Geospatial technology is a multidisciplinary field that covers various forms of technology that are implemented in fields such as archaeology, geology, geography, statistics, etc. At present, there are a multitude of laws in India with respect to geospatial technologies and the regulation of geospatial data. This article attempts to enumerate the various legislations currently in force and the draft stage.
The different types of geospatial technologies include the following:
a. Remote Sensing: this includes images and data collected by instruments from space – or through aerial cameras and sensor-based platforms.
b. Geographic Information Systems (GIS): This includes software-based tools for mapping and examining data collected and the georeferencing of data. These systems are put to use to detect geographic patterns, such as disease clusters stemming from toxins, sub-optimal water access, etc.
c. Global Positioning System (GPS): a network of satellites which can give precise coordinate locations to civilian and military users.
B. INDIAN FRAMEWORK
The usage of such geospatial technology results in the creation of geospatial information. In the Indian context, geospatial information has been defined under the draft Geospatial Technology Bill, 2016 (“draft Bill”) as “geospatial imagery or data acquired through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles including value addition; or graphical or digital data depicting natural or man-made physical features, phenomenon or boundaries of the earth or any information related thereto including surveys, charts, maps, terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes.”
The definition of geospatial information has been kept very open-ended and can potentially incorporate everything from satellite imagery, to books, navigation systems, newspapers, magazines, town plans, survey data, to every smartphone that bears a GPS chip.
C. GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS
Traditionally, mapping has been an activity solely reserved for the Survey of India, which was formed in the year 1767. However, the National Map Policy of 2005 was released on May 19, 2005 due to the recognition of the importance of high quality spatial data in various facets such as conservation of natural resources, socio-economic development, infrastructure development etc. The intent of this policy was to “liberalize access” to spatial data without compromising security concerns.
With the aim of realizing the security concerns, a dual-classification was designed with respect to the maps, namely – i) Defence Series Maps (“DSM”) and ii) Open Series Maps (“OSM”). While the DSM constitutes of topographical maps that mainly cater to defence and security requirements of the country, the OSM supports developmental activities.
Henceforth DSMs, irrespective of whether they are in analogue or digital form, shall be classified under this category and the power to issue guidelines with respect to their usage lies mainly for developmental purposes. They are not openly accessible ipso facto and need to gain the ‘unrestricted’ tag after clearance from the Ministry of Defence.
While the DSMs are completely classified, restrictive provisions regarding usage and dissemination of OSMs have also been incorporated in the policy. OSMs are not allowed to show any civil and military Vulnerable Areas and Vulnerable Points (VA’s/VP’s). OSMs on a scale larger than 1:1 needs to be disseminated either by sale or an agreement, which will allow the entity engaged in the activity of mapping to add its own value to the maps obtained, and to share these maps with others.
D. REMOTE SENSING
In 2011, the confusion pertaining to applicability of the National Map Policy of 2005 to both territorial and satellite mapping was resolved with the release of the Remote Sensing Data Policy of 2011. The policy recognized the importance of remote sensing data and noted that it was largely used by government and non-government users from Indian and foreign remote sensing satellites.
However, again banking upon the need for security considerations, the policy was released with the purpose of “…managing and/ or permitting the acquisition/dissemination of remote sensing data in support of developmental activities“. The Department of Science (“DOS”) was made the nodal government agency for all actions pertaining to remote sensing data under the policy.
A perusal of the policy indicates a parallelism between the Remote Sensing Policy of 2011 and the National Map Policy of 2005. Thus, similar to National Map Policy of 2005, Remote Sensing Policy of 2011 assures of a government managed Indian Remote Sensing Satellites (IRS) Programme, the data produced by which will be owned solely by government, and any users other than the government would be provided with licences on a case to case basis, only if such need arises. It further provides that any attempt at acquiring and/or dissemination of remote sensing data within India shall require permission through the nodal government agency.
National Remote Sensing Centre (“NRSC”) of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)/ DOS is vested with the authority to acquire and disseminate all satellite remote sensing data in India, both from Indian and foreign satellites. NRSC is also supposed to maintain a systematic National Remote Sensing Data Archive, and a log of all acquisitions/ sales of data for all satellites. Therefore, nodal government agencies were established for both terrestrial mapping and satellite imagery, former being Survey of India and latter NRSC.
E. CIVIL AVIATION – OPERATION OF DRONES
Drones, as we know them today, represents a significant development in robotic technology. Unmanned aerial vehicles, or Remote Piloted Aircraft Systems (“RPAS”), as termed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation have been defined as “a set of configurable elements consisting of a remotely-piloted aircraft, its associated remote pilot station(s), the required command and control links and any other system elements as may be required, at any point during flight operation.”
In December 2018, the Director General of Civil Aviation issued the Civil Aviation Requirements 1.0 (“CAR”) under Rule 15A and 133A of The Aircraft Rules, 1937. The CAR classifies RPAS based on their weight (including payload), as under:
a. Nano – under 250 grams.
b. Micro – between 250 grams and 2kg.
c. Small – between 2kg and 25kg.
d. Medium – between 25kg and 150kg.
e. Large – greater than 150kg.
Eligibility for operators of RPAS:
a. Citizen of India; or
b. Central Government or any State Government or any company or corporation owned or controlled by either of the said Governments; or a company or a body corporate provided that:
- it is registered and has its principal place of business within India;
- its chairman and at least two-thirds of its directors are citizens of India; and,
- its substantial ownership and effective control is vested in Indian nationals; or
c. Company or corporation registered elsewhere than in India, provided that such company or corporation has leased the RPAs to any organization mentioned as above.
For all RPAS other than those falling under the nano category, the mandatory equipment required for operation are:
a. Global Navigation Satellite System (GPS);
c. Anti-collision light;
d. ID plate;
e. Flight controller with flight data logging capability; and
f. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and SIM/ No Permission No Takeoff.
Additionally, RPAS would be required to operate within visual line of sight, during the day and only up to a maximum altitude of 400 feet. The CAR also demarcate the permissible zones for operation of drones into three categories:
a. Red Zone: operation of drones not permitted
b. Yellow Zone: this is a controlled zone and operation of drones would be subject to prior approval. For operation of drones in this zone, filing of flight plans and obtaining Air Defence Clearance/ Flight Information Centre number would be necessary.
c. Green Zone: this would form the uncontrolled airspace with an automatic permission for operation of drones.
The Regulations also define No Drone Zones which would cover the following areas:
a. Radius areas of 5 kms from airports;
b. Within a radius of 50 km from the international borders;
c. Within a radius of 5 km from Vijay Chowk; and
d. Buildings such as State Secretarial Complex in State Capitals, strategic and military installations.
The enforcement actions provided for include:
a. Suspension or cancellation of registration or permit;
b. Penalties under the Aircraft Act, 1934 or Aircraft Rules; and
c. Penalties under Indian Penal Code such as:
- Section 287 – negligent conduct with respect to machinery; or
- Section 336 – act endangering life or personal safety of others; or
- Section 337 – causing hurt by endangering life or personal safety of others; and
- Section 338 – causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others.
The Drone Policy 2.0 was released on January 15, 2019, which sought to address issues of Beyond Visual Line of Sight (“BVLOS”) and regulate autonomous operations. The key changes proposed were:
a. Privacy by Design – Manufacturers to adhere to a privacy by design standard, eliminating risks of future privacy harms by operators.
b. Drone Corridors – To segregate air routes of commercial airliners and RPAS, limit human presence, enable autonomous takeoff and landing at designated drone-ports.
c. BVLOS and night-time operations – as opposed to the current visual line of sight of 400ft, and day-time operations only.
d. Droneports – To facilitate takeoff and landing, operate as distribution centers/ cargo holds and battery charging stations. They must be integrated with Digital Sky Platform and listed on the National Droneport Registry.
e. Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (“UTM”) – Hyper-local and real-time tracking and management of UAS induced traffic in Drone Corridors and detect obstacles and avoid collisions. UTM will give Digital Sky the ability to electronically disrupt operations of a rogue UAS.
f. Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) – Enable re-routing and de-confliction by integrating AI into the UTM system.
g. Airworthiness Certifications – Pursuant to BVLOS and night-time operations, it provides a broad criterion of airworthiness for manufacturers.
h. Commercial Operations of UAS – Enables transportation of bodily organs for emergencies, surveying of landscapes and active monitoring of rail/road traffic.
i. Foreign Direct Investment (“FDI”) – 100% FDI under the automatic route in RPAS-based commercial civil aviation services, subject to the financial threshold applicable to non-scheduled air transport operators.
j. Insurance – Cover the liability towards the cargo, hull loss and third-party risks that may be possessed due to commercial and/or BVLOS operations of the UAS in compliance with the Carriage by Air Act, 1972 or any other applicable law.
k. Autonomous Operations – Pursuant to BVLOS, operators need not maintain control of the UAS, provided it is used for ethical purposes and subject to protection of security and privacy of human beings.
F. GLOBAL POSITIONING SYSTEMS
Global positioning systems play a key role in identification, location and navigation. These systems are reliant solely on the operation of satellites and transmission/ collection of data using such satellites.
The legislative framework surrounding the operation of satellites in India is currently lacking. India has ratified the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, 1968 Rescue Agreement, 1972 Liability Convention, and 1975 Registration Convention that govern the operation of satellites in outer space.
Despite such ratifications, no specified legislation has yet been enacted by the Indian legislation in this regard. The only legislations that are considered to constitute India’s policy framework with respect to the operation of satellites and handling of data generated in this regard are the SATCOM policy of 2000 and the Remote Sensing Policy of 2011. However, neither are applicable to satellite navigation.
The SATCOM policy of 2000 addresses policy implementation for nationwide satellite communications whereas the Remote Sensing Policy of 2011 establishes the modalities for permitting and/or managing remote sensing data acquisition to support development activities.
The data collected with respect to global positioning systems would be deemed as geospatial information under the draft Bill and any person or entity generating such geospatial information would be required to obtain a license to own or use such data.
G. WAY FORWARD
As is evident, there is a lack of a specific and concise legislation with respect to regulating the domain of geospatial information. The draft Bill was introduced in the right direction in 2016 but has not been worked upon further. At present, the regulation of geospatial technology is spread across various policy documents that often leads to a lot of confusion with respect to compliance for businesses operating in this business domain.
The regulation of geospatial technology and geospatial information is a multi-faceted domain which spills into many sectors including information technology, space technology, remote sensing, defence, and even aviation if we include drones. Therefore, any policy related to geospatial must be framed by an interdisciplinary group which has a clear understanding of what the technology means and entails.
Ankit Guha is Partner, Algo Legal.
Spandan Saxena is Associate, Algo Legal.Disclaimer: The views or opinions expressed are solely of the author.