[Exclusive] India Demystifies Laws on Maps and Geospatial Data
"There has been a phenomenal increase in the number of companies that use geospatial data. Companies involved in supply chain management, e-commerce, logistics, and cab-aggregation need location-based data. Most of the companies engaged in the collection, processing, and publication of geospatial data in India were subjected to several restrictions prior to the 2021 Guidelines. Earlier, companies such as Amazon, Swiggy, Zomato, Uber, and Ola needed government approval to process geospatial information". Sajai Singh and Rangam Sharma write on an interesting legal development around Geospatial Data.
In revising its current fragmented regime in relation to geospatial and mapping data, the Government of India has opted for a more liberal framework. Until recently, the use of mapping and geospatial data was regulated under the National Map Policy and the Remote Sensing Data Policy. On February 15, 2021, the Government (Department of Science and Technology) issued the 2021 Guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Services, including Maps, in order to simplify the applicable restrictive regime.
What is Geospatial Data?
Geospatial data, which includes location information, is data about natural and man-made features that are both above the ground and below such as boundaries, points of interest, mobility data, weather patterns, and other statistical facts. Under the 2021 Guidelines, ‘Geospatial data’ is defined to mean ‘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’ is defined as symbolic representation of real-world objects, regions, or themes on paper or as a web-map-service.
Who will benefit from the law?
There has been a phenomenal increase in the number of companies that use geospatial data. Companies involved in supply chain management, e-commerce, logistics, and cab-aggregation need location-based data. Most of the companies engaged in the collection, processing, and publication of geospatial data in India were subjected to several restrictions prior to the 2021 Guidelines. Earlier, companies such as Amazon, Swiggy, Zomato, Uber, and Ola needed government approval to process geospatial information.
Past attempts to regulate (restrict) use of geospatial data
The 2021 Guidelines are not India’s first attempt to regulate geospatial data. In 2016, a Geospatial Information Regulation Bill was introduced in Parliament (2016 Bill). The 2016 Bill made it mandatory to obtain permission from Government before acquisition, dissemination, publication, or distribution of any geospatial information. The restrictive regime sought to be put in place was widely criticized. To set context, if the 2016 Bill was passed, all companies with location-based features, including Google, Ola, Uber, Oyo, and Twitter, could have potentially been subjected to the restrictions, requiring compliance with several permission regulations to do business in India. The 2016 Bill also prescribed severe penalties for any non-compliance -- fines ranging from INR 10 lakhs to INR 100 crores. The 2016 Bill was viewed as a protectionist law, lacking balance and insight into the positive impact of the application of geospatial data.
Salient features of the 2021 Guidelines
The 2021 Guidelines is a game-changer for India Inc in many ways. It supersedes previous directions, official memoranda, and guidelines issued by different Government departments. The 2021 Guidelines clarify that no prior approval, security clearance, or licensing requirement is necessary for the collection, generation, preparation, dissemination, storage, publication, updating, and/or digitization of geospatial data and maps within India’s borders.
The available geospatial data is free to one and all to process and build or develop applications and solutions for their business models. Subject to certain conditions, foreign companies are free to license digital maps and/or geospatial data from Indian entities, and export of acquired geospatial data is not prohibited. The 2021 Guidelines do, however, prescribe a threshold for accuracy, and any finer accuracy than the specified threshold for maps and data can be created and owned only by Indian entities. Maps and data up to the prescribed threshold can also be uploaded on cloud.
Contrary to the earlier 2016 Bill, which proposed adherence to a strict licensing regime, the 2021 Guidelines require that companies ‘self-certify’ their compliance. The 2021 Guidelines also stipulate that all geospatial data produced by using public funds will be made available for research and development purposes.
The 2021 Guidelines are expected to bring innovation in the geospatial sector which will accelerate India’s economic growth. With the liberalized regime in place, the Government is hoping that certain sectors such as agriculture will benefit from a growing interest of private entities. Start-ups and younger companies will have the wherewithal to build systems with lower compliance costs, which can be deployed across multiple sectors. The 2021 Guidelines open up endless opportunities, particularly for those who have a keen interest in emerging technologies such as drones and autonomous (driver-less) vehicles.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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