National Portal on Environment launched by Sam Pitroda, chair National Knowledge Commission
New Delhi, August 11, 2008: “If this is the age of environment, then information will be the key to change – in our lifestyle, in policy and in practice – and this we have conceived of the India Environment Portal”, says Sam Pitroda, chair of the National Knowledge Commission (NKC). The portal, launched today, is a one-stop shop for all that you want to know about environment and development issues. “Our politics is overt: to build open, networked and informed societies, who can use knowledge to make change. This is why we have also built the India Environment Portal on an open-source platform and made proprietary information held by us available and open” explains Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment, the organization, which has initiated the Portal.
“This is a unique effort as it will provide a collaboration between government and civil society. It is our effort to put government information in the public domain and to build dynamic and networked knowledge-based societies” said Pitroda, as he launched the portal today at a function in the India Habitat Centre. The portal will source government documents and make them available for public scrutiny. It also provides links to government institutions; and is planning to add names of researchers and institutions, working in environment and most importantly collate information that we can use in our daily lives.
Networked knowledge that can be used
The portal is designed for users of environmental information – from the media to students. To start with, more than 300,000 articles and documents are available to researchers – from different sources, but all categorised by author and tagged according to subjects and locations. The portal will also have special in-depth sections on subjects like climate change which provide latest news and perspective, “so critical for policy”, as Narain puts it, and links to key government and other institutions, NGOs and individual experts. It is being done in a manner in which they can contribute content on the portal.
The aim is to develop and expand this idea – to get contributions on environmental issues from researchers and NGOs across the country and also to provide easy information that can be used by people, right from how to install a solar water heater to the best work in wastewater management. These will be virtual ‘how to do’ manuals – on subjects ranging from organic farming and vermiculture to solar energy, wastewater recycling and rainwater harvesting. The content of the portal is currently in English, but there are plans to make it available in other languages as well. “Both NKC and CSE are committed to developing the portal in open source so that it can grow and be developed by many in the environmental community. The aim is to collaborate – to bring information from diverse sources on to one platform,” explains Pitroda.
In the first phase of the portal the massive resources of CSE have been made available. It includes the entire archive of the fortnightly magazine, Down To Earth – roughly 40,000 researched articles. These in-depth articles were earlier available only to subscribers of the magazine. The portal includes the material sourced and classified by the environmental resource centre of CSE – newspaper articles, features, magazine articles, books and documents – on an ongoing basis. The CSE resource centre scans over 50 newspapers each day from across the country, in particular regional editions, to categorise information of relevance. The resource centre also scans over 1000 journals, e-documents and books to locate relevant information. Each day over 400 new accessions are done, adding to the resources on a timely basis, essential for policy makers and other analysts. “This is a people’s portal. It will actively collate and exchange data, research and information from people working in the field, in campaigns, in scientific institutions, in research and in industry. This best practices directory, what we call, our survival guide, will help each person in doing more to protect the environment” said Sunita Narain
Tagging for quick access
The key strength of the India Environment Portal is its use of a unique and built thesaurus of environmental and geographic terms. All information in the portal is manually tagged with a comprehensive thesaurus of environmental terms, which makes the search for resources more accurate, relevant and contextual. The keywords, a relational database of environmental subjects, geographical location and names of the agents involved (government institutions, NGOs, industries, individuals) allows users to track each resource not just by the subject but where it is located and who is the agent involved.