Mapping Sector Reforms in India
Updated: May 15
“We look forward to India emerging as a mapping power, creating next generation indigenous maps of India and taking these new technologies to the rest of the world.”
It was heartening to read this statement in the release from the Department of Science & Technology (GoI) on 15th Feb 2021. The revised mapping guidelines, in its entirety, can be found here.
For an in-depth explanation - you may read these articles in Times of India, Livemint and Hindustan Times respectively.
9th September 2021 Update
What are the latest rules governing drone operations in India? Refer to the GoI's 25th August 2021 Release. (The Drone Policy is subject to regular revisions. The latest release has been met favorably by the Indian drone ecosystem. Read interpretation here.)
The vision of the current government pertaining to the mapping sector, as captured in these reforms, is appreciable for two reasons - a) it opens up avenues for the creation of high quality geo-data of Indian territory and b) the benefits of these reforms accrue to those who store (and display) geo-data within India.
While the rationale behind the latter - obvious economic and security implications - is easily understood, the acute need for India to create high quality geo-data is not a topic that has captured the attention of the masses.
The availability of high quality geo-data is very limited in India. Geodata is nothing but data linked to a place on the surface of the earth. Where you reside is your address i.e. 'attribute' and when this data is linked to coordinates i.e. location, it becomes geo-data.
What makes geodata higher in quality? Below are some ways -
a) when geodata has Z values - corresponding to elevation / depth - it makes the geo-data three-dimensional / 3D in nature.
b) when geodata has dynamic properties. Your address is static geo-data whereas when you see your vehicle move in Uber/Ola/Zomato apps, the geo-data is dynamic in nature.
c) When geodata has a time component added to it - the data becomes spatiotemporal in nature. Think of a dynamic map based illustration which shows the spread of coronavirus over a period of time. I've written on spatiotemporal data analysis before - explore this interesting case on analyzing road vehicle accidents using spatiotemporal dataset.
d) When geo-data is higher in resolution. Did you know the Indian made Cartosat-3 has a resolution of 0.25 metres(!) making it the imaging satellite with highest resolution in the world ?
The Indian mapping / geo sector used has remained highly regulated since the British times. For instance, Survey of India is technically the only agency legally permitted to produce maps in India. To create, modify or disseminate geo-data, one needs approvals from the government (and you can imagine the hassles involved).
To procure satellite imagery, one needs to align and submit a request with the NRSC (National Remote Sensing Centre) - direct purchases from satellite companies is not possible. Often there is a lag of months between placing a request and receiving imagery. PoI datasets (Point of Interest) can only be created by the resourceful and obtained by those with deep pockets. Believe it or not, high quality PoI dataset of Delhi will set you back by half a crore rupees! These datasets are very useful for doing geospatial analysis of any kind.
In comparison, the mapping / geo sector in other major economies is deregulated. Quality geodata is captured, modified and disseminated by the government and private players. For example, in USA, geodata as granular as household-level ownership details of Selfie Sticks is captured and publicly available! This means that, if one wanted to, one could draw a correlation between ownership of selfie sticks in a neighborhood to its inclination to vote for a particular political party.
In India, one has to often only rely on the geodata generated by the decennial Census to do household-level analysis of any kind. The next census is due this year (2021) which means if I were to do any socio-economic analysis using publicly available geodata today, I would be compelled to use the old and possibly significantly outdated 2011 Census data for my study.
Thus, the new reforms gives an impetus to Indian organizations to create / update geodata whenever they want to and disseminate it without too many levels of approvals at a transparent price to those who need it.
Why now? The mapping sector reforms are in sync with the current government's 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' plans (self-reliant India) which sees the likes of Twitter and Pub-G facing competition from domestically created apps today (Koo & FAU-G respectively). In the mapping sector, there is a near monopoly of Google which offers its renowned Maps and Earth apps. However, this is about to change - ISRO recently tied up with MapmyIndia to offer an indigenous satellite-based mapping service - an Indian alternative to global mapping behemoths such as Google, Bing and Apple maps.
Even the adoption of NavIC (India's counterpart to US' GPS - Global Positioning System) is going mainstream after the International Maritime Organization (IMO) recognized its capabilities and included it as a component in the World-wide Radio Navigation System (WWRNS). This is a significant development and gives Indian mapping companies an opportunity to develop an ecosystem around it - chips, receivers, network service, analytics and so on. More than 2,000 trains in the country now have NavIC installed in it and Realme was the first handset manufacturer to offer a smartphone with India's very own GPS installed in it.
Which industries are set to benefit from these reforms?
Virtually any industry can benefit from these reforms to good effect.
Strategically important sectors such as Defense, Infrastructure, Logistics, Agriculture are one of the prime beneficiaries as private players can now capture high resolution street imagery: < 1m in resolution (previously barred). Smart Cities, Law Enforcement, Public Transport, Healthcare can now avail valuable geodata and improve their performance and reach.
At a commercial level, organizations can now create, store and analyze geodata which is useful for market research purposes and can aid in answering questions like 'Where do I locate my new store?' and 'Where do I procure my raw materials from?' etc.
Aside from land based geo-data, significant opportunities are expected to arise from water based geo-data. The government has already allocated nearly Rs. 6000 crores for its ambitious ‘Deep Ocean Mission’ - that 'envisages exploration of minerals, energy and marine diversity of the underwater world, a vast part of which still remains unexplored.'
Is everything rosy? Government regulations, which were an impediment, have now been relaxed. It remains to be seen how quickly the Indian mapping sector and its stakeholders can ramp up their capabilities and create a robust ecosystem of hardware, software and technology around it. Just as Rome wasn't built in a day, it is expected to take us significant time to be up to speed with global counterparts. However, these reforms were much needed and are, definitely, a step in the right direction.
Intelloc Mapping Services | Mapmyops is engaged in providing mapping solutions to organizations which facilitate operations improvement, planning & monitoring workflows. These include but are not limited to Supply Chain Consulting, Drone Services, Location Analytics & Applications, Site Characterization, Satellite Imagery Analytics & Polluted Water Remediation. Projects can be conducted pan-India and overseas.
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