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.
Security, sovereignty & integrity- a background
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:
- The National Map Policy, 2005 (“NMP”) and associated guidelines issued by the Survey of India
- The Remote Sensing Data Policy, 2011 that regulates satellite-based mapping
- The Civil Aviation Requirement, 2012, which regulates mapping and photography using flights and drones
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:
- Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000
- The Official Secrets Act, 1923 (restricting the collection and sharing of information about ‘prohibited places’)
- The Customs Act, 1962 (prohibiting the export and import of certain maps)
- The Criminal Law (Amendment) Act,1990
Precursor to the bill
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
Features of the bill
#1. Geospatial information
According to the draft, it means:
- Geospatial imagery or data acquired through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles
- Graphical or digital data depicting natural or man-made physical features, phenomenon or boundaries of the earth
- Any information related thereto including surveys, charts, maps, terrestrial photos referenced to a co-ordinate system and having attributes;
#2. Access denied!!!
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.
#3. 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’.
#4. Violation & punishment
- Illegal acquisition of geospatial information of India- Fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 100 crore and/ or imprisonment for a period up to seven years
- Illegal dissemination, publication or distribution of geospatial information of India- Whoever disseminates, publishes or distributes any geospatial information of India in contravention of section 4, shall be punished with a fine ranging from Rs. 10 lakhs to Rs. 100 crore and/ or imprisonment for a period up to seven years
- Use of geospatial information of India outside India- Fine ranging from Rs. 1 crore to Rs. 100 crore and/ or imprisonment for a period up to seven years
- It will impact every person, every business which uses location as a major feature to function
- App based businesses: Ola, Uber, Zomato, AirBnB and Oyo
- Websites: Twitter, Facebook, Google
- Print or online media: Reporting on natural disasters using maps, reporting on public transport effectiveness, map based visualizations for elections, spread of diseases etc
- It will also affect Real estate businesses, NGOs, disaster management efforts etc
Impact on Government Schemes
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.
- Geospatial and GIS will be the software tools that will enable us to see things in a spatial perspective, giving insights which textual data cannot give
- There is a need to represent certain information on a GIS platform, so that better decisions can be made by utilising the full demographic potential
- India is making a conscious effort to introduce GIS in our e-Governance applications and Mission Mode projects in a big way
Skill India and Make in India:
- Skill India seeks to impart practical skills to youth to enable them to become employable & Make in India seeks to turn job seekers into entrepreneurs who in turn can create jobs
- In effect, we teach persons how to fish rather than giving them fish
- With this Bill, what are the chances of youth learning geospatial skills and further how many budding entrepreneurs will dare to dream of opening a geospatial industry?
Fasal Bima Yojana:
- Under this recent scheme, the assessment of land, crops, damages etc is to be done by using latest technologies like drones
- This too involves processes such as mapping of specific locations/ fields
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