The Geospatial Policy is a Landmark Announcement; What Next?
With its incentive for innovation, industry, and infrastructure, the National Geospatial Policy (NGP) 2022 announcement in December 2022 lays out a clear blueprint for India’s digital transformation.
The Policy encourages the use of location “as a common and underpinning reference frame” across sectors. It recognizes the wide-ranging function and applications of geospatial technologies in nearly every sphere of the economy.
The much-anticipated announcement is being seen as a step toward unprecedented progress in the industry. It has already rekindled the enthusiasm of the Geospatial community far and wide, thanks to its focus on inclusive growth for all stakeholders.
It is now time to assess the way forward after the National Geospatial Policy 2022 announcement. To do that, AGI has taken in the perspectives of the Geospatial industry on the key aspects of the Policy.
Geospatial Industry Perspective on NGP 2022
At the outset, the Policy’s impetus for the entire Geospatial technology spectrum has received much appreciation. The Policy encourages not just the capture and processing of nationwide high-resolution geospatial data but also digital twins, and the use of state-of-the-art drone/aircraft/land-vehicle/satellite-borne sensors like LiDAR and SAR for survey and mapping activities.
Next, the clear definitions of targets and timelines indicate a well-thought-out and implementable policy. Noticeably, the milestones are progressive in nature: starting from foundational frameworks and data accessibility and availability (Strengthening), followed by data quality and capacity growth (Strengthening), and finally high-end data infrastructure (Application).
The Geospatial industry’s role is equally well defined in the Policy. The industry immediately benefits from the NGP 2022 focus areas on improving Ease of Doing Business, creating jobs, and strengthening the economy. In order to realize the document’s vision and aims, the Policy also promotes the private sector’s close collaboration with organizations affiliated with the federal, state, and local governments.
The Geospatial Data Promotion and Development Committee (GDPDC), which is responsible for driving the overall development of the geospatial ecosystem as envisioned by the Policy, will include at least two representatives from the geospatial sector. Under the auspices of the GDPDC, DST will also establish a Geospatial Industry Development Board (GIDB) with representatives from other ministries and the geospatial industry.
In close cooperation with academia, research institutions, and governments, the industry will also be asked to build and facilitate Geospatial Incubation Centres, Industrial Accelerators, long-term contract R&D, and Geospatial technology parks.
The Way Forward: Suggestions from the Geospatial Industry
Need for Line Department Engagement
While the Policy has laid down an overarching, visionary framework for the Indian Geospatial sector, the Geospatial industry has a few next steps to suggest to solidify this vision. Direct involvement and engagement of line departments, agencies, and ministries concerned with sectoral missions are extremely vital.
Here are a few suggested steps to take this forward:
- The use of Geospatial technologies in all government projects should be mandated to boost demand.
- While data from the ground, aerial, or satellite mapping should be governed by DST, the instrument of capture can fall under the governance of line ministries for more clarity and direct engagements.
- The production, transfer, storage, enrichment and use of Geospatial Data be governed by the National Geospatial Data Policy, irrespective of the method used for data collection. The licensing, certification, registry, and control of the platform of data collection be governed by the respective regulators.
- The Geospatial industry and DST should come together to develop and adopt sectoral strategies, including the creation of a Geospatial unit within line departments
- There is a need to ensure continuous data updating on geo-portals to sustain the momentum.
- RFPs must be detailed out in consultation with industry bodies like AGI and FICCI for more inclusive, targeted, and effective project planning.
- Line departments should be connected as far as data acquisition, storage, processing, and publishing are concerned.
One of the key aspects of the Policy is its impetus to self-reliance. The Policy recognizes the significant contribution that locally available maps and geospatial information provide to better resource planning, management and needs of the indigenous community.
Massive investments are already being made alongside monetization and revenue generation, and companies are generating new capabilities in-house. Senior stalwarts are also joining domestic companies and international players are developing local partnerships.
The need of the hour is to transform the country’s primarily service-led Geospatial economy into a product-led one.
Quality and Democratization of Data
The necessity for readily available, simple access to, and high-quality fundamental data in the nation have been one of the most important issues brought up by AGI and industry leaders before the government. These needs are satisfactorily met by the Policy.
- Along the lines of topographic data, sectoral data also needs to be opened up. All data produced using public funds barring the negative list of sensitive attributes should be opened up, e.g. census data on demography.
- There is a need for more platform and data-specific directives in the wake of the Geospatial policy.
The Policy fosters innovation, invention, and incubation of ideas and start-up efforts in the geospatial industry in order to overcome outdated rules, technologies, and processes, reduce the geospatial digital divide, and capitalize on constantly evolving technology.
- Going forward, an “Innovation Sandbox” approach can be adopted to encourage young entrepreneurs, researchers and students to “play” with data and tools. DST should take a leadership role in such an initiative, supported by academia and industry.
- Investments in technological and capability-based development in the sector are crucial. Both domestic and foreign investments are a prerequisite for realizing the vision of the Policy.
- Further guidance is needed on incentive schemes and grants to effectively attract entrepreneurs, global investments, and technological know-how.
Open platforms, open data, and open standards will all be supported by the Policy. It will promote the creation and adoption of compliance procedures and best practice standards. Moving on:
- We need to adopt well-established international standards by organizations such as the ISO and OGC to ensure interoperability.
- Lacunae, if any, should be resolved at the international level in consultation with all stakeholders so that duplication of efforts in developing separate standards can be avoided.
The Policy envisions further encouragement of spatial thinking and education among youth through long-lasting programs for education and capacity building. The need to standardize and certify skill sets in line with international best practices has also been identified.
- Going forward, there could be dedicated Geospatial units in line departments for more technology penetration in key ministries/departments and projects.
- Programs to build competencies for producing geospatial experts/project managers through institutions like IIITs, IITs can be set up, with industry support and government funding
- There should be strategic inclusion of GIS in the curriculum at school and higher education levels.
- Modification to university-level course curriculum including Contemporary GIS technologies and new developments like AI/ML/DL, Big Data, IOT, and AR/VR should be introduced.
- There is a need for ecosystem support for setting up the Geospatial Skill Council. Bodies like the NCVET, other government agencies, DST, and academia may liaise with the industry to take this forward.
The Policy lays out the rules, organization, personnel, and duties of the redesigned GDPDC, which will serve as the top national authority for developing and carrying out policies, plans, and initiatives to advance the geospatial sector’s activities.
- For successful implementation of the vision, Survey of India taking up primary investments in foundational data is a welcome move.
- The revamp of the GDPDC is a great step. Further empowering the body on the lines of international examples such as the Geospatial Commission in the UK that takes care of all issues related to geospatial data, for example, finance, ethics, standards etc.
Industry Development and Engagement
The Indian Geospatial industry needs the kind of support that the government gave to the IT industry in the pre-2000 era, with some form of special status and/or benefits. A three-tier strategy for this may include:
- Government invests in fundamental infrastructure.
- Line departments need to develop their sectoral strategy.
- The industry then scales up applications based on this available infrastructure and sectoral strategy data.
The need of the hour is to make Indian geospatial services easy to access and widespread globally. An immediate focus is required on improving the ease of payments and rectifying cash flow issues. Brainstorming for greater investments and FDI inflows into the Geospatial sector, spearheaded by the GIDB and GDPDC, is also critical. Finally, dedicated and strategic Budgetary allocations for Geospatial technologies will pave the way for more holistic development.