Government brings in new Geospatial Sector policy: Why liberalisation of geospatial data is needed

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February 16, 2021 1:40 PM

What is the new geospatial data policy and why is it important? Financial Express Online explains.

geospatial data of UP by ISRO CartosatGeospatial data is all of the data that represents the objects on the surface of the Earth. (Image: ISRO)

Geospatial sector in India: The Union Ministry of Science and Technology on Monday released a new policy for the geospatial sector in the country. The move is significant because with it the government has decided to liberalise the geospatial data and geospatial data services. It has also decided to remove the existing protocol in this regard. This would allow the geospatial sector to be a more competitive field. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that this would be a key step in achieving the vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, adding that the move would help the start-ups, farmers, public sector, private sector as well as researchers in the country.

But what is the new geospatial data policy and why is it important? Financial Express Online explains.

Geospatial data

Geospatial data is all of the data that represents the objects on the surface of the Earth, be it natural or man-made. Geospatial data can be static, like locations of roads, or dynamic, like a moving vehicle. This data is also a combination of the exact coordinates of the object or event on the surface of the Earth, along with the attributes of the object or event, and sometimes, even the time or the life span at which these locations and attributes exist.

How is geospatial data useful to people?

Geospatial data is highly important because it gives people information about the location of roads, rail lines, facilities, localities and waterbodies. Over the years, the use of geospatial data by common people has significantly increased, as it forms the background of the entire Google Maps or any other such app, and they also form the basis of navigation features. However, it is not limited to just that. Tracking live delivery of food products on Swiggy or Zomato, or the live location on WhatsApp or Ola are also made possible due to the geospatial data and geospatial data services.

The current geospatial policy

The geospatial policy that was in place till now had not been reviewed over several decades and therefore, placed strict restrictions on companies and innovators to take prior approvals and go through other stringent procedures and the result red tapism before they could undertake the collection, preparation, publishing, generation, dissemination and updating of the digital geospatial data and maps in India.

This meant that the geospatial sector in India had been majorly controlled by the Union Government and several central agencies like Survey of India. Since the policy had not been reviewed in decades, as per the laid down norms, the collection of geospatial data was only done from the point of view of security and therefore, it was to only remain under the control of the government and the defence forces. Any private company wanting to create such data had to take permission from the concerned department, along with getting the approvals of Union Defence and Home Ministries.

What does the new geospatial data policy say?

While sharing details about the new policy on geospatial data and related services, Union Science and Technology Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said that the publicly available geospatial services have made the erstwhile restricted geospatial data more commonly available, thus rendering some of the previous restrictions and guidelines obsolete.

With this new policy, Indian entities would not have to get prior approvals, licences or security clearances, etc, to acquire and produce such data and related services, including maps. Moreover, with the new policy, the government has decided to make available all of the geospatial data collected using public funds to all Indian entities for economic, developmental as well as scientific purposes, barring the data that has been collected for classified purposes by security or law enforcement agencies.

Why is India liberalising the geospatial sector?

India is rapidly moving towards infrastructural development that has become necessary to be at par with countries across the world. With initiatives like Smart Cities and Digital India, sophisticated systems like urban public transport, delivery and logistic and global technological advancements to roll out products like e-commerce, automated drones, etc in place, geospatial data is of key importance to undertake mapping to ensure proper development. However, India is riddled with the lack of data. With the resolution and precision required to undertake this task, if the government sets out to do it on its own, it could take a long time to complete.

By opening up the sector, the government has not only allowed more hands to come on deck for the completion of this mammoth task, but it might just also be counting on the competitiveness in the private sector to get this work done at a much faster pace. Quick mapping is the need of the hour so that follow up works can be carried out sooner.

Not only that, but the procedure to give approval to private entities to use such data was a time-consuming process which was unnecessarily tying up the resources of both the government as well as the private sector. Now, the private sector entities would be able to self-certify and adhere to the guidelines without having the government looking at their every move, making the private entities more independent and also freeing up governmental resources.

The government is expecting that with this policy, the private sector would be able to bring innovation in this sector and produce more solutions based on it, resulting in an increase in employment in the geospatial sector, while also pushing forth the economic growth. Apart from that, with the opening up of such data, efficiencies in agriculture as well as related sectors would also be witnessed, the government hopes.

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