In February, 2021, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) liberalised the heavily-regulated geospatial sector in India by issuing the 'Guidelines for Acquiring and Producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data Services Including Maps' ('the Guidelines'). The publishing of these guidelines was followed by the release of the Draft National Geospatial Policy (the 'Draft NGP') in April, 2021, a more comprehensive plan to encourage the growth of the geospatial economy in the country.
Till 2021, Geospatial Information (GI) sector in India was generally characterised by over-regulation, complicated compliance procedures and overriding national security concerns.
While both, the Guidelines and the Draft NGP mark a departure from the previous trend of imposing strict prohibitions on the collection, digitisation and sharing of geospatial data, they continue to impose multiple restrictions on foreign entities preventing them from effectively using Indian geospatial data.
The Draft NGP prohibits foreign companies and foreign-owned/controlled Indian companies from digitising, storing and sharing maps which have a resolution finer than 1:100, unless they do so by obtaining a license from an Indian company. Additionally, these foreign entities may use such data only to service Indian clients within the territory of India.
Is such protectionism warranted?
Rather than imposing a blanket ban on foreign entities seeking to work with geospatial data finer than the threshold resolution, the government can restrict them from using data which is 'sensitive' from the viewpoint of protecting state security. The absence of robust competition from technologically advanced foreign entities may hamper the ability of the Indian private sector to innovate in the geospatial technology sector and have an adverse impact on the ease of doing business in India. Lastly, such protectionism will curtail dialogue between Indian and foreign entities including universities, researchers, think tanks and companies, limiting valuable collaboration and knowledge exchange between them.
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