Maps and Geospatial Data in India – Regulations Liberalized

By Aditya Pratap, Lawyer in Bombay High Court

Stories are always easier to comprehend when plotted on a map. Whether it’s history, geography, or political science, a map will simplify complicated facts and provide instant clarity. As a result of their importance in day to day life, map accuracy is a major concern, and it often necessitates following legal and regulatory pathways to prevent debate and controversy.

The National Map Policy, 2005 (“NMP”) and comprehensive guidelines released by the Survey of India (“SOI”) in December 2016 regulate the use of maps in private publications.  This article talks about the recent update in February 2021 towards liberalising the mapping and geospatial data regulations.

On 15 February 2021, the Government of India announced changes to the country’s mapping policy by liberalising regulations on geospatial data and maps. It is in line with India’s vision of Atma-nirbhar Bharat and a 5 trillion-dollar economy. The Department of Science and Technology released a new set of guidelines liberalising India’s Mapping and Geospatial Data regime by removing the existing multi-layered licensing procedures applicable on private entities.

Background

The existing regime imposed significant restrictions on the Indian mapping industry- from creation to dissemination of maps, requiring the Indian mapping companies to go through a cumbersome system of pre-approvals and permissions to get licences.

Historically, India has maintained a strong regulatory mechanism over mapping and geospatial data intelligence. The Survey of India [‘SOI’] enjoyed the sole authority to engage in the exercise and allowed limited licenses to private entities.

Despite a move towards partial liberalisation in 2005’s National Map Policy, a 2016 Draft Bill threatened to render all unlicensed maps in India, illegal. These new guidelines have been issued under the National Map Policy 2005, which happens to be the source of mapping guidelines in India. The guidelines provide that any violation will be dealt with under applicable laws.

While there are no mapping ‘laws’ currently in place in India, a set of Publication Instructions released by the Survey of India in 2016 enlist map publication-related offences punishable under laws including the Copyright Act, 1957, Official Secrets Act, 1923, and notifications passed under Customs Act, 1962. As guidelines do not have the force of law, it could have been better if a legislative enactment were to lay down the framework of India’s mapping policy.

What happens now?

Under the new guidelines, private companies, organizations and individuals have been authorised to collect, generate, prepare, disseminate, store, publish, update and/or digitize Geospatial Data and Maps and process the same without any security approvals or licenses.

After the government announced the reforms, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the liberalisation of policies, saying it is a “massive step in government’s vision for an Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India)”. “The reform will benefit the country’s farmers, start-ups, private sector, public sector and research institutions to drive innovations and build scalable solutions” he also said.

How will this move help Indian entities?

Speaking on the occasion, Minister for Science & Technology, Earth Sciences and Health & Family Welfare, Dr. Harsh Vardhan said, “What is readily available globally does not need to be regulated.  For Indian entities, there would be complete deregulation with no prior approvals, security clearances, licenses, etc. for acquisition and production of geospatial data and geospatial data services including maps.”

Under the existing regime, it is difficult for the Indian entities to get access to the geospatial data. However, with this announcement, the Indian entities will be allowed to use this data and build on it without any prior approvals before they collect, generate, prepare, disseminate, store, publish, update digital Geospatial Data and Maps within the territory of India. 

The new policy will enable Indian innovators to create substantial advances in mapping ultimately making our lives easier, and empowering small businesses.

What are the guidelines brought into effect through this update?

Indian entities, whether in government or outside, will be free to acquire, collect, generate, prepare, disseminate, store, share, publish, distribute, update, digitise and/or create geospatial data, including maps, of any spatial accuracy within the territory of India including underwater within its territorial waters by using any geospatial technology. The permission will be subjected to regulations on attributes in the negative lists.

Additionally, there will no requirement for prior approval, security clearance, license or any other restrictions on the collection, generation, preparation, dissemination, storage of geospatial data and maps within the Indian territory. Individuals, companies, organisations, and Government agencies are also free to process the acquired Geospatial Data, build applications and develop solutions in relation to such data and use such data products, applications, solutions, etc by way of selling, distributing, sharing, swapping, disseminating, publishing, deprecating and destructing.

However, self-certification will be used to convey adherence to these guidelines. There will not be any negative list of prohibited areas. Alongside, foreign companies and foreign-owned or controlled Indian companies can acquire a license from Indian entities digital Maps/Geospatial Data of spatial accuracy/value finer than the threshold value. It will only be given only for the purpose of serving its customers in India. Re-use or resale of such map data by licensees has been prohibited.

Digital maps or geospatial data of spatial accuracy/value up to the threshold value can be uploaded to the cloud but those with accuracy finer than the threshold value, mentioned in the government order, shall only be stored and processed on a domestic cloud or on servers that are physically located within the territory of India. For political maps of India of any scale including national, state and other boundaries, Survey of India (SoI) published maps or SoI digital boundary data are the standard to be used, which shall be made easily downloadable for free and their digital display and printing shall be permissible.

Others can publish such maps but that adherence to these standards is mandatory. Entities which produce geospatial data using public funds are required to make data easily accessible for scientific, economic and developmental purposes to all Indian Entities and without any restrictions on their use. Security and enforcement agencies are exempted from this. And lastly, the entities are required to provide such data free of cost to government agencies and at fair and transparent pricing to others.

About the Author – Aditya Pratap

Aditya Pratap is a lawyer practising in Mumbai. He argues cases in the Bombay High Court, Sessions and Magistrate Courts, along with appearances before RERA, NCLT and the Family Court. For further information one may visit his website adityapratap.in or view his YouTube Channel to see his interviews. Questions can be emailed to him at aditya@adityapratap.com.

This Article was made by Aditya Pratap in assistance with Ishaan Dhaddha.

Cases argued by Aditya Pratap can be viewed here.

Disclaimer: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication at the time it was written. It is not intended to provide legal advice or suggest a guaranteed outcome as individual situations will differ and the law may have changed since publication. Readers considering legal action should consult with an experienced lawyer to understand current laws and how they may affect a case.

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