The Union Government has unveiled a new Remote Sensing Data Policy, opening up the sector and removing certain restrictions to facilitate more users to access high resolution data for developmental activities.
The earlier policy that allowed all data of resolutions up to 5.8 meters to be distributed on non-discriminatory and ‘as requested’ basis by ISRO has been brought down to up to one meter.
Highlights of RSDP, 2011
The Remote Sensing Data Policy (RSDP), 2011 liberalizes and opens up the sector and would see more people getting data. Restrictions as per the earlier policy, enunciated in 2001, have been removed; there is no bar on publishing of high resolution, remote sensing data of up to one meter resolution.
According to RSDP-2011, all data of better than one metre resolution, however, shall be screened and cleared by the appropriate agency prior to distribution with a view to protect national security interests.
The Union government has revised its 10- year-old remote sensing data policy, easing restrictions on high-resolution satellite imagery of sensitive areas in the country.
At a time when use of satellite images for all sort of purposes has grown dramatically, the new policy tries, as the earlier one did, to balance the demand for higher resolution data with the country’s security considerations. But these days, high resolution images of Indian cities are freely accessible through Internet resources such as Google Maps and Google Earth.
Fifteen years back, when India’s^ IRS-1C was launched, its panchromatic camera, with a resolution of 5.8 meters, gave the highest resolution images available from any civilian satellite in the world. Large blocks of imagery taken by the satellite over the country were, however, considered sensitive and not released. Each of those blocks could cover hundreds of square kilometers on the ground.
A few years later, in 1999, the American Ikonos satellite, which could take images with a resolution of one meter, was launched. In 2001, India launched its own one- meter-resolution remote sensing satellite, the Technology Experiment Satellite, which was primarily intended for the security services.
In August 2001, the then Minister of State, Vasundhara Raje, announced in the Rajya Sabha that the government had adopted a comprehensive remote sensing data policy. High- resolution images had immense potential to support local-level development and cadastral applications. A regulated distribution of such images can not only take care of the user community’s requirements, but also the national security interests.
The 2001 policy made all data with coverage over India of up to 5.8 meter resolution readily available. But data with 5.8 metro or better resolutions had to be screened so that images of sensitive areas are excluded.
The implementation of this policy meant that these ‘sensitive areas’ would be blanked out or their image quality deliberately degraded before the data was supplied to users within the country. This practice also had the consequence, as some experts remarked, that these masked portions gave unmistakable indications of where the country’s key facilities were located. Besides, high- resolution images of India taken by foreign commercial satellites such as Ikonos could be readily purchased abroad.
The revised remote sensing data policy, which has just been announced, has lifted restrictions on the supply of satellite data with resolutions of up to one meter. However, all data involving better than one meter resolution will need to be screened and cleared.
The new policy also states that specific requests for data of sensitive areas, by any user, can be served only after obtaining clearance from the government’s High Resolution Image Clearance Committee.
The Cartosat-2 satellite, which the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched in 2007, gives images with a resolution of one meter. The Cartosat-2A and Cartosat-2B that followed can take images with a resolution of 0.8 meters. But much higher resolution images are available from U.S. commercial satellites.
The Quick Bird’s cameras have a resolution of 0.6 meters; the WorldView-1 (0.5 meters); WorldView-2 (0.46 meters); and GeoEye-1 (0.41 metros). As a result, the views of many Indian cities on Google Maps and Google Earth, which use commercially available imagery, can have a resolution of about half a meter.
The new policy will simplify access to data from the existing Indian remote sensing satellites. But Indian companies could find access to the higher resolution data from American satellites problematic unless they were working on a government-sponsored project. The requirement for images with a resolution of less than a meter was definitely picking up because of its usefulness for urban planning and infrastructure mapping.