The criticality of remote sensing in disaster preparedness hardly needs to be emphasized. The comptroller and auditor generalís latest report on the performance of the National Remote Sensing Centre, one of the key units of the department of space, assumes significance in this respect. The NRSC is entrusted with the responsibility of acquiring, processing and disseminating remote-sensing data for the country from seven operational Indian remote sensing satellites and from a few foreign satellites. The efficient functioning of the NRSC is important not only for the success of the space programmes but also for agriculture, water-resource management, urban development and disaster preparedness.
During the period of assessment, the capacity utilization of the seven IRS satellites was found to be very poor, ranging from 32 to 55 per cent of their installed capacity. Significantly, when the proposal to launch the IRS satellites was submitted for approval, the NRSC duly presented Return on Investment, taking into account user requirements, data needs, cost of operation and maintenance. The standing committee of Parliament had advised the setting up of a national remote sensing coordination committee for the effective implementation of the projects. The NRSC, however, did not set up such a committee. It could not customize the data, expand the customer base or enhance the rates of its data products as per the international market. Consequently, it failed to recover capital expenditure and bring in revenue to meet its operational expenditure even after taking into account the sale of data products to Antrix Corporation Limited.
The NRSC has agreed to focus on enhancing operational efficiency, devise appropriate marketing strategies, implement customer relations management and periodically revisit the pricing policy. The NRSC, as the sole civilian provider of aerial remote sensing services, has undertaken different projects of national importance: a study on Command Area Development, National Wasteland Mapping, Rajiv Gandhi National Drinking Water Mission, Village Resource Centre Programme and Disaster Management Support Programme. The NRSC was also responsible for providing support for the application of remote-sensing techniques in varied areas and conducting operational resources surveys.
Effective coordination with all the stakeholders becomes indispensable for deriving better results. Inadequate coordination with the ministry of rural development contributed to non-reclamation of 86.6 per cent of the targeted wasteland. In the case of the DMSP, the requisite aircraft was not procured in spite of the availability of adequate funds and of sanctions from the competent authority.
In the projects undertaken on behalf of ACL, there had been instances of relaxation of terms of payment, short realization of revenue and the awarding of projects without signing the required MoU. In the case of operational projects, there were deficiencies in planning and implementation, delays and inadequate realization of targeted benefits. In the light of these observations, the NRSC will be better off fully utilizing its training facilities and encouraging private participation in varied training courses to ensure better usage and marketing of its data products.
Recognizing the centrality of effective and efficient functioning of the NRSC for strategic disaster preparedness as well as for optimum utilization of natural resources is a must. It is imperative for the organization to strengthen its internal control systems and procedures, internal audits and budgetary mechanisms. Keeping a firm control over inflow and outflow of funds and effective monitoring and timely implementation of key projects are of crucial importance.