National Geospatial Policy 2022: Roadmap to India’s Leadership in the Techade
In his Independence Day speech last year, the Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi earmarked this decade as India’s “techade” – vivid, dynamic, and revolutionary. And correctly so. Citizens, civil society, academia, enterprises and governments are all steering forward on the shoulders of India’s technological prowess, now more than ever before.
In this light, the announcement of the National Geospatial Policy (NGP) 2022 in December 2022 sets out a clear roadmap to India’s digital transformation, with its impetus to innovation, industry, and infrastructure.
The Policy acknowledges the wide-ranging role and applications of Geospatial technologies “in almost every domain of the economy, and encourages the use of location “as a common and underpinning reference frame” across sectors.
A Vision Document for the Future
The NGP 2022 is a much-awaited vision document that lays down and overarching framework for holistic development of the Geospatial ecosystem. Holistic, since it encompasses innovation, standards, data quality, capacity building, skilling, and institutional framework beyond data liberalization and industry involvement.
At its core, the NGP 2022 sets the vision and goals for the Geospatial sector for the next 13 years, along with the strategies to accomplish them. “The core of Integrated Geospatial Information Infrastructure will be cooperation and collaboration among various stakeholders,” the Policy highlights.
While the Geospatial Guidelines released on 15th February 2021 will continue to govern the acquisition, production, and access to Geospatial data (unless as specified by DST), the Policy serves more as a directive on the pillars of encouragement, engagement, and enrichment.
What Stands Out
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The NGP 2022 further breaks down the journey towards realizing its ambitious vision in the form of three milestones. Noticeably, the milestones are progressive in nature – starting from strengthening base frameworks and data availability and access (Foundation), moving on to data quality and capacity building (Strengthening), and eventually culminating in high-end data infrastructure (Application).
By Year 2025, the Policy envisions to have achieved:
- An enabling Geospatial policy and legal framework on the pillars of liberalization, democratization, and value addition.
- Boost to availability and accessibility of Geospatial data across sectors and organizations.
- A single integrative interface for accessing, sharing, using and reusing all location-based digital data collected/developed using public funds.
- A redefined, advanced, and digitally accessible National Geodetic Framework
- A high-accuracy Geoid for the entire country.
- Increased participation of Government, Industry, Private Sector, Academia and Civil Society in Geospatial Information Management and Infrastructure Development.
By Year 2030, the Policy envisions to have achieved:
- Enriched foundational data through:
- High-resolution topographical survey and mapping (5-10 cm for urban and rural areas, 50-100 cm for forests and wastelands).
- High-accuracy Digital Elevation Model (DEM) (25 cm for plains, 1-3 meters for hilly and mountainous areas).
- A Geospatial Knowledge Infrastructure (GKI) underpinned by Integrated Data and Information Framework.
- Enhanced capabilities, skills, and awareness to meet future needs.
By Year 2035, the Policy envisions to have achieved:
- Supporting the Blue Economy with high-resolution and high-accuracy Bathymetric Geospatial Data of inland waters and sea-surface topography of shallow and deep seas.
- Delineating Sub-Surface Infrastructure survey and mapping in major cities and towns, hitherto underexplored.
- Developing a National Digital Twin of major cities and towns.
One of the most highly pitched feedbacks from the industry in the wake of the Geospatial Guidelines was the need for a comprehensive Policy that makes it easy for line ministries and departments to become a part of the broad Geospatial ecosystem, engage directly with the industry, and adopt standard procedures.
In this light, the mandatory designation of National and Sectoral Geospatial Data Themes in the Policy document, and assignment of nodal ministries/departments from the Centre and States is a welcome move.
A National Geospatial Data Registry (NGDR) will be operationalized to make National Fundamental and Sectoral Geospatial data and services accessible to all stakeholders from a common pool, thus eliminating issues like duplicity of efforts and boost cross-sectoral engagements.
A Unified Geospatial Interface (UGI) will also be implemented, in the form of an electronic data querying and processing service. It will provide end products, applications, services, and solutions using Geospatial data and metadata from the NGDR and data supply chains from Central and State-level Partnering Agency Data Nodes.
With the NGDR and UGI in place, there is a clear framework on where which data is residing in which government body, to share this data, and to ensure interoperability. The Policy also outlines the need for Geospatial Data Themes and the responsibilities of partnering agencies to evolve in tune with modern concepts, global best practices, and private sector input. This is set to foster innovation like never before.
To implement its ambitious vision and goals, the Policy lays down a few key pillars that will bring efficiency, accountability and transparency, while aligning the approach to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The Policy acknowledges the critical role that locally accessible maps and geospatial data play in better resource planning and management as well as in meeting the unique demands of the Indian community.
Quality and Democratization of Data
One the most pressing concerns raised by AGI and industry representatives before the Government has been the need for availability, easy access, and high quality of foundational data in the country. The Policy caters to these demands well.
In order to leapfrog over outmoded rules, technologies, and processes, close the geospatial digital divide, and leverage constantly developing technology, the Policy supports innovation, creation, and incubation of ideas and start-up initiatives in the Geospatial sector.
The Policy will support open platforms, open data, and open standards. It will encourage the design and acceptance of best practice standards and compliance methods. Standards related to National Fundamental and Sectoral Geospatial Data Themes would be developed and promulgated after consultation with both suppliers and users.
The Policy will support long-lasting programs for education and capacity building, promote spatial thinking and education among youth, and standardize and certify skillsets in accordance with global best practices. This has been panned out in the following proposals:
- Creation of a Geospatial Skill Council by DST and SOI, together with industry and academia experts to conduct skill gap studies, develop Qualification Packs, Occupational Standards for job roles/ competences, and standardize affiliation/ accreditation/ examination/ certification process in accordance with the NSQF.
- Development of international-standard Geospatial science education programs from school to university-level.
- Promotion of cutting-edge research in Geospatial science and technology, and emerging technologies involving integration of Geospatial with 4IR technologies.
- Developing Centres of Excellence that provide specialized courses in the domain of Geospatial science and technology.
- Online courses and trainings for government personnel and training and placement activities for youth.
The Policy also introduces a much-needed Surveyor’s Registration and Certification setup in line with global best practices and industry standards for traditional Surveyors as well as Aerial Survey Professionals, UAV Survey Professionals, GIS Professionals, and Remote Sensing Professionals.
Data and Information & Communications Technology (ICT) Infrastructure
The Policy encourages the development of a geospatial data infrastructure building on the current data holdings and ICT infrastructure. This will enable efficient collection and management of geospatial data/information and ensure availability of quality, real-time and near-real-time data/information across sectors.
National Spatial Data Infrastructure
Acknowledging the need for making the NSDI mechanism “more robust, efficient, and effective”, the Policy mandates the GDPDC to appropriately the concept and functioning of the NSDI, including even its composition, powers, and functions.
Geospatial Data Infrastructure
Drawing from the UN-GGIM’s 14 Global Fundamental Geospatial Data Themes, the GDPDC has been mandated to adopt and develop them as National Fundamental Geospatial Data Themes for India in line with national priorities, and Sectoral Geospatial Data Themes for various sectors. The NGDR and UGI will be two key pillars of India’s Geospatial Data Infrastructure, eliminating duplicity of efforts among national mapping agencies, ensuring data accessibility, and standardizing their use and adoption.
Geospatial Knowledge Infrastructure
GKI will power the essential Geospatial component for knowledge and automation, according to the Policy. Characterized by the fusion of Geospatial data, technology, and concepts with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies and the expanding digital infrastructure (web, cloud, networks, etc.), GKI will emphasize on “data provision” and “knowledge production and foresight”.
Sub-Surface and Hydrographic Infrastructure
Bathymetric Geospatial Data has been identified as a key resource for a thriving blue economy in the Policy. A clear plan will be devised for collecting or updating data when it has already been collected in order to map the underlying infrastructure of cities in 3D mode, including the supply of water and energy, communication networks, sewers, and drainage.
National Digital Twin
Identifying Digital Twins as the heart of the new digital revolution, the NGP proposes an ecosystem of intelligent, dynamic, connected, and Geospatially aware Digital Twins that will be built using precise positioning information from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) systems or Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) systems, and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors.
Revamp of the GDPDC
The Policy lays down the guidelines, structure, composition, and functions of the revamped Geospatial Data Promotion and Development Committee (GDPDC), which will be the apex body at the national level for formulating and implementing appropriate guidelines, strategies and programs for promotion of activities related to Geospatial sector. The revamped GDPDC will subsume the functions and powers of the 2006-constituted National Spatial Data Committee (NSDC) and the 2021-constituted GDPDC.
The powers and role given to the GDPDC essentially establishes it as an apex body for the implementation of the Policy and steering the course of development of the Geospatial sector in the country. This means that while line ministries and departments will increasingly engage directly with the private sector, there is also a central hub for strategizing, communicating, reviewing and objectively assessing the Policy’s implementation.
Role and Organization of Survey of India
The Policy clearly outlines SOI’s role as a nodal agency for Geospatial Data, and as a facilitator in harmonization and consolidation of datasets created using public money.
While the private players have started investing heavily in the industry following the Guidelines release, the Policy’s directive for SOI to take up primary investments in foundational data is a welcome move.
At its crux, the citizen-centric NGP 2022 is also a brilliant boost to India’s Geospatial data industry: enterprise-level, SMEs and startups.
The focus areas of NGP 2022 around enhancing Ease of Doing Business, employment generation, and economy building directly benefit the industry. The Policy envisions promoting the use of state-of-the-art technologies like drone/aircraft/land-vehicle/ship/satellite borne sensors (LiDAR, Hydrographic LiDAR, SAR, Ground Penetrating RADAR, Electromagnetic Locator, Digital Cameras, etc.) for surveying and mapping in the country.
The Policy also welcomes the private sector’s close involvement with Central and State Government agencies and other institutions in achieving the document’s visions and goals. The driver of the overall development of the Geospatial ecosystem as envisaged in the Policy, the GDPDC will have at least two members from the Geospatial industry. Its Chairperson could be a person of repute from the industry, government, or academia.
An advisory body called Geospatial Industry Development Board (GIDB) will also be constituted by DST under the aegis of the GDPDC, headed by an eminent industrialist, with representatives from various ministries and the Geospatial industry.
The industry will also be called upon to help establish and facilitate Geospatial Incubation Centres, Industry Accelerators, long-term contract R&D, and Geospatial technology parks, in close collaboration with academia, research institutions, and governments.
Other than these, the private sector will also have a key role to play in:
- Suggesting evolution of National and Sectoral Geospatial Data Themes
- Supporting the Survey of India, BISAG-N and GDPDC in developing and operating the NGDR and UGI
- Supporting the Survey of India in the generation/maintenance of foundational Geospatial data, maintenance of Geodetic Reference Frame, Orthoimagery, Elevation (DEM), Functional Areas (Administrative Boundaries), and Geographic Names (Toponymy)
- Active participation in acquisition and use of Bathymetric Geospatial Data for a vibrant blue economy.
- Active participation in enabling the GKI
Industry Outlook and the Way Forward
The National Geospatial Policy is going to pave the way for a more detailed Industrial Development Strategy, with various stakeholders coming together through the GDPDC and the GIDB. The implementation of the Policy, and achievement of milestones both qualitatively and quantitatively is of prime importance in the coming years.
The much-awaited announcement has already recharged the industry’s spirit and is being viewed by industry leaders as a step towards unprecedented development in the sector. Moving forward, the Geospatial industry outlines the following prospects in the wake of this reform:
- Timely revisits to the 13-year vision itself and the Geospatial Guidelines, to ensure alignment with the needs, trends, and benchmarks of a fast-evolving digital ecosystem.
- Mandating the use of Geospatial technology in all government projects, which can boost demand considerably.
- Putting in place a certification setup, tax rebates and incentives for hardware and product manufacturing.
- Strategies for greater investments and boost in inflow of FDIs into the Geospatial sector, spearheaded by the GIDB and GDPDC.
- Opening up of sectoral data along the lines of topographic data.
- Dedicated and strategic Budgetary allocations for Geospatial technology adoption, advancements, and innovation.