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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

India Urban Observatory: Using data for cleaner, efficient cities

The India Urban Observatory is working on a use-case or a prototype to analyse pollution data and identify factors responsible for such high levels of bad air at hotspots in areas under the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC).

delhi Updated: Sep 08, 2019 17:51 IST

Hindustan Times, New Delhi
The India Urban Observatory room at urban development ministry office at Nirman Bhawan.
The India Urban Observatory room at urban development ministry office at Nirman Bhawan.(HT Photo)
         

At a click of a button, the video wall at the India Urban Observatory—inaugurated by the Housing and Urban Affairs (HUA) ministry in March this year—flashes information about the pollution hotspots in Lutyens’ Delhi.

The area around Shivaji Stadium has been one of Delhi’s top pollution hotspots for the past five months, says data available with the observatory, which has been set up to enable 100 smart cities to move towards data-oriented governance.

The observatory is working on a use-case or a prototype to analyse pollution data and identify factors responsible for such high levels of bad air at hotspots in areas under the New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC).

Data sourced from 18 environment sensors installed by NDMC, various environment agencies working in Delhi and traffic-related information are analysed.

The environment sensors provide day-to-day information about PM 2.5, PM 10 levels, among other environmental parameters crucial to assess air quality.

Though the project is in its nascent stage, data experts say the present data indicates an urgent need to decongest the area. “The use-case will help us understand the situation on the ground,” Kunal Kumar, joint secretary and mission director of Smart Cities, said.

The council has started using the data to push its environment-friendly initiatives. “The data was useful in convincing stakeholders on the need to pedestrianise Connaught Place and push for the use of non-motorised transport. The pollution levels in and around CP were very high. The data, which is collected on day-to-day basis, is also helping us plan or identify new areas for pedestrianising and introduce bicycle facilities,” NDMC secretary Rashmi Singh said.

This is one of the many use-cases the ministry is working on at the observatory, which has over 3,000 data sets available from across India. The observatory uses real-time data and from the archives collected by both government and private agencies.

One of the first use-cases to be launched in the public domain is about cleanliness. From September, the data team will assess cleanliness in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, Varanasi, by studying real-time photographs by contributors. “From September 1, we will test the project and launch it by mid-September,” said Kumar.

The ministry has tied up with a start-up to provide 1,000 outdoor photographs of the city from contributors every day. “This is a brilliant example of crowd-sourced city management. Volunteers will upload photographs to the server and the artificial intelligence (AI)-driven system will analyse them and generate a heat map of the city’s cleanliness score on a daily basis. We will crowd-source 30,000 photographs in a day and one crore in a year. It will give us a true picture and will put pressure on the civic system to improve things on the ground,” said Kumar.

With women safety a major concern, the data team in Delhi and experts from Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bengaluru, is working to develop a women safety index for road routes in Pune. It will help people, especially women, identity the safety index of a route while travelling.

The application calculates real-time safety index of a route based on data on real-time status of streetlights, past crime records, presence of police stations and bus stops, land-use of areas on the route, crime rate, etc. “This will help people, especially women, make informed decisions about which route to take. The shortest route to your destination might not be the safest route,” Kunal Kumar, joint secretary and mission director of Smart Cities, said.

This application is currently a prototype. “We want to show it is possible to empower people to take informed discussions in areas of concern by leveraging data from sources. We will work on enabling open data around these issues so that innovators can build apps on such use cases,” said Kumar.

IISc is helping develop the India Urban Data Exchange, a web platform that can be used by government and private organisations to “safely and securely share data”. Professor Amrutur Bharadwaj, who is in charge of the project at IISc, said, “We are trying to develop a data ecosystem where data collected from various sources, including live images from the routes, is assessed by a system and a solution is provided to the end user. We aim to develop a system where the user will get to know about how safe the route is.”

The observatory is assisting the 100 smart cities is gathering data and developing data ecosystems that can be accessed by innovators to create citizen-friendly applications. “Our job is not to create mobile applications alone. Governments all over the world are creating data ecosystems that can be used by innovators to create services according to local needs. For instance, open data on transport infrastructure can help improve mobility issues. The observatory would help in data-driven governance and evidence-based planning,” he said.

The observatory is working on 10 core areas such as solid waste management, water, waste water management, mobility, education, health. Apart from assisting in solving present day issues, Kumar said it would help predict trends or problems a city is likely to face.

“Data is a reflection of truth. It can help you predict future trends and act accordingly. It can help take informed policy decisions, measure impacts of government programs and do performance management. Data empowers citizens and communities in being better informed about their lives and surroundings,” Kumar said.

First Published: Sep 08, 2019 17:51 IST

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