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Liberalization of geospatial data — the expected impact of new policy guidelines – Geospatial World

It has been perceived for a while that the earlier geospatial data policy, with its archaic limitations, had been holding back the geospatial industry. Hence, when the Department of Science and Technology (DST) announced the new mapping guidelines for the Indian geospatial technology sector, there was a wave of support for a move that can help open up newer avenues for development.

One can take the example of the real estate sector wherein not only does the new policy usher in faster digitization of land records and ensure shelving of khasra records on paper, but also can ensure accurate mapping of remote and rural areas that can help officials in making better assessments of land value. Even capitalization of land assets into equity for startups, debt financing for infrastructure and working capital for farmers and small businesses can now be possible as monetary opportunities with the new policy.

Taking a look at how the policy is set to impact the geospatial industry and further examine what its future holds, let’s first understand why the earlier policy on geospatial data needed an overhaul:

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Understanding policy limitations

Strict restrictions were imposed on collection, storage, use, sale and dissemination of geospatial data and mapping, which meant that acquiring licenses of permission with the red tape involved would delay projects for months. This was especially problematic for those in mission mode. The initial policies had been conceptualized on the basis of security concerns solely, hence, the lack of data acted as an impediment for various proceedings, such as infrastructure, development, business, etc. that benefit greatly from the availability of data.

Even if the Indian government took the initiative of mapping the entire country with high accuracy, it would actually take decades. A few major setbacks that the Indian geospatial industry was facing included:

  • Lack of access to reliable and content-specific geospatial data
  • Absence of overall policy and guidelines for ease of access
  • No clear understanding of data sharing and storage policies
  • Missing access to Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) network

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What led to deregulation of geospatial data?

Understanding the need to incentivize the geospatial industry as well as increase investment from private players in the sector, the Indian government decided to deregulate the geospatial sector. This move comes from understanding how geospatial data has now become essential for the government for planning infrastructure, development, protection from natural calamities, agriculture, environment protection, power, water, transportation, communication, health and of course, overall economic growth.

Owing to the global push for open access to geospatial data, with its overarching impact on the life of citizens, ensuring open access with the exception of sensitive defense or security-related data makes sense. If you look at the global milieu, large amounts of geospatial data are available on global platforms now, which makes the regulation of data that is freely available in another country quite untenable.

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Expected impact of new policy:

At the outset, the liberalization of geospatial data policies is expected to have the following changes implemented:

  • Government bodies such as Survey of India (SoI) and ISRO who have been surveying, collecting and maintaining spatial data are now directed to make the access procedure simpler and transparent for Indian citizens, avoiding private permissions and data licences by using Cloud technologies and open data APIs in various formats. This will help in moving away from the complex approval process that has been in place for so long, to self-certification and also self-identification.
  • All private, public entities and research institutes are now entitled to data collection, processing, storing, publishing and sharing within India and using the same in Indian projects.
    Uninterrupted access to CORS network for any sort of real-time positioning and availability of data without any restrictions.
  • All Indian private-public or research institutes irrespective of accuracy will be provided access to mobile mapping, Street view survey and LIDAR sensors survey.
  • The spatial accuracy of 1m for horizontal and 3m for vertical resolution spatial data will now be accessible without any need for prior approvals in any recognized area.
  • All public digital paper maps can now have geospatial features, with the only exception of labels in symbology to be restricted over secured areas.

With the liberalization of geospatial data, the government is looking to ensure more players in the field and also enhance the competitiveness of Indian companies around the globe. With more accurate data available to the government as well as individuals, startups and businesses can also use this data in addressing the e-commerce concerns. This, of course, will enhance employment in these sectors.

With an expected increase in public-private-partnerships due to the opening up of the sector, data collection companies can work with the Indian government on various sectoral projects. One is hopeful that the reform will ensure a level playing field for Indian companies at the global level, and the geolocation mapping industry is going to help galvanize the economy, with additional efficiencies in agriculture and other related sectors.

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