Autonomous Agency Under PMO Mooted to Harness Potential of Indian Geospatial Industry

For a country like India that seeks to become a $5 trillion economy by 2024, leveraging the digital advancements by establishing a strong digital and geospatial data infrastructure are need of the hour.

A high-level think tank led by former Nasscom head Dr B.V.R. Mohan Reddy and former ISRO Chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar has called for the formation of an independent, non-partisan autonomous agency under the Prime Minister’s Office or the Niti Aayog for shaping India’s geospatial roadmap. It has also called for an integrated national geospatial strategy to harness the potential of the industry and leverage its power in the national development agenda.

Dr Reddy, who is the chair of the think tank which has experts from different walks of life including public sector data generating agencies, central and state government users, private geospatial companies and civil society organizations, formally released a vision document called Geospatial Strategy for New India, in Hyderabad on December 3. The document, released during GeoSmart India, the country’s premier geospatial conference, proposes that the agency includes members from across ministries/departments involved in geospatial data generation; important user industries; private sector and civil society representatives.

While listing out the role and importance of geospatial technologies in India’s growth and development, the document called for the autonomous geospatial agency to act as the vanguard of all public sector data in India. Additionally, it should also actively work with various departments and other public sector organizations that are looking at policies pertaining to geospatial planning, environment, drones, construction innovations, or simply the use of geospatial for more efficient decision-making, the think tank feels.

The document also calls for a countrywide network of 4,000 CORS stations (Continuously Operating Reference Stations) in India. While Survey of India has already started some work in this direction, it had hit some funding issues as the mapping agency is yet to get the INR 125 crore initially sanctionced for this work. Incidentally, Surveyor General of India, Lt Gen Girish Kumar, announced at the conference that SOI will complete setting up a countrywide CORS network by end of 2020.

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Further, the think tank advocates encouraging the implementation and usage of the IRNSS (or NavIC – the independent regional navigation satellite system developed by ISRO) in the larger domain of public services. This could include central services such as the railways and shipping. In addition, states can be encouraged to use IRNSS receivers as part of their public transportation systems such as buses and emergency services, among others.

To foster an environment of innovation, the think tank feels data should have minimum restrictions while respecting privacy, national security and commercial confidentiality. It feels that maps up to 1:25,000 and one meter resolution imagery should be made freely available. Standardisation of geospatial information while simplifying its access to enable use by many with scope for necessary customizations, addressing pressing issues around data such as privacy, security and sovereignty are among other recommendations from the think tank.

Geospatial foundational to New India vision

For a country like India that seeks to become a $5 trillion economy by 2024, leveraging the digital advancements by establishing a strong digital and geospatial data infrastructure are need of the hour. Integration of geospatial technology in the government’s ‘New India’ vision will enable the development of applications that enable efficient workflows across industries as agriculture, health, education, housing, disaster management, environment and urban development.

The growth driver for geospatial market in India is the thrust provided by the central and state government programs for developing a robust physical infrastructure, effective governance delivery, including e-governance and digital economy initiatives, integrated programs on urban and rural development such as Smart Cities, AMRUT, RURBAN clusters, National Hydrology Project (NHP) and integrated projects like Bharatmala and Sagarmala.

Interestingly, the Niti Aayog, in its vision document Strategy for New India@75, acknowledged the relevance and importance of spatial data and framework in the country’s growth and development. “The absence of a modern spatial planning framework, public utility design standards and land titling in cities takes a huge toll on economic growth and productivity, environmental sustainability and living conditions in cities,” it has said. Among other things, it has also identified complete digitization of land records, geo-tagging, along with location agnostic online registration of land records as hurdles. One of the key operational challenge areas in the Smart City Mission has also been identified as the non-availability of a robust spatial plans.

India’s geospatial industry

The Indian geospatial economy is valued at INR 20,629 crore ($3.07 billion; 100 crore is 1 billion). The Indian Geospatial Economy (IGE) Report 2018 had pegged the Indian geospatial market at INR 7,679 crore for 2017-18, which was likely to grow at 13.8% CAGR between FY 2017-18 and FY 2020-21.

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Indian geospatial sector currently employs 250,000 people, out of which around 67,000 are engaged in exports-related services and around 40,000 are in government services. According to the think tank document, there are enormous employment generation opportunities in India for rudimentary services such as surveying, map digitization, content development, APIs, data analysis, etc.

The document refers to a study by the Expert Committee constituted by Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, which found that an approximate number of skilled manpower required for Digital India Land Records Modernization Program one state is 17,800. This means if the DI-LRMP Program is carried out at the national level, around 400,000 approximate skilled manpower is essential. It further estimates that effective implementation of geospatial technologies in all national development programs between 2019-2022 will roughly generate 1.2 million jobs.

Geospatial readiness and development

Highlighting the close correlation between geospatial readiness and national growth and development, the think tank pointed out that countries that are high in adoption of geospatial technologies stand to gain more than others in terms of contribution to GDP, standard of living for citizens and quality of infrastructure.

Geospatial readiness indexFor instance, US, UK, Germany, Singapore and The Netherlands rank among the top ten on the Countries Geospatial Readiness Index (CGRI)-2019, while they also rank high on other parameters like global competitiveness, human development etc. CGRI ranks India at the 25th place. India’s rankings provides ample insights on the need for an integrated approach from government and national geospatial agencies for a holistic development of the sector. While India’s inability to fully harness the development and commercial opportunities is due to a combination of factors, the less-than-optimum role played by the national geospatial agencies is one of the key reasons.

This article was originally published on December 3, 2019, at Geospatial World and has been republished here with permission.