No case to make map law stringent

India has a tradition of very illiberal and anachronistic legislation in many areas though the country is proud to be an open, democratic society and aspires to keep pace with the world in the use of the most modern technological tools in communications, governance and administration. Many of these illiberal laws are legacies from colonial times but every once in a while a new law surfaces which is restrictive of freedoms and out of sync with the times. The draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill which the Union Home Ministry has publicised is one such. In simple terms, the bill is about maps. It covers all kinds of maps including territorial representation of the country and the image form of all specialised data like forest cover and other natural resources, infrastructure or industrial development, population distribution and incidence or spread of diseases. The new bill will make creation and dissemination of such data representation difficult and even risky.

The bill mandates permission from the govern-ment through a Security Vetting Authority for making and distributing such imagery and data, secured through space or aerial platforms like satellites and all graphical data contained in graphs, charts, photos etc. This will include GPS systems in vehicles and in smartphones, and a licence has to be procured by organisations and individuals who want to use such maps. The penalty for violation is very severe and can go up to Rs 100 crore in fine and 7 years’ jail. Maps are certainly sensitive and the purpose of the bill is said to be protection of ‘national security, sovereignty, safety and integrity’. But the bill goes much beyond these objectives
and will become a method of harassment and persecution of people and organisations who have to make or use maps, like media organisations, users of smart phones and taxi drivers. In the strict sense of law, a teacher who draws a wrong map of India on the blackboard and a student who copies it in his note book can be punished under this law.
India has a strong law and a clear map policy formulated in 2005. There is no case for making it more stringent. The need is actually to make it more liberal. In the age of internet and other modern communications, it is pointless to introduce a licence raj into the world of data including map information. Maps and charts are needed for ordinary lives and for development. The proposed law will hurt even government schemes like Digital India. The effort should be to share more data, not to restrict it and penalise those who disseminate it.

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