New Geospatial Policy Guidelines and its impact on Nation

February 15th, 2021 was a phenomenal day for the Geospatial industry in India. It was the day when the Department of Science and Technology released the Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Services including Maps. Acknowledging the integral role that location information plays in the development of an economy, the Government of India has clearly endorsed that the availability of comprehensive, highly accurate, granular, and constantly updated representation of geospatial data has immense potential to boost our country’s growth trajectory.

For decades Indian entities have struggled to get access to data, which is easily available elsewhere in the world, lifting this restriction, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Science and Technology said, “What is readily available globally does not need to be regulated.  For Indian entities, there would be complete deregulation with no prior approvals, security clearances, licenses, etc. for acquisition and production of geospatial data and geospatial data services including maps.”

As per the guidelines, all geospatial data produced using public funds, except classified geospatial data collected by security/law enforcement agencies, will be made accessible for scientific, economic and developmental purposes to all Indian Entities and without any restrictions on their use. . “Stakeholders benefitted will include practically every segment of society, from industry to academia to government departments,” added Dr. Harsh Vardhan.

The policy guidelines spread a wave of cheer within the Geospatial industry, as after years of struggle and working under several (often conflicting) rules and regulations, the guidelines finally provided them the space to work in independence, with responsibility, while adding value to national development programmes. The policy guidelines grant power to Indian companies to collect, generate, prepare, disseminate, store, publish, and update geospatial data and maps within India without the need of any restrictions or permissions. There will be minimal involvement of the Government in the business and its role will now be limited to policy making, command and control, facilitation, and funding to a limited extent.

A move towards Self Reliance

India is taking all possible measures to become a self-reliant nation. Liberalization of the mapping industry and democratization of existing datasets is a great step towards increasing our reliability on indigenous companies and resources to unlock the potential of map data by enhancing the commercialization of downstream value-added services.

Under the new policy guidelines, citizens in India will be empowered and enterprises will be free to create, access, and use geospatial data and information for addressing the developmental needs of the country while also safeguarding its security interests. It will augment the geospatial ecosystem in and around the country by encouraging geospatial skill sets and expertise, strengthening geospatial infrastructure, and advancement of geospatial entrepreneurship for the socio-economic development of the nation.

In the process, the potential role of geospatial technology, innovation, and information at every stage from education, skill development, incubation of ideas, investment and wealth creation would be unleashed.

Benefits of New Geospatial Policy Guidelines

 Agendra Kumar, President, Association of Geospatial Industries and Managing Director, Esri India states that “Geospatial technology adds a lot of value to the economic development of any nation. We have seen this in many countries where policy environment is simpler and friendly for the consumption of geospatial data and services added a lot to the economic development of that nation. The technology can help in speeding up a number of critical infrastructure projects in the country. Geospatial technology will help save time and hence money and in this way the country will become much more competitive and rolling out these projects in a time bound and specific manner.”

The new policy guidelines will play a tremendous role in the development of our nation. It will boost our GDP and will ensure geospatial data is used more widely and efficiently in various mission mode projects like smart cities, building of roads and highways, Swachh Bharat mission, conserving water resources, development, and modernization of railways and airports, etc. At present, even when these mission mode projects utilize geospatial data and information, it is done so in a limited manner. The new policy guidelines are a boon in this regard as it lifts restrictions on collecting and generating geospatial data, with no red and green zones for mapping. There will only be a negative list of sensitive attributes that would require regulation before anyone can acquire and/or use such attribute data.

Earlier if the private organization wanted to conduct a land survey or capture and share spatial data, they had to take approvals from several agencies and departments. Now the government has brought in self-certification which will save a lot of time. Geospatial data and services together can help in speeding up of implementation of a number of critical infrastructure projects in the country, leading to savings in time and resources. It will also make India much more competitive by rolling out projects in a time-bound manner.

The use of geospatial data will go a long way in improving governance and citizens’ services, as the threshold set in the guidelines (spatial accuracy of one meter for horizontal or planimetry and three meters for vertical or elevation) is reasonable enough for creating useful geospatial data. Apart from boosting the geospatial business, these guidelines will also help in creating more employment opportunities at various skill levels. This is expected to generate employment for around 10 lakh people at different levels starting from land surveyors to top level technology experts.

This step by the Government of India not just unlocks various opportunities for socio-economic development of the nation but also provides ample opportunity for advancing geospatial ecosystem in the country. The Geospatial industry will be able to capitalize and monetize the open data in developing various business models and will move from traditional market to new emerging markets of technology adoption.