The Centre has eased regulations governing the acquisition and application of geospatial data — including maps — by Indian entities, in a far-reaching move that is expected to spur local innovation and level the playing field for both public and private Indian companies. The liberalised mapping policy allows private Indian firms to use high precision satellite imagery — of 1 metre and below — on both land and in Indian territorial waters. This was hitherto reserved for strategic purposes only.
Private firms and startups can now leverage data to build applications including more efficient and accurate delivery of online purchases to consumers’ doorsteps, industry executives said.
The policy also makes it clear that foreign companies can only source such data — including land-based mobile mapping surveys and street views — from Indian firms where data is hosted on servers locally. Overseas firms cannot own such data. Internationally, companies such as Google and Apple offer products that give consumers a 360-degree view of a street. Google’s street view was banned in India in 2016.
Officials said revised regulations will have no impact on satellite-based mapping services currently offered by companies like Google and Apple in India.
Ashutosh Sharma, secretary in the Department of Science and Technology, said “the liberalised policy will allow mapping data that has been restricted to a few departments, such as the Survey of India and National Remote Sensing Centre,” to now be “freely shared with other government departments and, for a nominal fee, with private Indian firms.”
“With 1 metre resolution, more accurate mapping can be done for homes and in multi-storied buildings,” said Rohan Verma, chief executive of MapmyIndia, an Indian map-based services provider. “Last-mile delivery will be more precise, without any hassle for customers, and ecommerce and mobility customers will see more efficiency and productivity.”
Experts are of the view that the new rules will allow local entrepreneurs to build applications employing mapping for use cases that are unique to India, and “unlock billions of dollars” of value in the country.
“This will help India have a little foot in the door in the global mapping ecosystem,” said Lalitesh Katragadda, who built Google’s map maker and Google Maps in India. He said the time and cost taken to build large scale infrastructure projects could reduce significantly, as satellite data can be used to monitor progress more effectively than physical presence.
Union minister of state for space Jitendra Singh said the government has previously used space technology for laying railway tracks, monitoring unmanned crossings, in housing, agriculture, construction of bridges and telemedicine. He estimates that India’s geospatial sector could contribute as much as ₹99,000 crore to the Indian economy by 2029. “We (are in) a phase where space technology has entered Indian households in one way or the other,” said Singh. “Similarly, by making mapping accessible to other stakeholders, we would be incentivising them to become partners in the development of new India.”
Last year, India opened up its space sector, allowing private firms and startups to build rockets and satellites and launch them from Indian soil. It will also open up the earth observation data from its dozen-plus satellites in easy formats, so companies can build applications for use in areas such as infrastructure, traffic management and agriculture.
The country’s first private earth observation satellite, Anand-1, built by Bengaluru startup Pixxel, will be launched on an Indian Space Research Organisation rocket on February 28.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that India’s farmers will also benefit by leveraging the potential of geospatial and remote sensing data. “Democratising data will enable the rise of new technologies and platforms that will drive efficiencies in agriculture and allied sectors,” he said.
Infosys cofounder Nandan Nilekani, who is a champion of open use of data to enable economic progress, said on Twitter, “The new map policy is another strategic step in India’s journey of data empowerment!”