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Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Services including maps

On the 15th of February 2021, the Department of Science and Technology (the “DST”) released a set of guidelines for acquiring and producing geospatial data and geospatial data services (the “Guidelines”). Under these new Guidelines, the sector will be deregulated and aspects like approvals will now be done away with. The document notes the importance of location information as an integral part of the modern digital ecosystem and that the availability of comprehensive and updated representation of geospatial data would benefit diverse sectors of the economy and would boost innovation. Prior to the coming of these Guidelines, there existed a licensing regime administered solely by the Survey of India (“SoI”) for the use of their maps. These Guidelines recognise that the erstwhile regulations became somewhat obsolete and redundant with the advent of publicly available geospatial services which have made Geospatial Data freely and commonly available.

The new Guidelines have been made applicable 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.

Please note:

Geospatial Data” for the purposes of this note means positional data with or without attribute data tagged, whether in the form of images, videos, vector, voxel and/or raster datasets or any other type of geospatial dataset in digitized or non-digitized form or web-services.

Map” for the purposes of this note means a symbolic representation of real-world objects, regions or themes on a given scale which was generally published in paper form but now also available as web-map-service.

The salient features of the Guidelines have been provided below.

  1. The requirement for prior approval and other restrictions on the collection, generation, dissemination, storage and/or digitization of Geospatial Data and Maps within the territory of India has been done away with. Individuals, companies, organizations, and government agencies, are now free to process the acquired Geospatial Data, to build applications and develop solutions in relation to such data. Self-certification will be used to convey adherence to these Guidelines.

  2. The Guidelines add that a negative list of sensitive attributes that would require regulation before anyone can acquire and/or use such attribute data would be devised. The DST will notify this list on its website along with stipulated regulations after consultation with departments concerned at a later date. The Guidelines clarify that these negative lists will be specific to very sensitive attributes. To this end, the DST will constitute a Geospatial Data Promotion and Development Committee with representations from relevant departments to decide any issue arising out of the finalization of negative attributes lists and the regulations proposed on those attributes.

  3. Indian entities, whether in Government or outside, will be free to acquire, collect, generate, prepare, disseminate, store, share, publish, distribute, update, digitize and/or create Geospatial Data, including Maps, of any spatial accuracy within the territory of India including underwater within its territorial waters by using any Geospatial technology, subject to regulations on attributes in the negative lists. This must also comply with a spatial accuracy above the specified threshold. The Guidelines lay down various thresholds in this regard, including for on-site spatial accuracy, accuracy in territorial waters, and in relation to gravity anomaly. For example, the on-site accuracy threshold is one (1) metre horizontally and three (3) metres vertically.

  4. Indian entities may use technologies such as ground-truthing and verification. They also have access to Indian ground stations and augmentation services for real-time positioning (Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS), etc.) and their data shall be made available without any restrictions and with the ease of access to Indian entities only.

  5. Activities such as terrestrial mobile mapping survey, street view survey and surveying in Indian territorial waters shall be permitted only for Indian entities irrespective of accuracy.

  6. For political Maps of India of any scale including national, state and other boundaries, the SoI-published maps or SoI digital boundary data are the standard to be used, which shall be made easily downloadable for free and their digital display and printing shall be permissible.

  7. 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.

Overall, these Guidelines have been deemed a welcome change and are very likely to facilitate the ease of doing business with respect to geospatial data and technologies and services for Indian entities. We can expect innovation within this sector to be spurred now that the stringent compliances have been done away with. However, the Guidelines’ strong emphasis on the leeway provided solely to domestic entities means that foreign players will have to identify viable solutions to operate within the Indian market.

The Guidelines can be accessed here –https://dst.gov.in/sites/default/files/Final%20Approved%20Guidelines%20on%20Geospatial%20Data.pdf

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