Though minister of state for home affairs Kiren Rijiju has tried to calm fears over the proposed Geospatial Information Regulation Bill by stating that the draft Bill was only in a very preliminary stage—and that is why comments were sought from all stakeholders—the government needs to rethink the law from scratch since the operational parts of it are not in keeping with today’s day and age when usage of maps in phones/apps makes conforming to the rules difficult. The existing law also states that those who publish incorrect maps can be punishable with a prison sentence, but how this was applied was different. So, if a Time magazine published a map of India without Arunachal Pradesh, when this came to India, the authorities simply stamped a does-not-conform-to-Indian-boundaries on it. How do you do that with a digital edition of Time which is seen across the world or, in the current context, a Google Maps? Google Maps, when viewed on the internet from India today, does show Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh as part of India, but when Google operated out of China, it may have shown these as part of China (when the map was viewed from Chinese soil) or as disputed territory. Are Google officials to now pay a fine of upto R100 crore or face a maximum jail term of 7 years, and what of people who use this map or use it to tag geo-locations on pictures? Surely a more sensible thing would be to show these as disputed territories?
That apart, dealing with data depicting what is called ‘man-made physical features’ is another problem area for any service from a Zomato to an Uber that uses maps. Uploading details of a new flyover—vital for anyone trying to find the best route to a new restaurant or an office—needs to be vetted, and ‘sensitivity checks’ carried out on the changes and can, according to the Bill, take up to three months. That’s not only a significant problem in terms of loss of time—for everyone using the map—in cities where roads/bridges being added regularly, it is also not clear who is to get the license. Is it enough that Google Maps does this or does every end-user from a Zomato to an Uber need to do this individually? All of these are issues on which complete clarity is needed and while it is good that the government invited comments by issuing a draft, it would be a good idea to conduct open-houses in the way regulators do before coming up with any regulation.