Key Highlights of India - Latest Geospatial Data Guidelines, 2021
The liberalisation of the mapping industry and the democratisation of existing data sets will spur domestic innovation and enable Indian companies to compete in the global mapping ecosystem by using modern geospatial technologies.
On February 15, 2021, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) introduced India's new geospatial mapping guidelines for the Indian geospatial technology market. Data regarding artifacts, activities, or phenomena that occur on the earth's surface is known as geospatial data. Place data (usually earth coordinates), attribute data (the characteristics of the object, event, or phenomenon in question), and, in some cases, temporal data are all included in geospatial data (the time or life span at which the location and attributes exist).
How is Geospatial Data used?
Geospatial data can be used and interpreted in a variety of ways. It's most widely used as part of a GIS (geographic information system) to understand spatial relationships and construct maps that depict them. A GIS can also assist organisations in the management, customization, and analysis of geospatial data.
Some examples of geospatial data include:
- Vectors and Attributes:Points, lines, polygons, and other descriptive information about a location.
- Raster and Satellite Imagery:Get a bird’s eye view of what the Earth looks like via high resolution imagery.
The Government of India (GOI) guidelines aim to establish a permissive environment that promotes open access and cooperation for such data while also drawing a direct line between Indian and foreign entities' activities in relation to geospatial data and the technologies used to collect it.
Guidelines for collecting and generating geospatial data and geospatial data resources, such as maps, were published by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) (Guidelines). The aim of these Guidelines is to loosen regulations governing the collection, acquisition, and use of geospatial data. Positional data, whether in the form of photographs, videos, vector, voxel, and/or raster datasets, or some other type of geospatial dataset in digitized or non-digitized form, or web-services, is considered geospatial data.
Prior to this, the Survey of India (SoI) had a licensing system in place for the use of their charts. However, with the advent of publicly accessible geospatial systems, which have made Geospatial Data freely and widely available, these have become somewhat outdated and redundant.
Some of the main reforms introduced by the Guidelines are as follows:
- Atmanirbhar Bharat: For the time being, India's mapping technologies and facilities are reliant on international sources. The liberalisation of the mapping industry, as well as the democratization of existing datasets, will spur domestic innovation and allow Indian companies to compete in the global mapping ecosystem by using modern geospatial technologies. Maps and geospatial data that are locally accessible and appropriate will also aid in better resource planning and management, as well as better serving the basic needs of the Indian population. Fisheries, deep sea mining, and offshore oil and gas are all important parts of India's blue economy, and Geospatial Data is expected to play a key role. The Sagarmala Project and the Deep Ocean Mission are two notable projects that aim to explore the underwater environment for minerals, oil, and marine diversity, a large portion of which remains unexplored.
- Self-Certification Regime: Previously, the production, publication, and use of geospatial data, as well as the conduct of mapping activities, were all heavily supervised and subject to a lengthy approval process. All prior approval or licence requirements for the collection, generation, planning, distribution, storage, publishing, updating, and/or digitization of geospatial data and maps within the territory of India have now been removed by the Guidelines. Individuals, businesses, organisations, and government agencies have been given broad permission to obtain geospatial data and provide value-added services in relation to it, including building applications, under the guidelines. All organisations that use such data must now complete a self-certification process to demonstrate compliance with the Guidelines.
- Restricted Data:Rather than classifying such areas as 'restricted areas,' where mapping activities were forbidden or strictly controlled, the Guidelines also provide for a detailed set of sensitive attributes that cannot be shown on any map (Sensitive Attributes). The Guidelines describe 'attributes' as any data associated with location data such as latitude, longitude, elevation/depth of a point, or its co-ordinates, and which may give such data additional significance. After consulting with other related ministries, the DST will identify and publish Sensitive Attributes. To ensure that mapping activities are not unduly restricted, the Guidelines require that the list of Sensitive Attributes be limited and restricted only to highly sensitive locations.
- Focus on Indian Entities:Subject to the regulations on Sensitive Attributes, the Guidelines allow Indian entities to:acquire, collect, generate, prepare, disseminate, store, share, publish, distribute, update, digitize and/or create Geospatial Data, including maps, of a spatial accuracy above the specified threshold (Thresholds), provided that such data is stored and processed only in India; use technologies such as verification and ground truthing, and access Indian ground stations and augmentation facilities for real-time positioning (such as for Continuously Running Reference Stations) and obtaining access to all related Geospatial Data; and perform activities such as terrestrial mobile mapping survey, street view surveying, and surveying in Indian territorial waters, regardless of whether the survey is performed on Indian soil or in Indian territorial waters. Though non-Indian companies are not authorised to do any of the above, they are allowed to licence geospatial data and maps that are above the Threshold in order to satisfy their Indian customers. The organisation should not be able to re-use or resell the data under the terms of the licence. Furthermore, this licence must be issued solely by APIs, with no Geospatial Data or maps being provided to the organisation or passing through its servers. This allows mapping activities at coarser resolutions than the Thresholds, but ensures that mapping activities at finer resolutions, or generated with any of the restricted technologies listed in 3(b), would be the exclusive domain of Indian companies and could only be used by foreign players with a licence from Indian companies.
- Export and localisation of maps: The government previously prohibited the export of maps and map data with a resolution greater than 1:250,000. The Guidelines have liberalised this, enabling maps with resolutions up to the Threshold to be exported (1:100). The lowering of this bar would make it easier for foreign companies to gain access to more precise geospatial data in India for their goods. Digital maps and geospatial data with a finer precision than the Threshold, on the other hand, must be localised and can only be stored and processed on servers in India.
- Inter-ministerial Committee: The Guidelines create a Geospatial Data Promotion and Development Committee (Committee), which will be made up of representatives from all relevant government agencies. The Committee will be in charge of governing and facilitating all geospatial data-related activities, as well as resolving any disputes that might arise as a result of the identification of Sensitive Attributes and the regulations that go along with them.
The majority of businesses now use location information, whether they are existing old businesses that have recently adopted Geospatial technology or new startups that are unlocking economic, social, and environmental opportunities for the country's long-term growth and development. Apart from startups, traditional geospatial industries such as telecommunications, defence, mining, oil, transportation, gas, and utility markets are expected to reap significant benefits. This reform would certainly aid the globalisation of Indian geospatial projects as well as the startup eco-system.
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