On 15 February 2021, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) released guidelines for acquiring and producing Geospatial Data and Geospatial Data services including maps (Guidelines). These Guidelines were issued with the aim of liberalising the regulations in relation to the collection, acquisition and use of Geospatial Data. Geospatial Data is 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.
Previously, there existed a licensing regime administered by the Survey of India (SoI) for the use of their maps. However, these have become somewhat obsolete and redundant with the advent of publicly available geospatial services, which have made Geospatial Data freely and commonly available.
We discuss some of the key reforms introduced by the Guidelines below.
Previously, the creation, publishing and use of Geospatial Data, including conducting of mapping activities, was strictly regulated and subject to a complex approval process.
The Guidelines have now removed all requirements for prior approval or license for the collection, generation, preparation, dissemination, storage, publication, updating and/or digitization of Geospatial Data and maps within the territory of India. The Guidelines provide a wide permissibility to individuals, companies, organizations, and public bodies to acquire Geospatial Data, and provide value added services in relation to such data, including building applications. All entities who use such data will now need to follow a self-certification process to communicate their adherence to the Guidelines.
While the erstwhile regime prevented mapping in certain areas by classifying them as ‘restricted areas’ where mapping activities were prohibited or strictly governed, the Guidelines instead provide for a specific list of sensitive attributes which cannot be shown on any map (Sensitive Attributes). ‘Atrributes’ are defined under the Guidelines as any data which is associated with location data such as latitude, longitude and elevation/depth of a point or its co-ordinates, and which may give additional meaning to such data. For instance, under the Guidelines, places which may be of significance from a military or national security standpoint should not be identified as such, even if the physical geographical features of these areas have been permitted to be mapped.
Sensitive Attributes will be identified and published by the DST, after consultation with other relevant ministries. Notably, the Guidelines require the list of Sensitive Attributes to be limited, and restricted only to highly sensitive locations, in order to ensure that mapping activities are not unduly restricted.
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