Mapping a new future: Govt does well to liberalise the geospatial data space

By: |
February 17, 2021 6:00 AM

Geo-spatial data-based navigation is ubiquitous; India has been leveraging map technologies of Google and Apple.

Given devices like the iPhone allow this, it would give an impetus to research and development as well.

India liberalising the geospatial space—Indian companies can work on geospatial data with just self-attestation that they are meeting the government’s norms, and won’t have to go through tedious approval processes—sets the country on a more future-ready path. Geospatial data, of which mapping is probably the most important facet, is now at the core of a range of economic activity, from transportation, agriculture, communication, monitoring, healthcare.

No wonder, such data, in the form of the Google Mobility Index, had become a proxy for resumption of economic activity post lockdown. Geo-spatial data-based navigation is ubiquitous; India has been leveraging map technologies of Google and Apple. However, the old regime, which looked at geospatial data from a strategic utility perspective, had made it difficult for Indian companies to thrive in the space.

With the liberalisation, an Indian company can now create, among other things, street-view, record activity to create area-specific maps, track epidemic spread, monitor green-cover change over a period, etc. It can also use Lidar and other technologies to better understand topography. Given devices like the iPhone allow this, it would give an impetus to research and development as well.

The move ties in well with India’s work on developing an indigenous navigation system, NavIC. While Isro has already tied up with Xiaomi, Qualcomm, MapMyIndia for navigation, liberalisation of geospatial data will open the field for more start-ups to create varied services. For instance, it may give a fillip to drone deliveries; agri-tech start-ups and banks have been using drones to improve outcomes in agriculture. Now, they can create better maps and use technology to improve service delivery with real-time information.

However, there are certain challenges. The government has talked about creating a negative list, or areas for which it would not allow generation of geospatial data; besides, the liberalisation will have limited impact if areas, such as drones-flight and AR/VR, remain tightly regulated. Also, the rules restrict the applicability of the liberalisation to Indian entities, so Google will still not be able to develop its services and will have to licence data from third-party Indian operators.

Whether Indian start-ups would have the wherewithal to undertake such large projects is something that will have to be looked at. The government has done well to say that the companies will have to make this data available for free for the government and can set a reasonable price for other operators, thus creating a market for geospatial data. The India Stack approach to mapping, where the government provides a basic framework, will go a long way in promoting new start-ups and smarter cities.

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