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India’s Geospatial Guidelines, 2021 Edition

On Feb 15, 2021, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) released the Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Services, including Maps[1].

Geospatial data is generated via photography with aerial vehicles, vehicle-mounted Mapping systems, LIDAR, RADAR Interferometry, satellite-based remote sensing, and mobile device sensors.

Geospatial data will be available to Indian entities — corporations and individuals. The new guidelines render previous politics and guidelines obsolete.

Who does this apply?

Indian citizen, government entities, societies registered under applicable statutes, statutory bodies, autonomous Government institutions, or any Indian company or Indian Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) owned by resident Indian citizens or any Indian company or Indian LLP controlled by resident Indian citizens.

What constitutes geospatial data in the Guidelines?

  • Position — Latitude, longitude, and elevation or depth, including but not limited to the metadata for any location in India (land, air, and water).
  • Types — the data can be in the form of texts, images, videos, vector, voxel, and/or raster datasets or any other digital kind.
  • Representation — maps or its representation in 2D, 3D, or more dimensional representation, including Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).
  • Technology — there is no limit on the types of technology deployed to collect geospatial data. Current technologies such as Drones, UAVs, LIDAR, Radar, including Synthetic-Aperture Radar (SAR) devices either stationary, vehicle or satellite mounted, Satellites, or computer-generated or inferred by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Satellite Image of India
Satellite Image of India.

The Guidelines

Unlike before, there is no requirement for prior approval, security clearance, license, or any other restrictions on the collection, generation, preparation, dissemination, storage, publication, updating, and digitization of Geospatial Data and Maps. Individuals, companies, organizations, and government agencies, shall be free to process the acquired Geospatial Data, build applications, and develop solutions.

The only requirement is a "Self-Declaration” of the intent and actions which adhere to these guidelines.

The Department of Science and Technology (DST) will publish a list of restricted attributes such as identifying persons or legal entities.

The resolution restriction is 1-meter surface and 3-meter depth or elevation. The term “one-meter” resolution denotes a surface area of 1x1 meter equivalent to one pixel on a digital screen.

Gravity anomaly shall be 1 milligal[2].

The vertical accuracy of Bathymetric[3] data shall be 10-meters for up to 500 meters from the shore-line and 100-meters beyond that.

Geospatial data of spatial accuracy/value higher than the threshold value of 1-meter can be created and/or owned by Indian Entities and must be stored and processed in India.

Today, commercially available satellites can capture optical resolution as high as 30-cm.

Non-Indian companies and foreign-owned or foreign-controlled Indian companies can license data from Indian Entities for sub-meter higher resolution data.

One confusing detail about the guidelines was that access to the high-resolution data shall only be served via an API (Application Programming Interface). This data cannot be further resold. Maybe they meant that the data cannot be resold as an App or a computer program that stores data on the devices but can be accessed via an API.

Higher-resolution data (sub-meter) can be only be stored on servers located inside India, aka “clouds” in layman’s terms.

Any government-funded geospatial data generators, such as Survey of India (SOI), will facilitate free data for public and government-run entities but priced at fair-price for private entities.

Context from the Past

Well, India has a history of China-Esque outright bans in the digital propagation, shooting right from its hip. In the recent past, one such incident was during early 2016 – where Geospatial data was banned for commercial use and applications beyond a specific resolution.

The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill[4] Draft made it a criminal offense and can lead to prison and steep fines (7-year prison and fine upto ₹100 Crore).

On Jan 2, 2016, heavily armed group attached the Indian Air Force Base at Pathankot[5]. The quintessential victim was Google Maps. India did not like that Google maps/earth has a high-enough resolution, and anyone can look at it with immense clarity.

The 2016 Geospatial Regulation Draft was always an irritant though it never became legislation or enforced.

The new guidelines and de-regularization is a welcome change and opens lots of doors.

Notes

  1. Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Services, including Maps (Original PDF from DST).
  2. 1 Gal is defined as 1 centimeter per second squared (1 cm/s2). The milligal (mGal) and microgal (µGal) are respectively one thousandth and one millionth of a gal.
  3. Bathymetry is the study of underwater depth of ocean floors or lake floors.
  4. The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016 (PDF)
  5. 2016 Pathankot Attack