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Entrepreneurs hail Narendra Modi government's move to free up mapping

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described it as a decision that would provide a huge impetus to Digital India and a massive step in its vision for Atmanirbhar Bharat.

February 16, 2021 / 08:49 AM IST
One firm that could particularly have a huge advantage is MapMyIndia, founded 25 years ago.

One firm that could particularly have a huge advantage is MapMyIndia, founded 25 years ago.

The Indian tech and startup ecosystem hailed the government's move on February 15 to liberalise mapping, a move that is likely to spur innovation, lead to the next generation of mapping, and unlock capital.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi described it as a decision that would provide a huge impetus to Digital India and a massive step in its vision for Atmanirbhar Bharat.

While Infosys founder and Aadhaar architect Nandan Nilekani tweeted that "the new map policy is another strategic step in India's journey of data empowerment", Zoho founder Sridhar Vembu thanked the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) for liberalising policies around geospatial data.

The guidelines released by the government direct the Survey of India and other government agencies producing or owning maps and geospatial data to simplify procedures, revise/abolish various forms/licences and use modern techniques such as cloud, open APIs, to make its data accessible in an online format.

While Indian entities will be free to use this data and build on it, foreign entities and foreign-owned or -controlled Indian companies can licence from Indian entities.

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"The new regulations will lead to new innovations by Indian startups with much higher resolution of mapping. One earlier required approvals and licence to map, which goes away now. The US and Europe didn't have these restrictions, which helped companies there come up with innovations such as Street View and aerial photography," said Lalitesh Katragadda, who built Google Maps for India and also worked on the Aarogya Setu app.

When asked about the privacy concerns, he said there wouldn't be loss of privacy as the mapping is only allowed in public places.

He said Google had the edge when it came to permissions and approvals for mapping in India because of the resources at its disposal, something that smaller Indian startups could not compete with. The current changes give Indian internet companies a level-playing field.

He also said freeing up mapping could lead to better mapping of assets, thus unlocking capital to those looking for loans with land as collateral.

One firm that could particularly have a huge advantage is MapMyIndia, founded 25 years ago. It competes with Google Maps and counts Flipkart as an investor. It recently tied up with the Indian Space Research Organisation to offer an indigenous satellite-based mapping service.

MapMyIndia CEO Rohan Varma welcomed the move, saying that while it has 5,000 enterprise customers in India, it will focus on increasing awareness among standalone consumers. Some of its customers include Apple, PhonePe, Flipkart, Paytm, Amazon, Facebook and Uber.

At the same time, iSPIRT co-founder Sharad Sharma said, "Clearly we need the next level of maps to come up. They have to be more precise. The question is who should produce those maps. Google or Indian companies? Of course, Indian companies."

"The old rules were only hurting Indian companies. Simplifying these rules substantially brings the Indian companies into the fold. In any case maps cannot be built only by satellite. We require local stuff to happen and the drone policy is out. So the combination sets up the stage. Indian companies have been itching to do this, just needed the right policy framework. It is like the old payment system was controlled by Visa, Mastercard, the new system, UPI, is controlled by us as NPCI. Same thing is happening here that your next generation map will be created by the Indian companies," he added.
Chandra R Srikanth is Editor- Tech, Startups, and New Economy
Priyanka Sahay

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