On May 5, the Indian government uploaded a draft bill called “The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016”, which was later removed for various reasons, proposing to punish any person in India or any Indian abroad for publishing or distributing maps, online or in physical form, with “wrong or false topographic information”-in other words, maps with boundaries that don’t match the government’s.
The draft bill specifies “No person shall depict, disseminate, publish or distribute any wrong or false topographic information of India including international boundaries through internet platforms or online services or in any electronic or physical form. Whoever acquired any geospatial information of India in contravention of the law shall be punished with a fine ranging from Rs 1 crore ($150,000) to Rs 100 crore ($15 million) and or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.”
The bill also mandates that all individuals and companies producing maps in India, and all Indian citizens doing so globally should procure a license from the government.
Citizens and stakeholders will have 30 days to comment 30 days to comment on the proposed bill, released to the public on Wednesday, May 25.
The government also has proposed to set up a Security Vetting Authority to carry out security vetting of the Geospatial Information of India in a time bound manner and as per the regulations framed by an apex committee. According to the draft bill, the Security Vetting Authority, on receipt of an application and after examining the application in terms of the guidelines, shall either grant the license or reject the application as the case may be. The act will extend to the whole of India and also applies to citizens of India outside India, persons in the service of the government, persons on ships and aircrafts, registered in India, any person who commits an offence beyond India.
The Draft Bill will ensure that online platforms like Google will have to apply for a licence to run Google Maps or Google Earth in India.
This issue was triggered at a time when international agencies, social networking sites and online services such as Google Maps was showing regions of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as a part of Pakistan and China respectively.
Trouble is, the Indian government’s definition of its borders are drawn not according to the area it controls, but rather as if all of its ongoing territorial disputes with China and Pakistan were already settled in India’s favor.
This is not the first time India has shown its sensitivity about the representation of its borders. The country admonished Google, first in December 2005 and then again in 2013, for showing Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as part of Pakistan in various Google products. A 2014 report from the US Department of Defense made the same cartographic choice, catching the attention of Indian media. Now, Google Maps won’t highlight any borders of the country.
HOW THIS IS RELATED TO MODI GOVERNMENT
The draft law is in line with the nationalist agenda of India’s two-year-old government led by Narendra Modi. His government’s supporters have brought what they see to be numerous map-based transgressions to the fore through social media. A year ago, Al Jazeera was forced to stop broadcasting in the country for five days after the surveyor general announced that “a portion of Indian territory has not been shown as a part of India in some of [Al Jazeera’s] maps while the territorial boundary of India is not shown with clarity and proper shape in another map.”
Of course, if Pakistan and China, which also are sensitive about their borders, started prosecuting under similar laws, it would be impossible to make a map of the region including political borders without running afoul of any of the nations’ laws.
-by Pavithraa Swaminathan
Pavithraa is a blogger and an intern at NewsGram. Twitter handle: @Pavith_peaked