Google Maps may soon need permission to depict India

06 May 2016


School students in India have long had to make do with shoddily-produced Indian atlases because of the government's paranoia about maps made abroad, even in this day of satellite imaging and Google Maps. Now, instead of stepping back, it has decided to go even further.

Wrong depiction of India's map like Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir as part of Pakistan or Arunachal Pradesh in China could land you in the soup, as the government is set to come out with a law – the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016 -  that punishes wrong depiction, dissemination, publication or acquisition of India's geospatial information (geographical features including maps).

Violators of the provisions, whether in India or outside, face a fine ranging from Rs1 crore to as much as Rs100 crore, and imprisonment up to seven years – though it is difficult to imagine how this can be imposed on foreign entities.

If the bill is enacted, no person shall acquire geospatial imagery or data including value addition of any part of India either through any space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircraft, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles or terrestrial vehicles, or any other means whatsoever.

The law makes it illegal for companies to provide maps or imaging services like Google Maps without a prior licence. The licences will be provided only after the maps and the related services have been vetted by a Security Vetting Authority (SVA) that will be formed under the Union home ministry.

The SVA under the regulations of the Apex Authority, also under the union home ministry, shall carry out vetting of the Geospatial information of India in a time bound manner that will have to be adhered to.

This would ensure that online platforms like Google will have to apply for a license to run Google Maps or Google Earth in India and adhere to the geospatial information provided by the SVA.

The bill stipulates that "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 acquires any geospatial information of India in contravention of the law shall be punished with a fine ranging from Rs1 crore to Rs100 crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years," says the draft bill.

Twitter and Google a few months ago had shown incorrect Indian maps, prompting India to lodge a strong protest following which the mistake was corrected.

The government, which has put the bill up for public debate, plans to bring it in the next session of Parliament, thereby enforcing what it deems India's correct geographical features. The Union home ministry after a month or so would put the bill up for cabinet clearance, according to a dna report citing sources.

To further ensure that its vetted geospatial is adhered to, the bill puts condition that "the Licensee shall display the insignia of the clearance of the Security Vetting Authority on the security vetted geospatial information by appropriate means such as water-marking or licence as relevant, while disseminating or distributing of such geospatial information."

No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the central government or apex committee or Security Vetting Authority or Enforcement Authority on whom powers have been conferred pursuant to this Act, for anything which was done or purported to be done in good faith in pursuance of this Act or for any rule or regulation made under this Act, the draft bill says.

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