The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Howrah’s getting a digital dossier
- Hi-tech map boon for town planners, civic body

Howrah is going hi-tech, beating all the metros to a sophisticated map, billed to be a boon for town planning and municipal activity. Using iconase satellite imagery and Geographical Information System (GIS), the Calcutta Metropolitan Development Authority (CMDA) has taken up a project to digitally compile all information pertaining to the Howrah region on a map constructed from a satellite image “powerful enough to pinpoint a small boat on the Hooghly”.

The Rs 88-lakh project, to be implemented in association with the district administration and National Remote Sensing Agency, will cover Howrah, including the Howrah Municipal Corporation area, the Uluberia and Bally municipalities and some outlying rural areas.

Project officials observed that the two-year project is not only the first of its kind in West Bengal, but is also a rarity across the country, having only been undertaken in four cities in Andhra Pradesh, not comparable to Howrah in terms of either size or complexity.

Swadesh Chakraborty, former mayor of Howrah, is providing money from his MP local area development fund for the project. “The administration is handicapped due to paucity of accurate information,” said Chakraborty. It will, he claimed, help assess and locate the number of households in the area eligible for taxes. “Forty per cent of the municipality house-owners do not pay any civic taxes, while another 30 per cent pay a fraction of what they are supposed to,” he added.

Present mayor Gopal Mukherjee agreed that the municipal information system would “not only help improve tax collection but also in town planning”. Voluminous information manuals have been provided to the councillors of Borough V by the CMDA on the completion of the project’s first phase, said Mukherjee. “Once the project is complete, councillors will be asked to present an action plan for their ward using the new technology,” he explained.

Implementation of GIS for municipal management is not new to the state. “We have been using it to gather information since 2000. Quality information is key to all development planning. Presently, we have implemented the system in 19 municipalities and another 41 are in the pipeline,” observed state municipal affairs minister Asok Bhattacharya.

Howrah presented a unique challenge, remarked Tapas Ghatak of the CMDA environment cell, who has pioneered the municipal implementation of GIS in the state, as the town lacked even a proper map to work on. The satellite imagery technology had to be purchased because of this, and the National Remote Sensing Agency scientists are now developing a detailed map of the region.

Mainly local health workers and surveyors are generating information on about 250,000 holdings and other physical details regarding roads and other basics. Once compiled, the information will be incorporated into the map digitally. Project managers estimate that the process, including the training of the municipal staff in the usage of the systems, will be complete by end-2004.

This may also translate into greater information for the Howrah resident, with plans to set up info kiosks at nodal points for citizens to click for all they want to know about their township.

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