OPEN ACCESS TO GEO-SPATIAL SECTOR

OPEN ACCESS TO GEO-SPATIAL SECTOR

 

CONTEXT

  • India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) opened access to its geospatial data and services, including maps, for all Indian entities. The move is said to release a lot of data that is currently restricted and not available for free.

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GEO-SPATIAL DATA MEANING

  • Geospatial data is data about objects, events, or phenomena that have a location on the surface of the earth. The location may be static in the short-term, like the location of a road, an earthquake event, malnutrition among children, or dynamic like a moving vehicle or pedestrian, the spread of an infectious disease
  • Geospatial data combines location information, attribute information (the characteristics of the object, event, or phenomena concerned), and often also temporal information or the time at which the location and attributes exist.
  • Geo-spatial data usually involves information of public interest such as roads, localities, rail lines, water bodies, and public amenities. 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.

 

OLDER POLICY ON GEO-SPATIAL DATA

  • There are strict restrictions on the collection, storage, use, sale, dissemination of geo-spatial data and mapping under the current regime.
  • The sector so far is dominated by the Indian government as well as government-run agencies such as the Survey of India and private companies need to navigate a system of permissions from different departments of the government (depending on the kind of data to be created) as well as the defence and Home Ministries, to be able to collect, create or disseminate geo-spatial data.
  • Initially conceptualised as a matter solely concerned with security, geo-spatial data collection was the prerogative of the defence forces and the government.
  • India’s regulated mapping — a legacy of the British rule — imposed various restrictions on navigation companies like MapMyIndia
  • Regulated mapping also meant that e-commerce companies used Google Maps and Google Earth instead of indigenous apps.
  • These reforms were due for 70 years. These were archaic rules from the British era and none of the governments were able to undo them for over 70 years. This is a decisive step by the government
  • It was an unfair situation earlier. Google Earth showed satellite imagery but Indian companies weren’t allowed.

 

IMPACT OF DEREGULATED GEO-SPATIAL DATA

 

  • This system of acquiring licenses or permission, and the red tape involved, can take months, delaying projects, especially those that are in mission mode – for both Indian companies as well as government agencies. The deregulation eliminates the requirement of permissions as well as scrutiny, even for security concerns.
  • Indian companies now can self-attest, conforming to government guidelines without actually having to be monitored by a government agency- these guidelines therefore place a great deal of trust in Indian entities.
  • There is also a huge lack of data in the country which impedes planning for infrastructure, development and businesses which are data-based.
  • 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 incentivise the geo-spatial sector for Indian companies and increased investment from private players in the sector.
  • Changing Needs – For decades, geo-spatial data has been a priority for strategic reasons and for internal and external security concerns, this priority has seen a shift in the past 15 years.
    • Initially conceptualised as a matter solely concerned with security, geo-spatial data collection was the prerogative of the defence forces and the government.
    • Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping was also rudimentary, with the government investing heavily in it after the Kargil war highlighted the dependence on foreign data and the need for indigenous sources of data.
    • Geo-spatial data has now become imperative for the government in planning for infrastructure, development, social development, natural calamities as well as the economy, with more and more sectors such as agriculture, environment protection, power, water, transportation, communication, health (tracking of diseases, patients, hospitals etc) relying heavily on this data
  • Global Push – There has also been a global push for open access to geo-spatial as it affects the lives of ordinary citizens.
    • Large amounts of geo-spatial data are also available on global platforms, which makes the regulation of data that is freely available in other countries, untenable.
  • Increased Competitiveness – By liberalising the system, the government will ensure more players in the field, competitiveness of Indian companies in the global market, and more accurate data available to both the government to formulate plans and administer, but also for individual Indians.
  • Increased Competitiveness – By liberalising the system, the government will ensure more players in the field, competitiveness of Indian companies in the global market, and more accurate data available to both the government to formulate plans and administer, but also for individual Indians.
  • Increased Public-Private Partnership – There is also likely to be an increase in public-private partnerships with the opening of this sector with data collection companies working with the Indian government on various sectoral projects.
  • Increased Investment – The government also expects an increase in investment in the geo-spatial sector by companies, and also an increase in export of data to foreign companies and countries, which in turn will boost the economy.
  • Boost to Digital India and agrarian sector –  The reforms will unlock tremendous opportunities for our country’s start-ups, private sector, public sector and research institutions to drive innovations and build scalable solutions. This will also generate employment and accelerate economic growth.
    • India’s farmers will also be benefited by leveraging the potential of geo-spatial & remote sensing data. Democratizing data will enable the rise of new technologies & platforms that will drive efficiencies in agriculture and allied sectors.

 

SECURITY CONCERNS IN OPENING GEO-SPATIAL DATA

  • The armed forces had opposed geospatial mapping of borders and coastlines by private companies
  • Borders are sensitive and so are certain coastlines. During the course of the last year, we have seen how every satellite imagery expert had demarcated the LAC according to their own perception. And that remains a concern. So some checks and balances and mechanisms to ensure borders are not wrongly publicised is necessary.

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