Till the release of the new Geospatial Guidelines (‘the guidelines’) in February, 2021, the Geospatial Information (GI) sector in India was generally characterised by over-regulation, complicated compliance procedures and overriding national security concerns. The guidelines and the subsequently released Draft Geospatial Policy (‘Draft NGP’) remove many of the restrictions imposed by the prevailing regulations. The Draft NGP, upon the release of its final version, will have to be followed up with supporting legislations and/or executive orders for it to be enforceable.
The Indian government’s outlook on the sharing of geospatial data has undergone several changes over the years. For instance, Until the 1950s, maps prepared by the Survey of India (SoI) could be used only for official purposes, and their dissemination by “unauthorised persons” to the public was barred by the Official Secrets Act, 1923. In the 1950’s, the chief mandate of the SoI was to provide the requisite geospatial data to the defence forces. In 1965, the Defence Department permitted the public distribution of maps of scale 1:4 Million by the SoI. Till date, there are 5 important policies governing the GI sector-
- The Remote Sensing Data Policy (RSDP) (2001), which deals with all activities pertaining to the operation of remote sensing satellites in India by ISRO and the procedure of obtaining a license from the agency to use satellite data
- The National Map Policy (2005), which deals with the restrictions on the preparation and sharing of maps by the Survey of India (SoI)
- The National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) (2011), which enlists provisions related to the sharing of publicly funded data
- The Delhi Geographical Spatial Data Infrastructure (Management, Control, Administration, Security and Safety), Act (2011), which enlists provisions related to the collection, digitisation, storage, and dissemination of geospatial data in Delhi
- The Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) (2012), which outlines the compliances that agencies must fulfill in order to undertake activities such as aerial surveys and cloud seeding
These regulations were issued to impose restrictions on the digitisation and sharing of data. For instance, under the National Map Policy (2005), Open Series Maps  having a resolution finer than 1:1 Million must be disseminated either through sale or via an agreement between SoI and the other transacting party. The imposition of these requirements can be largely attributed to prevailing concerns over state security.
The Draft NGP, by requiring the enactment of the guidelines, marks a departure from the trend of imposing strict prohibitions on the collection, digitisation and sharing of geospatial data, barring some protectionist features contained in them.
What the Draft NGP seeks to change
The Draft NGP seeks to do away with the requirement of obtaining a security clearance from government agencies for making maps. It also requires ‘Open Access Data’  to be provided to state entities free of charge, and to private entities either free of charge or at a fair and transparent price which will be fixed by the department. Another key feature of the NGP is the mandate to create a National Data Registry (NDR) which will serve as a unified platform for access to all geospatial data repositories in the country.
However, despite these liberalisation measures, the Draft NGP continues to prohibit 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.
 The National Map Policy (2005) classifies topographical maps prepared by the SuUrvey of India into Defense Series Maps (DSMs) which are classified and may be used for security purposes only and Open Series Maps (OSMs) which may be disseminated after obtaining a clearance from the Ministry of Defense.
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