Liberalization and Deregulation of Geospatial Data, including Maps: A Boost for Indian Businesses

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

1. Importance of Geospatial Data for Location-based Service Providers


1.1. Location-based services is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world. Smartphone’s rising popularity coupled with cheap internet data, have opened up opportunities for location-based service providers. In 2019, the global market size was valued at $28.95 billion, and by the year 2027, it is projected to reach $183.81 billion [i].

1.2. Google, Apple, Amazon, and other location-based service providers use location-based information to provide customized user experiences. For example, Amazon gathers location information to provide its users with product suggestions that are deliverable to the user’s location. Similarly, Google uses location information to assists its users find appropriate directions to the desired destination.

1.3. All such information collected by location-based service providers is collectively termed as ‘Geospatial Data’. In the new Geospatial Guidelines, it is more particularly defined as information about a specific location, which gives additional information about such location in the form of images, videos, lines, curves, grid, three-dimensional grid datasets, and any other type of geospatial dataset in digitized or non-digitized form or web-services [ii]. Along with Geospatial Data, another vital tool for location-based service providers is ‘Maps’, which is defined by the new Geospatial Guidelines as a symbolic representation, on a given scale, of real-world objects, regions, or themes published on paper and web-based Map services [iii].


2. Enhancing Ease of Doing Business for Location Based Services


2.1. Multi-Window Regime:


2.1.1 In India, Geospatial Data, including Maps, were subject to the following three principal policy instruments: (i) National Map Policy, 2005, which designated Survey of India as the nodal government department to produce, maintain, and disseminate Map database without compromising security concerns; (ii) Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011 under which all remote sensing data was mandatorily managed and owned by Department of Science and Technology; and (iii) Civil aviation requirements issued by Directorate General of Civil Aviation under which all the persons undertaking aerial geospatial surveys were required to take prior approval from Directorate General of Civil Aviation and Department of Defence.


2.1.2 The earlier frameworks were restrictive because of a cumbersome system that involved licenses, permissions, and approvals from the Survey of India, Department of Science and Technology, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, and Department of Defence. As a result, location-based service providers had to wait for months to get access to Geospatial Data before they could provide the services, which directly impacted the commercial growth of such service providers. For many years, the frameworks were not altered or amended, owing to reasons related to nation's internal security.


2.2. Self-Certification Regime:

2.2.1 On 15th February 2021, the Department of Science and Technology issued Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps ("Geospatial Guidelines"). It is to be noted that para 8 of the Geospatial Guidelines provide that they shall have a special character and will supersede any earlier governmental rule/guidelines existing to the contrary.


2.2.2 Under Instructions, web portals were required to obtain multiple licenses, including media license, digital license, publishing license, etc., based on their functions and business [iv]. Now only self-certification is required.


2.2.3 Further, under para 8(xii) of the Geospatial Guidelines, the Survey of India and other government agencies have been directed to revise and/or abolish various licenses [v].


2.2.4 The Geospatial Guidelines have simplified access to all Geospatial Data produced using public funds. Such data can be accessed freely by government agencies and at transparent pricing by other Indian persons [vi].


2.2.5 To facilitate convenience of use by private persons, the Geospatial Guidelines also direct Survey of India and other government agencies owning or producing Geospatial Data and Maps to replace old legacy forms with advanced technologies including open APIs, cloud storage, etc., to ensure data is available online in currently relevant formats. The Geospatial Guidelines specify that such Maps and related data will be made available for free download by the Survey of India [vii].


2.2.6 However, to the extent any such Geospatial Data or Maps involved any attributes specified in the negative list, which is yet to be promulgated, several existing or even new restrictions may become applicable. Therefore, aspects of the new liberalized regime discussed hereinbelow relate only to Geospatial Data or Maps that do not involve such attributes that may become subject matter of the negative list.



3. Changes ushered in by the new Geospatial Guidelines


3.1. Dismantling of Survey of India's monopoly


3.1.1 Before the Geospatial Guidelines came into effect, the main instructions and/or guidelines which the Map publishers in India had to follow was the Instructions for Publication of Maps by Central/State Government Departments/ Offices and Private Publishers ("Instructions"), as notified by the Survey of India. However, with the issuance of Geospatial Guidelines, Indian Map publishers no longer have to get approval from Survey of India for producing Maps that do not conform to the Instructions.


3.1.2 Instructions required Indian publishers to seek permissions and approvals even for minor changes such as potholes [viii], by mandating a very complex approval route. Under the Geospatial Guidelines, Indian persons do not require prior permission for handling and using India's Geospatial Data and Maps [ix]. Only a self-certification conveying adherence to Geospatial Guidelines is required [x].


3.1.3 However, the Geospatial Guidelines fail to provide details regarding the implementation of the self-certification mechanism. Nor do the Guidelines provide a format of such a certificate. We are inferring that as a reason to presume that the self-certification may be done on a simple piece of paper affirming awareness, understanding, and adherence to the Geospatial Guidelines.


3.2. Threshold Values as the new regulatory bright line:


3.2.1 Under Instructions, Indian territory was divided into two parts, viz., restricted areas and unrestricted areas [xi]. Accordingly, a publisher had to get approvals from relevant departments under whose jurisdictions any of those restricted areas fell under. For example, permission from the Ministry of Defence was required for mapping restricted areas.


3.2.2 Now demarcation into restricted/unrestricted areas has been dissolved. Subject to the negative list (discussed below), Geospatial Data can be collected and freely used by Indian persons. However, few restrictions have been laid down when it comes to usage by foreign entities, for which specific measurements referred to as “Threshold Values”, have been provided. As per para 8(iv)(a) of the Geospatial Guidelines, they are as follows:


(i) On-site accuracy of Geospatial Data shall be 1 meter for horizontal or planimetry and 3 meters for vertical or elevation;

(ii) Gravity anomaly shall be 1 milli-gal.

(iii) Vertical accuracy of the bathymetric data in territorial waters shall be 10 meters for up to 500 meters from the shoreline and 100 meters beyond that [xii].


In case an entity has to collect bathymetric data with vertical accuracy of 15 meters (finer than the 10-metre threshold – hereinafter referred to as ‘finer Geospatial Data’) within 500 meters from the shoreline, then such an entity can handle and/or use such data without permission from the government, providing it is an Indian entity, as discussed further in Section 4 below. Where the vertical accuracy is less than the Threshold Value (less fine than 10 metre threshold – hereinafter referred to as sub-finer ‘Geospatial Data’), then its collection, handling, storage and export is fully liberalized, except where they may contain restricted attributes as may be included in the ‘negative list’ discussed below in section 3.3.


3.3. Negative List to control publication of sensitive attributes:


Geospatial Guidelines specify that the Department of Science and Technology will constitute a committee with representatives from relevant departments. This committee will notify a negative list for sensitive attributes such as prohibited areas. This list will also include details that shall not be marked on any Map, for example, any secret military camp. Before acquiring and/or using such data, certain regulations and rules must be followed. As on the date of publication, such a list and regulations governing the usage of such data are yet to be notified. It is indicated in the guidelines that Government of India will make necessary amendments in this regard.


3.4. Government premises are not available as a matter of right:


Apart from the restrictions in the form of Threshold Values and negative list, para 8(ii)(2) of the Geospatial Guidelines specify another limitation by excluding general physical access to premises owned by the government, presumably to avoid any trespass by virtue of rights granted under the Geospatial Guidelines. These areas can be, for instance, the dedicated cantonment areas in different parts of the country where only authorized personnel can enter.


3.5. Private copyright ownership of Geospatial Data and Maps:


3.5.1. Section I of the Instructions specify that the Government of India will be the copyright owner of all the Maps published by the Survey of India [xiii]. Further, Map publishers have to specifically mention by way of a footnote that the Map produced by them is based on the Survey of India outline Map along with the latter’s year of publication, or that topographical details are based on maps and other specified declarations under Section V of Instructions [xiv], followed by a declaration that the copyright in the Map belongs to the Government of India [xv].


3.5.2. Further, suppose the publisher is publishing Maps with scales larger than the outlined Maps or such Maps in which the topographical details are based on the Survey of India Maps. In that case too, publishers are required to specify by way of a footnote that such a Map is based on Survey of India Map, with permission of Surveyor General of India, along with other specified declarations under Section V of Instructions [xvi].


3.5.3. Such restrictions continue to apply to Maps which are based on outline Maps or Maps published by Survey of India; however, the liberalized regime now permit generation and usage of Maps without reference to Survey of India Maps or prior permission from Surveyor of India [xvii]. Such Maps can therefore be privately owned and licensed by private entities subject to Threshold Value related restrictions, which was not possible in the previous regime, as explained before. Such privately generated and owned Maps not based on the outline Maps are consequently free from the footnote requirements specified in the Instructions.


3.5.4. Although it will be important to bear in mind, para 8(xiii) of the Geospatial Guidelines, which clarifies that for political Maps of India, including national, state, and other boundaries, Maps or digital boundary data published by the Survey of India shall be used as a standard, presumably to ensure that Indian boundaries and coastlines are consistently depicted across various publications [xviii].



4. Opportunities for Indian Businesses

4.1. Subject to the negative list, the new regime of Geospatial Guidelines liberalizes handling or usage of the Geospatial Data up to the Threshold Values by any (Indian or foreign) individual, company, organization, and government agency without any requirement of prior approval or similar restrictions.


4.2. However, when it comes to finer Geospatial Data (i.e., when data is of higher accuracy than the Threshold Values), only Indian persons are further permitted to generate, handle and export it, subject to domestic cloud storage [xix]. The Geospatial Guidelines do not permit foreign companies to acquire, collect, and/or create Geospatial Data finer than the Threshold Values.


4.3. Further, the Geospatial Guidelines ensure availability and easy access for Indian persons to ground truthing/verifications, Indian ground stations, services for real-time positioning, and their data without any restriction. The guidelines also permit only Indian persons to conduct terrestrial mobile mapping survey, street view survey, and survey of Indian territorial waters irrespective of accuracy [xx].


4.4. As a result, the Geospatial Guidelines create opportunities for Indian persons to create, generate, exploit, export and license finer Geospatial Data to foreign companies for serving their customers in India [xxi]. This implies that Geospatial Data finer than the Threshold Values may not be available to any foreign entity for serving foreign customers. It is noteworthy that the Geospatial Guidelines talk in respect of ‘foreign companies’ and ‘foreign-owned or controlled Indian companies. We presume this to mean that other legal persons constituted under foreign law may not enjoy this advantage under the Geospatial Guidelines.


4.5. The Geospatial Guidelines permit Indian persons to conduct various activities, including street view, mobile mapping, and survey of territorial waters, without any limitations, which is expected to benefit persons involved in the business of logistics, e-commerce, supply chain management, urban transport, etc. Due to stringent provisions governing the handling and using of Geospatial Data, geospatial data was not setup for better exploitation. With the implementation of new Geospatial Guidelines, business can look forward to developing feasible and easy techniques to conduct surveys and mapping and investing in location-based data services, owing to the prospects of earning revenues through export and licensing. For example, the drones used for LiDAR (i.e., Light Detection and Ranging) cost thousands of dollars; however, with the liberalization of the Geospatial Data ecosystem, investing resources on creating feasible and robust LiDAR drones in India is now a possibility owing to the new liberalized regime.


4.6. With the implementation of the Geospatial Guidelines, data from the vast unexplored marine diversity can now be indigenously procured, handled, and/or used, which will aid in the strategic development of ports and explorations of energy, minerals, and marine diversity [xxii] positively impacting India's blue sector, i.e., fisheries, deep-sea mining, etc.



5. Summary & Conclusion


5.1. Due to a lack of Geospatial Data and laborious acquisition process, India as a developing nation has faced delays and restrictions in preparing development strategies, making world-class infrastructure, and growth in businesses. However, with the introduction of the Geospatial Guidelines, the scarcity of Geospatial Data in India can be tackled with indigenously prepared Geospatial Data, which directly assist in better planning and development. The new regime enables private investment and application of resources towards generating and distributing Geospatial Data which is expected to generate more value even as various sectors increasingly rely on location data.


5.2. By creating a permissive regime and allowing open access and collaboration for Geospatial Data, the Geospatial Guidelines encourage public and private persons to participate and create a better and enhanced Geospatial Data ecosystem.


5.3 The objective behind this radical decision is to unlock value for industries and individuals utilizing or offering location-based services in India, such as Flipkart, Amazon, Swingy, Google Maps, Redubs, etc. Deregulating Geospatial Data is expected to have a significant economic impact as it allows people, organizations, and governments to make better decisions by taking advantage of location related experiences, tailored and enhanced delivery services, monitoring services, construction site surveys, etc. It will also enable organizations to improve their business operations by innovating new ideas built upon liberalized availability of Geospatial Data. For example, a construction company can now utilize aerial surveys to count an approximate number of cars in the area to evaluate a proposed parking area's capacity, without having to undertake prior approvals or scout for approved maps or location topography.


Important Disclaimer: The information provided herein this article is our interpretation and understanding of the law. The legal analysis presented hereinabove is not given for application to any specific set of facts or circumstances peculiar to you or your organization. You may rely on the write-up for your peculiar facts or circumstances at your sole risk (or benefit) only. We will not be liable, answerable or responsible to you under any client-attorney relationship.


References

[i] Gaul, V. July 2020. “Location Based Services (LBS) Market Size and Forecast-2027”. Available at <https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/location-based-services-market>. [ii]Para 7. Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps. [iii]Para 7(d). Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps. [iv]Section XII. Instructions for Publication of Maps by Central/State Government Departments/ Offices and Private Publishers. [v]Para 8(xii). “The Survey of India (Soi) and other government agencies producing or owning Maps and Geospatial Data, shall take immediate measures to simplify procedures, revise/abolish various forms/licenses and use modern techniques such as cloud, open APIs and others to make its data accessible online in a useful format.[vi]Para 8(ix). Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps. [vii]Para 8(xii). Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps. [viii]Dasgupta, S. 18th February, 2021. “Why Modi govt is liberalizing mapping policies & what free access to geospatial data means”. Available at <https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/why-modi-govt-is-liberalising-mapping-policies-what-free-access-to-geospatial-data-means/606574/> [ix]Para 8(ii)(1) Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps. [x]Ibid. [xi]Section III para 7 and 8. Instructions for Publication of Maps by Central/State Government Departments/ Offices and Private Publishers. [xii] Para 8(iv). Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps. [xiii]Section I Para 2. “The copyright of all maps published by Survey of India vests with the Government of India and these maps may not be reproduced or used as basis by publishers without the permission of Surveyor General of India. Any unauthorised reproduction for utilisation of Survey of India maps constitutes an infringement of the Copyright Act, 1957 (14 of 1957)”. [xiv]Section V Para 15. Instructions for Publication of Maps by Central/State Government Departments/ Offices and Private Publishers. [xv]Section IV Para 13. Instructions for Publication of Maps by Central/State Government Departments/ Offices and Private Publishers. [xvii]Para 8(v). Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps [xviii]Section I(1). Instructions for Publication of Maps by Central/State Government Departments/ Offices and Private Publishers. [xix]Para 8(ix). Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps. [xx]Para 8(vi). Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps. [xxi]Para 8(viii). “Foreign companies and foreign owned or controlled Indian companies can license from Indian Entities digital Maps/Geospatial Data of spatial accuracy/value finer than the threshold value only for the purpose of serving their customers in India. Access to such Maps/Geospatial Data shall only be made available through APIs that do not allow Maps/Geospatial Data to pass through Licensee Company or its servers. Re-use or resale of such map data by licensees shall be prohibited.[xxii]Para 5. Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Service including Maps.


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