On February 15, 2021, the Department of Science and Technology ("DST") issued guidelines on the acquisition and production of geospatial data and services, including maps ("2021 Guidelines"). The 2021 Guidelines supersede anything contrary contained in previous policies issued by the Government of India, such as certain aspects of the National Map Policy, 2005 ("NMP"), Instructions for Publication of Maps by Government and Private Publishers, 2016 ("2016 Guidelines") and Ministry of Defence guidelines on the restriction of sale, publication and distribution of maps, issued in 2017 ("2017 Guidelines"). These changes mark a paradigm shift in India's policies on mapping and the collection, dissemination and use of geospatial data.
We have summarised below a few of the key changes that have been introduced to India's mapping policy by the 2021 Guidelines.
Publication and Dissemination of Maps
The NMD had classified maps (in both analogue and digital form) into two categories – Defence Series Maps ("DSMs") and Open Series Maps ("OSMs"). While the use of DSMs is controlled by the Ministry of Defence ("MoD"), the use of OSMs is mainly controlled by the Survey of India ("SOI"). The NMD also stated that if an international boundary is depicted, it would require certification by the SOI.
The 2016 Guidelines required permission or approval for the publication of all maps – Restricted and Unrestricted. It classified topographical and geographical maps of any "prohibited areas", on a scale larger than 1:1 million, as Restricted. For this purpose, "prohibited areas" included border regions, coastal regions and outlying islands. All other maps were classified as Unrestricted. The publication of Restricted maps required permission from the MoD, and in some cases the Ministry of External Affairs. Further, certain maps, even partly covering a prohibited area, required MoD security clearance. Lastly, Restricted maps on a scale smaller than 1:4 million and Unrestricted maps required clearance from the SOI.
The 2021 Guidelines does away with the requirements for approvals, security clearances and licenses on the generation, publication dissemination and digitisation of maps and geospatial data. Rather than licenses and approvals, the 2021 Guidelines propose a self-certification system to ensure compliance. It also does away with a restriction of maps on prohibited areas. Instead, a 'negative list' will be notified by the DST, which will include attributes that will not be permitted to be marked on any map. The 2021 Guidelines provide that this 'negative list' will be specific to very sensitive attributes, with care taken to minimise restrictions.
The 2021 Guidelines state that all Indian entities are free to publish, distribute, update and create maps/geospatial data of any spatial accuracy, subject to the 'negative list'.
Notably, the Guidelines prescribe a spatial accuracy threshold of 1 meter for horizontal and 3 meters for vertical. Maps/geospatial data with spatial accuracy finer than the threshold must be owned by Indian Entities and stored in India. Foreign companies and foreign owned or controlled Indian companies can license such maps, for the purpose of serving Indian customers. However, this access must be restricted through APIs that do not allow such maps/geospatial data to pass through the licensee or its servers.
Based on our discussions with stakeholders, we note that for most purposes, including turn-by-turn navigation, most companies and customers don't require maps that exceed the abovementioned accuracy thresholds. Consequently, foreign-owned applications and products that utilise such maps would be in compliance with the 2021 Guidelines.
Access to Geospatial Data
The 2016 Guidelines also required a license to be issued from the SOI for publication of maps using SOI map data. Before publication, the publisher was also required to obtain specific clearance from the MoD. Similarly, if the data contained information on India's external boundary or coastline, certification from the SoI was required. Licenses were also required for publication of SOI map data on the internet, with specific categories of licenses being issued for different use-cases. The Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011 also had license requirements for access to remote sensing data.
In contrast, the 2021 Guidelines state that all geospatial data collected using public funds, except classified data, shall be made available to all Indian Entities without restriction, at a fair and transparent price. The 2021 Guidelines further instruct the SOI and other government agencies to take immediate measures to simplify procedures, abolish licences and use modern techniques to make their data accessible online.
Collection and Generation of Geospatial Data
Previous policies placed considerable restrictions on the ability of companies and individuals to collect or generate geospatial data. For instance, the Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011 mandated a license and permission from the Government for operation of a remote sensing satellite from India.
The 2021 Guidelines state that Indian entities are free to acquire, collect, generate, prepare, digitize and create geospatial data of any spatial accuracy within India, using any "Geospatial Technology", subject only to the regulations on attributes on the 'negative list'. Geospatial Technology is defined as any technology including aerial/UAV photogrammetry, aerial/UAV LIDAR, drones, radar interferometry, street view, satellite based remote sensing, AI, underwater mapping etc.
This is a complete departure from previously existing norms. This liberalisation of the use of geospatial technologies in India will facilitate accurate, high resolution 3-D mapping of the country. This could pave the way for previously unseen technology and use-cases in the domestic market.
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