, Coastal Studies, Coral and Mangroves Studies, Wasteland Mapping etc. The information generated by large number of projects have been used by various departments, industries and others for different purposes like development planning, monitoring, conservation etc.

Some future programmes:

• Space Based Information System for Decentralized Planning (SIS-DP) 

Realizing the potential and capability of remote sensing and GIS for providing cost and time-effective resource database, the Planning Commission, Ministry of Panchayati Raj and Ministry of Rural Development has proposed to prepare District Resource Atlases using remote sensing and GIS techniques to strengthen various aspects of decentralized district level planning through a co-ordinated approach.

The ICT enabled geospatial platform can be formed using space based EO systems and engaging local bodies for planning and carrying out area developmental activities in a decentralized, speedy and transparent manner. The major objectives are:

I. Spatial depiction of land & water resource along with their attribute information for preparation of District Resource Geospatial Atlas keeping Village Cadastral data as base on seamless manner for entire country; (States which are already covered may be brought to uniform standard with respect to content and accuracies),
II. Development of software tools and utilities (including web based GIS applications and standalone) for providing multipurpose user driven applications for speedy, accurate and transparent decision making for district planning.
III. Capacity building in state departments along with training of manpower and capability for spatial data analysis, which will maintain, update & manage database for decentralized planning.

Village cadastral maps will be collected, scanned, vectorised and geo-referenced to be overlaid onto ortho-rectified imagery. Attribute data from user departments will be converted into spatial layer and various customized information system will be developed for use in planning activity. One node for each state will be created for providing centralized facility for archiving, organizing, updating and dissemination of information at grassroots level.

The objective of the Space based Information System for Decentralized Planning mission is to establish and enable the information system comprising of spatial natural resources and non-spatial data towards supporting the districts for the decentralized planning. This GIS database will be customized to meet the requirements of stake holder departments/concerned in providing the digital resource atlases and any other requirements of the States based on their problems/ priority/ developmental programme at Village/ Block/ Taluka/ District level. The Mission is intended to be executed and supported by State Remote Sensing Application Centres / Institutes / IT Departments and Industries and ownership of the database and resource information will be with respective individual stakeholder departments.