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Summary: Draft National Geospatial Data Policy, 2021

Months after partially liberalising the country’s geospatial sector, the Department of Science and Technology has released the Draft National Geospatial Policy 2021, with the aim of developing an ecosystem. The guidelines published in February 2021 had cleaned up some of the uncertainty around the legality of mapping in India. There was also a touch of protectionism; it provided preferential access of systems useful for mapping data to Indian companies.

The policy predicts the worth of the geospatial market in India to grow nearly to be worth nearly Rs 1 lakh crore by 2029-30. “Proactive steps will be taken for stimulating geospatial technological innovation and supporting the growth and development of the geospatial industry in the country.”

The government will, in due course, bring in appropriate legislation to enforce different provisions of the policy. However, it notes, existing laws such as the Indian Penal Code, IT Act, corporate laws, data and privacy laws will be applicable as required.

Purpose: Notwithstanding, the draft policy announcement noted that while the guidelines had liberalised the sector, a comprehensive policy is required to nurture the and develop the geospatial ecosystem to “encourage spatial thinking, generate geospatial knowledge, strengthen geospatial infrastructure, promote use of Geospatial Data, Products, Solutions and Services and boost geospatial entrepreneurship for socio-economic development of the nation”.

The policy would support the wider democratisation of geospatial data for commercialisation with value added services (VAS), the policy notes.

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Why the policy is needed

The policy notes that the regulatory paradigm in the government, through its various acts, rules, policies and guidelines, has not kept pace with the geospatial sector, resultantly stifling it. “There is a duplication of efforts and wastage of resources in the absence of availability of reliable geospatial data to access and use by various agencies, government and private.”

Applications of the technology include land administration, urban development, utilities, disaster management, mining, water resources, banking and finance etc.

“When location is added to a data it unleashes its economic value manifold and when used in decision-making, the return multiplies several folds. Geospatial information needs to become a live and integral part of a project from initiation to planning, design, implementation, operations and maintenance.” — Draft National Geospatial Policy 2021

Revamping education and training

Standardisation: Among other things, the policy hopes to augment geospatial education int in the country to develop skills from the school-level. It will involve standardisation and and certification of courses and skill sets. it will encourage the development of an international-standard education program from school to university-level.

India has a very good indigenous remote sensing program, and geospatial education is provided in around 200 universities and institutions in the country, at graduate, post-graduate levels and at industrial training institutes. the policy notes. “However, there is lack of standardization of Geospatial curriculum with less emphasis on fundamentals of Geospatial Science. Geospatial data for R&D is not easily accessible. Geospatial thinking is not integrated in innovation system and absorption capacity for Geospatial knowledge is low.”

Creation of skill council: The geospatial industry will directly connect with the National Skill Development Agency (NSDA) for the National Skills Qualifications Framework (NSQF) as a starting point. This system will be gradually developed to a stage where a separate Geospatial Sector Skill Council will be created, the policy notes.

Maintain quality of surveyors: Surveying is a highly technical job. But there exists no mechanism to certify these skills, resulting in “any person with limited knowledge or skill” entering the field. It suggests mechanisms such as those used to certify accountants, doctors and lawyers in the form of laws for survey professionals as well.

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Linking public and private sectors, easy access of data

The policy will look to create a level playing field for government and non-government actors, thereby increasing the ease of doing business in the country. It will encourage the creation and incubation of startups; promote collaboration, including public private partnerships between agencies; make Survey of India topographic data easily available and so on.

Emphasis is laid on strong industry linkages for the purpose of both training and placement. “Tie-ups with allied industries will be done to increase the placement spectrum of the trained youth. It will address the needs of both the job-seekers and job-providers.” The policy will also move away from security-vetting of geospatial data and information, with more trust placed in businesses and individuals.

Foundational data for everyone, data themes and lead agencies

 The Survey of India will prepare the High Resolution National Topographic Database for the entire country and update it periodically under the supervision of the Geospatial Data Promotion and Development Committee (GDPDC), which will be rechristened form of the National Data Spatial Committee (NSDC) formed in 2006. This database — foundational data — will be made available for general and specific uses by citizens, businesses, academia, research, NGOs and government. Other geospatial data, product, applications, solutions and services developed by Survey of India will also be made freely available the same way.

Data themes for better coordination: The GDPDC will designate National Foundation Geospatial Data Asset data themes. and National Thematic Geospatial Data Asset data themes. These will be primary topics and subjects for which coordination will be required for the benefit of central, state governments and other stakeholders.

The National Foundation Data Asset data themes, 14 in number, are: Geodetic reference system, elevation and depth, geographical names, administrative boundaries, buildings and settlements, land use and land cover, transport networks, water, land parcels and properties, utilities, population distribution, addresses, geology/soils and ortho-imagery.

The National Thematic Data Asset Themes, 12 in number, are: Agro-climatic zones, land use, health and diseases. development statistics, mineral occurrences, soil profile and resources, atmospheric conditions, natural vegetation, tourism, protected sites, natural risk zones and energy resources.

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  • For each theme, foundational or thematic, the GDPDC will designate one or more central or state level partnering agencies as lead agencies, which will ensure management of data, supporting resources (technology and personnel) and related services.
  • The lead agencies will assist provide leadership and facilitate the development of geospatial data standards for the National Foundation/Thematic Geospatial Data Asset data theme. This will include assessing existing standards, identifying new standards and developing plans to implement needed standards.
  • They will also facilitate the development and implementation of nationwide plans for a data theme by working with state governments, higher education institutions, private sector entities, central government agencies and other local governments.
  • They will establish goals within the geospatial data information framework.
  • They will designate points of contact within the agencies who will be responsible for developing, maintaining and coordinating the data using the National Data Registry (NDR). It will submit performance reports to the GDPDC at least annually; publish maps or comparable graphics online; solicit stakeholders to share geospatial data to the NDR; coordinate with the managing partnering agency of the NDR.

Standards for each theme: The GDPDC will establish new standards through the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for each data theme. These standards will be developed and promulgated after wide consultations. They will include content standards for metadata for geospatial data. The GDPDC will periodically review and update the standards to maintain currency and relevance.

National Data Registry and Geo-platform

The GDPDC will operate a National Data Registry (NDR) for facilitate the storing and sharing of geospatial data, products, services and solutions. “NDR will be a commonly accessible set of registers/ catalogue of data sets and services, metadata, feature definitions, application schemas, code lists and persistent identifiers (correct identification of data) for streamlining provision of data supply chains for governance, businesses, and communities.”

The GDPDC will operate an electronic data-querying and processing service — the geo-platform — for the provision of consumer-oriented products, applications, services and solutions. ” It shall include download access to all open geospatial data directly or indirectly collected by the Central and State Level Partnering Agencies free or on the basis of payment of fees as determined by the respective Partnering Agencies from time to time,” the policy notes.

Importantly, the policy allows for the GDPDC to withhold information from public disclosure. “On the advice of the GDPDC, Chair GDPDC may withhold from public disclosure any information the disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause damage to the national interest, security, sovereignty of the country.”

The work of maintaining the NDR and geo-platform will be the responsibility of a managing partnering agency, but other partnering agencies can perform the same functions specific to their own domain. Each national and state level partnering agency will prepare, maintain, publish and implement a strategy for advancing geospatial data and activities per the GDPDC’s plan. They will work with governmental and private sector bodies at all levels to collect geospatial data.

Access to geospatial data, products and services

The government will promote different uses of geospatial data, products, services and solutions (GDPSS) to empower citizens by providing them with data as per their requirement of content, scale, frequency and spatial resolution, the policy notes. The GDPSS produced using public funds and provided by government agencies will be clarified into three categories:

  • Open access, which won’t need registration and authorisation for access
  • Registered access, wherein users will need to go through a registration process
  • Restricted access, wherein access can be provided only under specific authorisation

“While regulating access to any such GDPSS, a considered view would be taken by an authority in the concerned Department not less than that of Joint Secretary to Government of India, weighing safety and security concerns with that of the potential of that GDPSS to contribute towards enterprise development. Any such decision can be represented against before the GDPDC who shall decide the matter after considering views of Administrative Secretary of the concerned Department.”— Draft National Geospatial Data Policy, 2021

Strengthening infrastructure

Strengthening geospatial infrastructure: There is an urgent need to augment the mechanism for completion and updating of large scale maps of the country. The National Map Policy of 2005 envisioned making maps created by the Survey of India and the National Mapping Agency available to end users via Open Series Maps. However, notes the policy, this did not happen due to various restrictions on the private sector.

“Given the magnitude of the task and ever decreasing period of update cycle required and to capitalize on resources from various sources in terms of manpower, knowhow and innovation, and to avoid duplication, it is imperative to synergize the efforts of various agencies, government or private and collaborate wherever possible.” — Draft National Geospatial Policy, 2021

The Department of Science and Technology’s guidelines issued from times to time will be the single point reference for geospatial data and services, including map-making. “DST shall take all measures to remove bottlenecks in the way of the growth and advancement of Geospatial data and services including map-making in the country.”

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Positioning infrastructure: Given the growing importance of precise location in the data economy, there is a need to establish nationwide global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) and continuously operating reference stations (CORS) infrastructure networks, the policy notes. The government will encourage the penetration of Indian Remote Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) and Indian Space Based Augmentation Service, the implementation and usage of IRNSS and GAGAN. Similar steps will also be taken for Earth Observation infrastrcture.

The Department of Science and Technology has invited comments on the policy. They can be be submitted by May 22, 2021 to smp-dst@nic.in

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