The Centre is planning to start its own commercial mapping and navigation platform to plug potential gaps existing in services being offered by private players such as Google Maps and MapmyIndia, a senior government official has said. To this effect, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology has asked the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) to conduct a feasibility study which would be followed by an exercise of mapping all Indian roads.
Confirming this to The Indian Express, C-DAC Director General Debashis Dutta said: “We will work out a feasibility (for mapping of Indian roads). We recently undertook a project for Indian Navy, where, in the sea routes, we were able to see the weather condition, water currents and determine which will be the fastest route. Before undertaking this project, we will have to see why we should go for it, what the advantages are, whether it will be a duplication (of the existing products)…we need to evaluate all this before we take a call on this”.
Currently, the government operates a platform, Bharatmaps, that offers detailed maps of India but is devoid of a navigation service. Bharatmaps is operated by state-owned National Informatics Centre (NIC). “The GIS (Geographic Information System) platform available with NIC has information about roads as well. Internally, as the next course of action, we are trying to create navigational grade data,” said Vishnu Chandra, head of group for GIS and Remote Sensing and Utility Mapping at NIC.
At a meeting earlier this month between IT ministry officials and industry leaders, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had received suggestions from companies to create a national policy for all roads to be properly mapped given that some major private players have still been unable to invest in creating digitised maps of nearly 30 per cent of Indian roads.
While having two-dimensional maps in digital form is one part of the services available in the market, location data is considered to be essential for navigational systems. Some companies, including Google, have created this database of locations by crowdsourcing. Apart from navigation, digital maps today are being increasingly used as layers for other location-based businesses such as online taxi hailing apps, logistics, e-commerce. Globally, in markets such as China, South Korea, and Japan, while governments have supported private players in different ways, including providing databases, equity infusion, they haven’t directly built their own products that compete with those offered by the private companies.
“In India, there is hardly any commercial sense if I have to do serious mapping of the Northeast or Jammu & Kashmir. Just like airlines, they fly where they make money. I believe that the government should support in building maps of such places where it doesn’t give good returns (for the private sector)…or go to the rural sector where mapping of villages can be done that will benefit the country…rather than them wanting to duplicate maps of cities like Delhi or Mumbai that are already available with the private sector,” MapmyIndia’s managing director Rakesh Verma told The Indian Express.