The politics of making and using maps has taken a complex turn with the publication of the draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016 by the Ministry of Home Affairs
The Bill is only in the draft stage and has been put up in public domain for suggestions
According to the draft, it will be mandatory to take permission from a government authority before acquiring, disseminating, publishing or distributing any geospatial information of India.
Primary objective of the bill is to ensure the protection of ‘security, sovereignty and integrity of India’. The concern around ‘security’ is not new when it comes to regulating cartographic activities. It is prominently addressed across the current set of policies and guidelines that govern mapping in India:
However, protection of ‘sovereignty and integrity’ does not find a mention in any of these map-related policies.
There have been several incidents where the government has taken steps (including the temporary blocking of service) against companies that have represented Indian national boundaries that are not in accordance with official maps. Examples- Google, The Economist, and Al Jazeera.
In the absence of such provisions in the existing map-related policies, the legal action against such depiction of Indian territory were pursued under:
In 2014, a petition was filed in the Madras High Court seeking a complete ban on the Google Earth and Bhuvan (run by ISRO) map applications on the ground that they were both providing information that could be used for planning acts of terror.
The trouble with Google re-opened earlier this year as the Pathankot air base was attacked. Promptly after the attack in January, a case was filed in the Delhi High Court alleging that the availability of sensitive information (from an internal security point-of-view) on Google Maps created security vulnerabilities. The court disposed of the case, claiming that it has learned from the Additional Solicitor General that ‘steps are in progress to regulate the publication of aerial/satellite geospatial data’. This could be considered as the indirect reference to the draft bill.
Also, certain social networking sites showed Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as part of Pakistan and China respectively
According to the draft, it means:
Any addition or creation of anything that has to do with any geospatial information or location within the territory of India will need the permission of the government or, in this case, a Security Vetting Authority.
It grants licenses to organisations/individuals who want to use geospatial data
It will check the content and data provided and make sure it is well within national policies, ‘with the sole objective of protecting national security, sovereignty, safety and integrity’.
Recently, Govt has been laying great stress on the use of geospatial technologies for rapid development. The flagship projects like AMRUT, SMART CITY, HOUSING FOR ALL, CLEAN GANGA, PMKSY and DIGITAL INDIA envisage the involvement of industry to take up much of the work. With this act in place there will have to be a licensing of these industries and the personnel working on these projects. This would adversely affect speedy implementation of the schemes and ease of doing business too.
India does need a Geospatial Information Act, but it has to be an enabling and encouraging Act that makes for faster and better implementation of programmes, not a regressive and punitive Act as the proposed one.
Published with inputs from Swapnil