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Liberalisation of the geospatial sector in India

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    24th Feb, 2021

In a positive development, the Ministry of Science and Technology released new guidelines for the ‘Geospatial sector’ in India, which deregulates existing protocol and liberalizes the sector to a more competitive field.


In a positive development, the Ministry of Science and Technology released new guidelines for the ‘Geospatial sector’ in India, which deregulates existing protocol and liberalizes the sector to a more competitive field.


  • The past decade has seen an increase in the use of geospatial 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, there were strict restrictions on the collection, storage, use, sale, dissemination of geo-spatial data, and mapping under the current regime.
  • The National Map Policy, 2005 had not been renewed in decades and has been driven by internal as well as external security concerns.
  • The sector needed liberalization to drive innovation as it affects the lives of ordinary citizens.
  • Not only in the country, but there has also been a global push for open access to geospatial data.
  • The new guidelines will ensure open access for surveying and help the country become more self-reliant and reach its $5 trillion GDP goal.
  • Furthermore, it will lead to the addition of around 0.5% of GDP.


What is geospatial data?

  • Geospatial data is data about objects, events, or phenomena that have a location on the surface of the earth.
  • The location may be static, or dynamic-
    • static like the location of a road, an earthquake event, malnutrition among children
    • dynamic like a moving vehicle or pedestrian, the spread of an infectious disease
  • Geospatial data generally combines location information, attribute information (the characteristics of the object, event, or phenomena concerned), and sometimes temporal information or the time at which the location and attributes exist.
  • Geo-spatial data involves both information of public interest such as roads, localities, rail lines, water bodies, and public amenities. It also provides information regarding security interest like location of critical infrastructure, military base, deployed weapons etc.

Where geospatial data is used?

  • While for decades, geospatial data has been a priority for strategic reasons and internal and external security concerns, this priority has seen a shift in the past 15 years.
  • Geospatial data has now become imperative for the government in planning for infrastructure, development, social development, natural calamities as well as the economy.
  • Today, more sectors such as agriculture, environment protection, power, water, transportation, communication, health (tracking of diseases, patients, hospitals, etc) relies heavily on this data.

PM Swamitva Yojana

  • PM Swamitva Yojana is a shining example of the use of geospatial data to empower the country’s rural population.
  • The Swamitva scheme helps to map rural inhabited lands using drones and the latest survey methods.
  • It aims to ensure streamlined planning, revenue collection and provide clarity over property rights in rural areas.

Government monopoly in the sector

  • Mapping was till now remained a government preserve, handled by the Central government's Survey of India.
  • Private companies needed 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 defense and Home Ministries, to be able to collect, create or disseminate geospatial data.
  • Initially conceptualized as a matter solely concerned with security, geo-spatial data collection was the prerogative of the defense forces and the government’s law enforcement agencies.
  • GIS mapping was also rudimentary, with the government investing heavily in it after the Kargil warhighlighted the dependence on foreign data and the need for indigenous sources of data.

Survey of India

  • Survey of India, the National Survey and Mapping Organization of the country under the Department of Science & Technology, is the oldest scientific department of the Government of India.
  • It was set up in 1767.
  • In its assigned role as the nation's Principal Mapping Agency, Survey of India bears a special responsibility to ensure that the country's domain is explored and mapped suitably, provide base maps for expeditious and integrated development and ensure that all resources contribute with their full measure to the progress, prosperity, and security of our country now and for generations to come.

What are the new guidelines?

  • The new guidelines will apply to geospatial data, maps, products, solutions, and services offered by government agencies, autonomous bodies, academic and research institutions, private organizations, non-governmental organizations, and individuals.
  • There shall be no requirement for prior approval, security clearance, license, or any other restrictions on the collection, generation, preparation, dissemination, storage, publication, updating, and/or digitization of geospatial data and maps within the territory of India.
  • Individuals, companies, organizations, and government agencies, shall be free to process the acquired geospatial data, build applications and develop solutions in relation to such data and use such data products, applications, solutions, etc by way of selling, distributing, sharing, swapping, disseminating, publishing, deprecating and destructing.
  • Self-certification will be used to convey adherence to these guidelines.
  • There will also be a negative list of sensitive attributes that would require regulation before anyone can acquire and/or use such attribute data.

Which areas will be exempted?

  • The guideline is not for access, but only for surveying.
  • There is a restriction on revealing the attributes or features of sensitive areas even though there would be none on surveying the area itself.
  • There will be exceptions to sensitive defense or security-related data.

What was the need for deregulation?

  • 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.
  • There is also a huge lack of data in the country which impedes planning for infrastructure, development, and businesses that 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 incentivize the geospatial sector for Indian companies and increased investment from private players in the sector.

What will be its impacts?

  • Liberalization of the system will ensure:
    • more players in the field
    • competitiveness of Indian companies in the global market
    • more accurate data available to both the government and individual Indian to formulate plans and administer
  • Employment generation: 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. 
    • Indian companies will be able to develop indigenous apps, for example, an Indian version of google
  • Increase in 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.
  • Domestic innovation: At the moment, India relies heavily on foreign resources for mapping technologies and services. The liberalization of the mapping industry and democratization of existing data sets will spur domestic innovation and enable Indian companies to compete in the global mapping ecosystem by leveraging modern geospatial technologies.
  • Economic development: The government also expects an increase in investment in the geospatial sector by companies, and also an increase in the export of data to foreign companies and countries, which in turn will boost the economy.


The deregulation will eliminate 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. Also, the increased participation of the private sector will augment the growth of new technologies, platforms, and applications of geospatial data contributing to the country's progress.


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