The reforms to the geospatial policy make geospatial data freely and commonly available to Indian entities, speeding up innovation and production of up-to-date geospatial data, potentially unlocking a 1-lakh crore domestic market.

In a move that propels India closer to Atmanirbhar Bharat and its vision of a 5-trillion-dollar economy, the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India, announced new guidelines liberalizing maps and geospatial data, products and services in February 2021. Indian companies, academic and research organisations, and other private entities can now collect geospatial data, which includes ‘data about the natural or man-made, physical or imaginary features whether above the ground or below, boundaries, points of interest, natural phenomena, mobility data, weather patterns, statistical information, etc.’, as per the new guidelines.

Ease of access to geospatial data

The guidelines remove the decades-old restrictions placed by on accessing and producing such data. ‘What is readily available globally does not need to be regulated’, opined Dr Harsh Vardhan, the former Union Minister for Science & Technology, Earth Sciences and Health & Family Welfare.
Prior to these reforms, geospatial data in India was accessed primarily by government entities such as the Survey of India, which in turn faced delays as it sought permissions from various government departments. Private entities were required to go through a series of processes to gain permissions and access geospatial and mapping data. The new guidelines have changed this. Indian entities can collect data freely and no longer require prior approval, security clearances, licences or any other restrictions (apart from those mentioned in the guidelines). All geospatial data produced using public funds will also be made commonly available, which is likely to reduce the previously long waiting periods for access. However, entities are required to self-certify to convey adherence to these guidelines.
The new policy is expected to reduce India’s dependence on foreign resources for accessing geospatial data.

Growth across sectors

‘Geospatial data is required for all the development works in all sectors, and it plays a critical role in governance’, said Dr K. Sivan, ISRO Chief. 

The reforms empower Indians to employ the latest mapping technologies to produce high quality and accurate geospatial data to find solutions in their respective sectors. The removal of the cumbersome restrictions that slowed down the implementation of various geospatial services can give a boost to companies like Amazon, Swiggy, Zomato, Uber and Ola, which rely on geospatial data to provide location-based services. 

Apart from furthering innovation in the e-commerce, transport and logistics-based industries, geospatial data can also bring about positive changes in agriculture, mining and infrastructure.

‘Agriculture sector, one of the central sectors, is going to immensely benefit from it, and Swamitwa scheme is going to empower rural population and economy and help in solving land disputes that are going on for years,’ said Prof Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, DST.
Apart from spurring a domestic geospatial economy of 1 lakh-crore economy in geospatial sectors, jobs are expected to be created in various sectors in the future.

Other applications 

Mapmaking, which was primarily under the purview of the Survey of India, can now be done by private companies without approvals from the government. 

Prior to this, companies had to rely on mapping data from the satellite imagery provided by Google Earth and Google Maps. With these reforms, companies can produce their own applications for mapping and navigation. 
‘We are self-sufficient in space technology. India is the first country to use space programmes for domestic programmes, and our focus has been on producing indigenous, cost-effective technologies. But demand is increasing, and to unlock India’s space possibilities, participation of private sector has become necessary,’ said Dr Sivan.

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