Are you expecting the government to move towards a more conducive policy in geospatial domain?
India holds a significant position in the global scientific community. We are ranked 17th in the number of citations received across the field of science and technology and ranked 12th in the number of patents filed. The government therefore needs to evolve policies and regulations that can nurture and grow this innovative mindset, so that we continue to grow and become a leading technological nation. One such policy — the Science, Technology and Innovation [STI] Policy-2013 — aspires to position India among the world’s top five scientific powers. For this to happen, the government should act as an enabler for the access to technology and R&D. While relaxation in duty regulations on GIS technological equipment — for instance Customs duty on GPS devices is currently around 50% — is welcome, a more viable and sustaining option is participation and framing of policies that promote innovation and technological thinking. The Government of India should release forward-looking policies and programs that encourage greater investments in R&D and technology activities. For this, industry and private collaboration will play a major role. One such initiative is the T-Hub initiative, which is India’s largest incubator for start-ups. This is a collaborative partnership between the State Government of Telangana, the academia and corporate sector which is enabling entrepreneurs bring to life new technological ideas.
In a similar manner, the Indian government’s Vision Science & Technology 2020 policy aims at articulating the science and technology vision for India to develop and grow in this space. This policy can be backed up by supporting government grants and incentives that enable start-ups and SMEs develop innovative thinking and solutions.
Geospatial policies in India, including the National Map Policy (2005), Remote Sensing Data Policy (2011) or any other policy related to the use of geospatial data have been at the core of any kind of development related to the usage and applications of geospatial technology. Spatially referenced data is strategic and hence its generation and access is controlled by the government. This control is exercised through National Map Policy for access to maps created by Survey of India, and Remote Sensing Data Policy for access to high resolution satellite data. This means that permission on the usage of map data has to go through the appropriate government agency which has its own bureaucratic challenges. The map policy needs to be amended to bring in greater clarity or simplification on the data definitions, usage and access process. For the geospatial industry to grow to global ranking, related policies need to be amended so that access to geoinformation is easier and yet secure. One good example is how the Ordnance Survey in the UK disseminates its map data to end users — citizens, private industry and the government. The end user has online access to the required map data without having to go through several permissions. In case there is any additional map data added by the user, that data IP remains with the user who need not log in the updated data back with Ordnance Survey.
As the chairman of NASSCOM, the apex body for IT organizations, do you think the geospatial industry needs some handholding and special policy support like IT?
Similar to the IT industry, the geospatial industry provides specialized solutions to almost all industries with strong benefits in terms of business efficiencies and operational awareness. Given this scenario, the geospatial industry does deserve to have some benefits from the government side so as to ensure India can become a geospatial leader similar to the IT sector. The benefits can be in terms of direct benefits, such as, tax breaks or special sector status. This can be complimented with indirect benefits, such as, how a push from the government to improve the data communication infrastructure enabled the IT sector to grow in India. For example, if the government were to mandate that all Smart Cities initiative were to be geo-enabled, then that small step would have a huge impact to the geospatial industry and community in India.
How relevant is the Make in India initiative for the geo industry?
The core idea of the Make in India campaign is to make India a manufacturing super power by inviting as many foreign manufacturers to set their base in India. By such a definition, the geospatial industry has a supporting role to play rather than being the main player. The Make in India campaign is a very good initiative that should bring greater recognition and capability prowess to India’s manufacturing and industrial sectors. The geospatial industry plays a key role here as an enabling function that helps ensure that the manufacturing process runs smooth. For example, fleet navigation solutions would help ensure the logistics requirements are met on time. Accurate land records would help identify the right land area for developing a manufacturing hub that is environmentally safe and is a job-creator. There are many other roles that the geospatial industry can play in support of Make in India that would help ensure India grows to be a manufacturing superpower.
With ISRO’s IRNSS mission almost in its final leg, do you see India emerge as a global manufacturing center for GNSS sensors?
India has always had a rich engineering design and manufacturing capability and capacity. The Make in India program needs to be properly leveraged by the many manufacturing organizations in India, especially now that the global markets are seeing India as the upcoming manufacturing leader. For niche areas, such as, GNSS sensors, India has the right capacity and skill force to design and manufacture high quality sensors. By forging partnership with international agencies and private organization in the space and satellite domain, we can become a significant engineering and manufacturing hub for future satellite and space missions