Companies in India no longer need license to collect, generate, store and share geospatial data within the country, as the government has recently “liberalized” policies for mapping and geospatial data.
The past decade has seen an increase in the use of geo-spatial data in daily life with various apps such as food delivery apps like Swiggy or Zomato, e-commerce like Amazon or even weather apps.
However, for decades, there were significant restrictions on the mapping industry – from creation to dissemination of maps – and it required Indian companies to seek licenses, and follow a cumbersome system of pre-approvals and permissions. With the deregulated map-making and geospatial data generation, private companies can now conduct surveys and mapping without any restriction or prior government approval.
The announcement came as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and digital mapping and location-based deep-tech company MapmyIndia last week announced a new initiative – NavIC as a GPS alternative – to offer a fully indigenous, mapping portal and geospatial services.
The Department of Science and Technology said in a statement: “What is readily available globally does not need to be restricted in India and therefore geospatial data that used to be restricted will now be freely available in India,” it said in a statement.
The services will combine the power of MapmyIndia’s digital maps and technologies with ISRO’s catalogue of satellite imagery and earth observation data.
“The new mapping policy is specifically for Indian companies. Geospatial data that used to be restricted will now be freely available in India for Indian companies,” said Sajid Malik of Genesys International, a 3D map making company.
Highlighting the challenges that hindered Indian innovation in map technologies he said, “To get a 3D map of a particular region which includes street imagery, the company is required to fly an aircraft, get data, process it and build tools based on that data accordingly. The entire process requires approvals at multiple levels from several ministries as per the project. Sometimes it may even take months to get the necessary approvals. The new policy change will simply allow us to work faster.”
The new policy change will empower Indian companies to get access to accurate maps of Indian territories without going through multiple processes of permissions and approvals. As the Department of Science and Technology while announcing the new guidelines for geospatial data said, “What is readily available globally does not need to be restricted in India.”
“Private sectors like insurance, manufacturing, retail, banking can now tap into multitude of new opportunities enabled with location analytics. This would further boost the innovation in overall geospatial industry with Indian startups and software ISVs leading the development of GIS applications and solutions,” Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India technology said.
With the new change in policy, Google Maps may not be the only preferred navigation service. Indian companies may also be able to deliver alternatives to Google Maps with as good or even better accuracy particularly when it comes to indoor navigation like inside airports, malls, hospitals and more.
So, why did the government liberalize this sector? As we said, the system of acquiring licenses or permission, and the red tape involved, often took months, delaying projects for both Indian companies as well as government agencies. The deregulation eliminates the requirement of permissions as well as scrutiny, and therefore place a great deal of trust in Indian entities.
It is also noted that a huge discrepancy and lack of data in the country impedes planning for infrastructure, development and data-based operations. The mapping of the entire country, that too with high accuracy, by the Indian government alone could take decades. The government therefore felt an urgent need to incentivize the sector for private companies and increased investment from private players in the sector.
Maps and accurate geospatial data are crucial for national infrastructure projects and are essential for the growth of smart cities, e-commerce, autonomous drones, delivery, logistics and urban transport. The quality of mapping information depends on 3D images, HD quality maps with greater depth and accuracy. New geospatial data tools can help farmers get more information about their lands as well as help small businesses to expand.
Geo-spatial data has also become imperative for the government in planning for infrastructure, development, social development, natural calamities as well as the economy. In other words, the decision will unlock opportunities for applications of GIS (geographic information system) in sectors like agriculture, mining, water, urban, utilities, public safety and infrastructure which rely heavily on geospatial infrastructure.