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Geospatial Data Unchained – India’s new policy guidelines on data collection, access and services.

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On 15th February 2021, The Department of Science and Technology (DST) announced India’s geospatial mapping guidelines for Indian geospatial technology sector. Let me take a step back and try to attempt to outline how these new policy guidelines are envisioned to help and whom.

Survey of India (SOI), under the Department of Science & Technology (DST) is having special responsibility to survey and mapping of India to help integrated development. The same department has carried the legacy data access protocols over several decades which made the process of obtaining maps and geospatial data so much complicated. Often SOI itself has to sought permissions from various Government authorities to discharge their duties as the nature of the data is sensitive and confidential in nature by then.

Meanwhile, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) under the Department of Space (DOS) has proven its mettle in satellite launching for the benefit of several sectors and collected the wide range of remote sensing data with impressive resolution standards.

However, the same set of hardships are repeated to access the geospatial data from ISRO/NRSA/SAC. In case any private sector or research institute are in need of geospatial data for respective purposes, there are no standard guidelines or process in place to grant access and one should walk pillar to post to complete the required paper work for the same.

On other hand, same is the difficulty in conducting surveying and data collection using drones and LiDAR technologies over a known area which needed unknown set of permissions to be taken where there are no clear guidelines to help the needy. It not only pushed private sector’s commercial projects on the shelves but also affected the academic researches due to lack of access to proper data.

Over a period of time during the digital revolution, many cutting edge technologies have helped various sectors and seen many advancements towards BigData, Machine Learning, IoT and Digital Twin and eventually DATA become a new OIL.

There were few major setbacks Indian geospatial industry had faced and are not limited to,

  1. Lack of access to reliable and context specific geospatial data
  2. Lack of overall policy and guidelines for ease of access
  3. Lack of clear understanding of data sharing and storage policies
  4. Lack of access to Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) network

Often perceived that geospatial industry moved in the back seat holding its feet tied up with complex geospatial policy guidelines. But, now that it is inevitable to realise the importance of geospatial data and also the data that India has, is already available globally and hence there is no holding the data in the name of confidential and privacy.

As part of the reforms, DST held a press release chaired by Union Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, MoS, Dr Jitendra Singh, Ashutosh Sharma outlining the major objectives and guidelines on data acquisition, services and data sharing. Below are the major takeaways from the press release to liberalise and deregulating the way geospatial data has been made available and exchanged.

  1. The Survey of India (SoI) and ISRO who are surveying, collecting and maintaining Geospatial Data are directed to make the access procedure simplified and transparent to Indian citizens avoiding prior permissions and data licenses by using cloud technologies and open data APIs in various formats. Essentially moving away from complex approval process to self-certification and self-identification process.
  2. Any private, public and research institutes are entitled to data collection, processing, storing, publishing and sharing the geospatial data within India and using the same in India projects.
  3. Access to CORS network for real time positioning and their data shall be made available without any restrictions.
  4. Mobile Mapping, Street View survey and LiDAR sensors survey shall be permitted to any Indian private, public or research institutes irrespective of accuracy.
  5. Spatial accuracy of 1m for horizontal and 3m for vertical resolution spatial data is accessible without prior approvals for any known area.
  6. Any public digital or paper maps can have all kinds of geospatial features on the map however, labels and symbology are restricted over secured areas.

Location information has become an integral part of most of the businesses either the existing old business who adopted Geospatial technologies off late or the new startups which are unlocking economic, social and environmental opportunities for sustainable growth and development of the country. Apart from startups, traditional geospatial sectors such as Telecom, Defence, Mining, Oil, Transportation, Gas and Utility markets are expected to be benefited tremendously. This reform will surely put Indian Geospatial projects on world market and helps encouraging startup eco-system as well.

Fingers crossed on how effectively these guidelines on paper takes shape and make it reality to unchain the geospatial data for the needy in geospatial sector. Comments and discussions are appreciated as to exchange different perspectives on this reforms.

Source: Press Release, Media Briefing

I am one of the enthusiastic "GEO" possessed geeks who believes in "WHERE" and "CHANGE" are pivotal driving factors in Geospatial Industry. Also believe in Geospatial Tripod, whose three legs are GIS, Remote Sensing and GPS; will facilitate people and business organizations across various industries to "DISCOVER" more information about our earth and thereby outstanding decision-making. With masters in Remote Sensing, was part of vibrant GIS projects being a GIS developer and passionate to help Geoawesomeness to spread “GEO” word further.

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