Geographical research in Andhra Pradesh by French Scholars

Jean Gallais initiated French geographic research in united Andhra Pradesh in 1962 through cooperation with Osmania University and the University of Strasbourg where he was a professor of geography. At the end of the agreement, young researchers from the two geography departments would exchange views to undertake work on fundamental themes corresponding to the research activities of the respective laboratories. The cultural and scientific cooperation advisor of the French Embassy supported the project. It was consequently also financed by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The first team of four researchers arrived in Hyderabad in 1965, while two Andhra researchers left for Strasbourg. The priority was given to what was the least known, the most problematic and also the closest to Jean Gallais’ research: the development of the rural areas on which he was working in sub-Saharan Africa, an area whose climates were similar to those of Andhra Pradesh and had brought rural people to design various irrigation systems. South India was particularly rich with a palette ranging from micro-farming to giant deltaic developments encompassing millions of farmers.

The approach method, already tested and implemented in Africa, consist of studying in-depth samples of villages selected as representative of the various existing regional agricultural systems. Thus were comprehensively analyzed all aspects of the life of some fifteen villages distributed in the largely rural areas of Andhra Pradesh: Telangana (then not a separate state), the deltas of the Krishna and Godavari rivers, perimeters developed by large contemporary irrigation projects, the Arid Rayalaseema pole of southern India, often mountainous forest areas, habitat of tribal populations, etc.

The first team covered the Telangana, in a team of two, each focusing on a village in North Telangana, one representative of the system of “tanks” common to the entire semi-arid zone of the peninsula, the other in contact with an interstate forest area populated by various communities including tribal.

The second team, also comprising four researchers, studied the market gardening villages around the capital Hyderabad on the one hand, the rice-growing areas of the Godavari Delta and the fertile deltaic belt of black soils on the other.

Each study gave rise to very comprehensive reports, most of which took the form of a thesis. It led to a publication: Villages of Central India.

One of them had, on the occasion of the drafting of his first report, processed their data in the cartography laboratory of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes directed by Jacques Bertin, founder of Graphic Semiology. The basis of cartographic science includes Graphic Information Processing, the visual equivalent of multivariate statistical processing, and complementary to the latter. He was recruited by the geography department of the University of Rouen-Haute-Normandie to teach this new discipline and the geography of development in India.

Graphic Semiology quickly gained emulators among Rouen teacher-researchers, and a team formed which launched into the computerization of graphic methods on what was the ancestor of the PC, which did not yet exist: the scientific calculator. Thus was born the IMAGE laboratory (for Info-Graphic and Mathematics Applied to Geography) which brought together geographers, cartographers, mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists. He quickly distinguished himself by developing a set of interconnected programs which allowed the most diverse and powerful interconnected statistical and graphic processing.

The results of these treatments aroused the interest of the director of the Ministry of Planning of the Government of Andhra Pradesh who in 1977 had asked if cooperation between the University of Rouen and his ministry to install an Info- treatment center and possibly train the staff who would operate it to make the most of the information collected by the Bureau of Economics and Statistics (BES). The Cultural and Scientific and Technical Cooperation Advisor of the French Embassy supported the proposal. The program was accepted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and began its operations in 1979 under the name of Indo-French Compu-Graphics and Planning Project (CGP in short). It took off in 1980 when a team of French experts was sent to Hyderabad and set up the treatment laboratory at BES.

The program lasted six years during which French researchers trained more than twenty members of the BES, either selected from the staff or recruited from the statistics departments of Andhra universities. The members of IMAGE succeeded each other and made the processing software evolve into a more powerful system, more integrated and easy to use by non-researchers and better adapted to the processing of the massive information that the Office collected to help better planning of the entire state of Andhra Pradesh.

During a visit from J. Bertin, interested in the progress that the program was making in the automation of its methods, he surprised us with his conclusions: “we are now forty years ahead of the minds of potential users of our tools ”; we assured him that the adoption of these innovations was underway. We wanted to see proof of that in the Andhra government’s demands.

The most demanding mission entrusted to him took place when the new Chief Minister N.T. Rama Rao decided to profoundly modify the administrative network of the state to bring the administrative and development services closer to Andhra citizens. It was the reform of the Mandals which consisted of increasing the network of some 180 existing talukas to that of Mandals, which numbered nearly 800. The crucial problem was to choose the capitals of these future entities which had to be equipped with the infrastructure of services lacking to the population. The stakes were considerable both technically (problems of centrality, accessibility, existing infrastructure), financial (cost of new infrastructure) and finally political: local politicians wanted that their villages or towns establishment to become the new capitals.

The CGP was responsible for choosing the future chief towns of Mandal and the villages they would serve. In short, this required gathering all the relevant information at the level of each territorial entity (towns and villages) for the whole of the State, i.e. nearly thirty thousand units. Of the 350 data available on each entity, about fifty were kept for analysis. The first results were quantified and mapped, then sent to government officials in Hyderabad, to the collectors of the 23 districts who were responsible for communicating them to local officials for criticism and substantiated suggestions. These came back to us, were analyzed, submitted to government officials in Hyderabad, entered into the data. A new analysis, quantification and mapping were carried out, sent back to the government and the collectors for a second verification. And this until a result accepted by all stakeholders is achieved. Finally, few proposals posed problems since 94% of the chief towns of mandals were adopted, and the limits altered at the margins. The reform was implemented and the results went beyond expectations and were considered a success, to everyone’s satisfaction.

One day, a phone call from the former cultural adviser who became the diplomatic adviser to the Minister of Cooperation in Paris, who said in substance “we really need here a system like the one you implemented in Hyderabad to help the decision for our actions in Africa. Could you come and install one? “.

Thus in April 1985, we found ourselves in rue Monsieur duplicating the BES laboratory but with the latest innovations in microcomputing, the landscape having been completely upset by the arrival of the IBM PC. In truth our disappointment was great at the discovery of its capacities much lower than the HP9825, the 160 kb floppy disk apart which represented a certain improvement on the cassettes, and the screen despite its more than modest resolution and its graphic functions barely outlines. The processing, therefore, had to continue on the old equipment while the adaptation – de facto the complete rewrite-modification of the software began in parallel. Thus was born the Synthesis and Rapid Information Unit (CSIR) installed in the minister’s hotel.

The processing of all the information collected in the various departments of the ministry, giving rise to the usual analyzes and syntheses, graphical and cartographic, caused amazement in the services. Our situation in the minister’s office gave us access to all information, reports, etc. And their exhaustive visualization revealed and brought out above all the anomalies previously discreetly buried in the tables of figures. We were asked not to circulate them beyond the directions.

After the change of government in 1986, those in charge continued to develop computer graphics tools, one from the IMAGE group that he joined, the other deciding to launch his own company with the objective, beyond the adaptation of software with constantly evolving IT tools, their application in decision support in French organizations of all kinds.

Luc de Golbery is a retired associate professor at VISTA (Visual Information Systems for Action)

Pranav Sharma is a Science Historian and the in-charge of the History of Indo-French Scientific Partnership Project.