August 10, 2011
A CAG report indicts the National Remote Sensing Centre for lapses in implementation and fund allocations

The launch of GSAT 12 satellite last month invited much applause with India now having more than 60 satellites in the space. However, the acclaim dies out in face of the delayed benefits of this technological advancement bringing all the efforts of great scientists to a naught. A latest report by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) puts a question mark on the efficacy of National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) which is one of the agencies under the Department of Space carrying out development projects using the latest satellite technology.

The audit shows the centre has been bagging projects but many of them get delayed thus turning redundant the collected data. CAG has audited its performance regarding three key projects and in all of them, the implementation has been tardy.

Draining out the irrigation plans

A project funded by the Ministry of Water Resources in 1997 proved to be a futile exercise even after an expenditure of Rs 2.25 crore. NRSC was to provide information on irrigated area, major crops, water logged areas and salt-affected soil over three crop seasons in 14 selected command area development projects. The project information was to be utilised by five participating states of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam and Maharashtra with the help of end-of-study workshops.

However, the study could only be completed in 2001 and the workshops were held after a lapse of four years in 2005. It was found at these workshops that NRSC had studied the data of 1985-86 to 1997-98 which could not be used in planning of irrigation schemes post 2005. So, not only the remedial measures turned ineffective, the planning for future irrigation projects was also impacted.

Wasteland study wasted

It was way back in 1986 that the Ministry of Rural Development asked NRSC to map the wasteland using satellite remote sensing on large scale. NRSC took 14 years to complete this task which led to rehabilitation of only 8.58 million hectares of waste land between 1980 and 2003 as against the target of 63.85 million hectares. Ministry of Rural Development gave another project to the National Natural Resources Management System (NNRMS), of which NRSC is a member, for updating details of wastelands with a budget of Rs 4.98 crore. Though the project was completed in March 2005, it did only half the job. Impact assessment of reclamation activities, which was an integral part of the project, was not carried out thus the consequences of rehabilitation could never be known. The magnitude at which this dereliction of duty continued can be gauged from the fact that the standing committee of NNRMS never met during the project period to coordinate its activities.

Furthering water crisis

In 1998, the Ministry of Rural Development asked NRSC to prepare geomorphological maps to identify sources of drinking water for all the 'non-covered' and 'partially covered' habitats of India by the year 2000. The project could be completed only in 10 states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Orissa with a lapse of five years.

Of the remaining 17 states, survey was underway at 10 states while work was yet to begin at remaining seven states. The fact that 90 per cent of the identified sites yielded water on digging wells, points to the great promise this project holds for quenching the national thirst for potable water if only the implementation could be swift.

Community contact

The department of space also runs village resources centres (VRC) in collaboration with various NGOs to help villagers directly access satellite-based information related to education, healthcare, weather, land and water resource management besides natural disasters. CAG’s review of such centres managed by NRSC in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa found that on an average, the utilisation of the service was just 13 per cent. In addition, the NGOs were found to be using only 51 per cent of the available slots for programmes thus turning the available resources redundant.

Budgetary voids

NRSC was also found to be mismanaging the funds. Budget to the amount of Rs 94.70 crore was released for operationalisation of high resolution terrain mapping, disaster survey and all weather monitoring. The project also included procurement of a dedicated aircraft. However, 92 per cent of this fund had been lying unutilised and no aircraft had been bought by NRSC even after a delay of three years. Of the government projects being run by NRSC, a total of Rs 75.14 crore remained unutilised thus leading to blockage of the money which could have been used for other developmental projects. Also, a total amount of Rs 6.64 crore was outstanding in 60 test checked projects while undercosting of Rs 2.52 crore was found in 12 out of 60 user projects test checked.

While precious national resources are squandered, NRSC seems to be calculating the escape velocity it would require to get out of such a deep rot.