Mapping policy: We won’t have to depend on Google Maps, says Mohandas Pai as govt puts startups on the map

Spatial accuracy or value finer than the threshold value of 1 metre can now only be created and owned by Indian businesses and stored along with processed in India. (Photo Credits: Google Maps)

Liberalising mapping policy by the government will give Indian startups and companies a leg up even as India will now have its own mapping company and won’t have to depend on Google Maps, T.V Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Manipal Global Education Services told Financial Express Online on Monday. The government on Monday opened up the maps and geospatial sector for unbridled local innovation by removing restrictions on the access to government-controlled geospatial data and making it readily available. The Ministry of Science and Technology in its guidelines for acquiring and producing geospatial data and services announced that businesses and innovators will not require prior approvals before they collect, generate, prepare, disseminate, store, publish, update digital geospatial data and maps within the territory of India.

“Biggest challenge about maps is getting the spatial data. The biggest source for spatial data is satellite images and these images always had a barrier of (creating geospatial data of spatial accuracy finer up to) 1 metre. Now that barrier has been removed and this will give Indian startups and companies a leg up. If they tie-up with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and others, they will get access to a huge database and technology on a continuous basis and India will have its own company that will have these maps and won’t have to depend on Google Maps,” said Pai.

Comments from Google for this story will be updated as and when received.

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Geospatial data is referred to the data on the location information about the natural or man-made, physical or imaginary features of the location whether above the ground or below including boundaries, points of interest, natural phenomena, weather patterns, and more. The government on Monday said that on-site spatial accuracy of geospatial data should be 1 metre for horizontal or planimetry and 3 metres for vertical or elevation. However, spatial accuracy or value finer than the threshold value of 1 metre can now only be created and owned by Indian businesses and stored along with processed in India while foreign companies and foreign-owned or controlled Indian businesses will have to license the data of spatial accuracy finer than the threshold value from Indian companies and that too for the purpose of serving their customers in India only. On the other hand, the use of data by startups and innovators will be subject to self-certification “to demonstrate adherence to guidelines.” The latest pro-Atmanirbhar move by the government is intended to break away from reliance on “foreign resources”.

“Radical maps reform frees up mapping by Indian startups. No permits to make next-gen hyper resolution maps of India – Maps 3.0!,” said Lalitesh Katragadda, Founder, Indihood, and former Country Head for India Products at Google. The relaxations came days after ISRO and navigation company MapmyIndia had joined hands to develop an indigenous mapping system. “Sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, finance & revenue, logistics, transportation, technology, commerce & many more – which form 70 per cent of India’s GDP will be positively impacted. And the country will see 4-5 per cent GDP growth due to the horizontal, wide-spread and all-pervasive benefits of geospatial technologies,” said Rohan Verma, CEO & Executive Director, MapmyIndia.

The ministry in its guidelines also noted that the availability of data and modern mapping technologies to Indian companies is crucial for achieving India’s policy aim of Atmanirbhar Bharat and the vision for the $5-trillion economy. “India presently relies heavily on foreign resources for mapping technologies and services. Liberalisation of the mapping industry and democratization of existing datasets will spur domestic innovation and enable Indian companies to compete in the global mapping ecosystem by leveraging modern geospatial technologies.” Currently, Google dominates the mapping sector in the country.

“Tomorrow they can take all the data, spend money and then squeeze us and monopolise the whole thing and charge us very high. Mapping directions are for the public good and we shouldn’t pay anyone for using our own data. It is good to have our own company with our own data so that we have a choice. Tomorrow if Google shuts up for whatever reason, why should we be subject to foreign powers. We should have basic building blocks in India and we have the capacity to do it,” said Pai.

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The move would allow startups in e-commerce and other consumer-facing technology sectors to build their own maps and improve location-based services for faster delivery of national, regional, local, and hyperlocal deliveries. “The reforms will unlock tremendous opportunities for our country’s start-ups, private sector, public sector, and research institutions to drive innovations and build scalable solutions. This will also generate employment and accelerate economic growth,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on Monday. The deregulation was also welcomed by Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani on Twitter who hailed it “as another strategic step in India’s journey of data empowerment!”

“Startups will have a major role in every segment India wants to grow. Indian players, which are evolved and forward-thinking, are partnering with startups to resolve technology issues. In the geospatial sector, this is the need of the government. They are backing startups in a huge way. In this way, we can get rid of the Google Maps system. It would also help the government in inhospitable terrains where it wants to make roads, towers, and other infrastructure based on local innovation. So startups can really get the entire technology at the bottom of the system by which government can do mapping in different areas,” Anil Khaitan, Chairman, Assocham National Council on Startups told Financial Express Online.

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