India’s National Map Policy: HOPE vs HYPE

Aug 2005 | Comments Off on India’s National Map Policy: HOPE vs HYPE

The impact will hinge on the implementation guidelines

photo-62Ajay Lavakare

The Map Policy per se is very reasonable. The concept of having two series of maps, one restricted for defense and security (Defense Series
Maps, DSM), while the other will be open to the public (Open Series Maps, OSM), both of which will be derived from a National Topographic DataBase (NTDB), should meet with unanimous support and approval from the geospatial industry. The contents of the OSM, as provided in Annexure IA of the policy are fairly comprehensive, and it is good to see that latitude-longitude, contours and spot heights are part of the contents of the OSM. I am very pleased to see that permission to publish maps both in paper and digital as well as over the web has also been granted to users in the policy. Another welcome move is the clarification that the City Map series being prepared by the Survey Of India (SOI) will be in the public domain. A very progressive section in the policy refers to permissions granted to users to “add value to the maps” and in fact even prepare their own value-added maps, after entering into an agreement with the SOI. The creation and maintenance of a Map Transaction Registry to track all transactions related to OSMs with scales larger than 1:1M will, I suspect, become extremely cumbersome, although one can understand the logic behind such a move.

However, the impact this Map Policy will have and whether it will really result in economic benefits of over Rs. 20,000 crores as estimated by the Minister, will crucially hinge on the detailed implementation guidelines that are expected to follow. While the Map Policy is very reasonable, these guidelines that will flesh out the details need to be reasonable and clear as well. My first hope is that there is a time-bound schedule for publishing of these guidelines, because without timely guidelines, the Map Policy will be not be implemented with the impact that the government hopes to have. My second hope is that the guidelines will be comprehensive, clear and fair to both the private and public sector. Some of the issues and questions that the geospatial industry will hope to see addressed and clarified in these guidelines are:

• Will the OSMs cover some/all areas of the country that were previously “Restricted” after removing Vulnerable Areas and Vulnerable Points?

• What will be the procedure for access to the OSMs for the private sector? Hopefully this will not be a tedious or bureaucratic process that makes it very difficult for the private sector to access the OSMs, thereby defeating the very purpose of the Map Policy.

• What will be the nature of the agreement between the Survey Of India and the users for getting permissions to add value and to prepare their own value-added maps? The guidelines will also address and describe the terms of agreement for further resale of the value-added maps to other users.

• Clear and unambiguous product information and pricing structure for access to maps. It would be of great benefit if the Survey Of India could publish a well-defined catalog of metadata on each map that contained information such as vintage of maps, data layers available, etc. and an upto- date pricing catalogue.

• What will be the policy regarding keeping the OSMs current? One of the big drawbacks of the present maps of the SOI is that many of them have not been updated for many years.

One of the Objectives of the Map Policy is “to promote the use of geospatial knowledge and intelligence through partnerships and other mechanisms by all sections of the society. The partnership approach has been adopted by other national government mapping organizations. An example is the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain’s data reseller partnership with the private sector, which makes it easier for all sections of the society to access and use geospatial data without compromising the ownership and associated revenue considerations for the Ordnance Survey. We hope that the guidelines embrace such partnership concepts.

Lastly, now that we have seen the National Map Policy, one is tempted to ask for a more comprehensive National Spatial Policy that covers other equally important sources of spatial data acquisition and information, such as aerial photography and satellites and other remote sensing devices.

A welcome step but…

photo2N. K. Agrawal
former Director Survey of India

The map policy creates more confusion than what was already there. Comments are given below: –

1. National Topographical Data Base (NTDB) has to be clearly defined in detail. Does it cover all topographical maps on all scales? National Spatial Reference Frame and National Topographical Template need further explanation.

2. Map Dissemination and Usage (Para 5). Open series maps on scales larger than 1:1 million can be obtained only after registration and agreement with Survey of India for specific end use. Does it mean that the maps will not be available to general public, over the counter? Presently general public can get all unrestricted maps over the counter. Will there be a fee for registration?

3. Para 3. Defence series maps will be prepared without dilution of accuracy. Does it mean that there will be dilution of accuracy in Open Series Maps? If so to what extent?

4. Para 3a. Defence series topographical maps will be on Everest / WGS84 and Polyconic / UTM projection. It is not clear whether all maps will be on both datums and projections.

5. Para 3b. It appears that sheet numbers and layout etc. of OSMs have not yet been finalized. When will the new maps of the whole India will be available, is not known. We fear that it may take a very long time, may be even 10 years to make available all OSMs. Time frame has not been given. 6. Annexure 1A. Details to be included in OSMs have been listed. I would have been better if the details, which cannot be included in OSMs, had been listed. The inclusion list creates a lot of confusion. A few examples are given below: –

A) 13 Water features – Tanks. Does mean that water features other than tanks, such as reservoirs, swamp or marsh etc. cannot be included?

B) 27 Heights. Spot approximate heights can be shown. Does it mean that triangulation heights and spirit-leveled heights cannot be shown?

C) 28 Bench marks-Geodetic, Tertiary, Canal. Does it mean that railway; road or other benchmarks cannot be shown? It is not clear whether heights of these benchmarks can be shown? Also if the heights are to be rounded to 1 metre or 0.1 metre. Similar are the cases with many items. It is silent on coastal features, high mountain features, Electric power lines, Telegraph and telephone lines, water pipe lines etc.

7. It does not speak about supply of coordinates in curvilinear or rectangular systems. To what accuracy coordinates can be supplied, has not been mentioned.

8. It is silent on air photographs.

9. It is silent on satellite imageries.

10. It does not deal with gravity data.

11. What about independent surveys by state government, local government and private agencies?

It is hoped that all concerns mentioned above will be looked into and a comprehensive map policy is formulated soon. The National Map Policy is a major positive step forward.

I note that Contours have been included in the Open Maps to be sold tothe public. This is a great relief. I cannot say anything about the Military maps as I do not know much about their needs. The Civil (“open”) maps seem to have the needed features. The fact that City maps at high resolution will also be “open” is all to the good. It is also good to leave the restriction-of-mapobjects issue to the SoI, so that once the maps come into the public domain, we do not have to worry about anything which is depicted thereon.

I also note that people who procure the maps from the SoI are at liberty to provide value-added additions and to resell. That is a major step forward. However, I note that a (typically Indian) bureaucratic interpolation was made in the Policy statement requiring registration of each purchase when one buys the map – and also when one resells the map. This does not really seem to provide any REAL safeguards (what are we now safeguarding in regard to the “open” maps?), and I hope it will eventually be dropped by the Ministry as they implement the system of map-distribution.

With the exception of the above requirement, I can only welcome the statement of Policy, and express my hope that the (unspoken, unfortunately) objective of the whole policy – namely a much more rapid rate of utilisation of the maps aimed at economic growth and more efficient land-use and planning and investment decisions – is achieved.


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