People and companies that inaccurately depict India’s boundaries may soon be breaking a law.
The government is drafting a Bill that makes this a cognizable offence.
Currently, those representing India’s boundaries incorrectly are either asked to withdraw this or carry a legend saying the maps are incorrect—this explains the government’s blue rubber stamp that can be found masking most maps carried in international newspapers and magazines that recognize Pakistan occupied Kashmir as a part of Pakistan and not India.
Now, at least within the country, doing this would be a crime.
India announced a map policy in 2005—this policy removed the restriction on public availability of maps of the Survey of India—but this does not have any provisions to punish people who incorrectly depict India’s boundaries.
“The national map policy lays down specific guidelines for the use of maps, including licensing for the media, but in cases of misrepresentation the government is forced to invoke other laws, such as those relating to violations of official secrets or customs (Act),” said the surveyor general of India, Maj-Gen M. Gopal Rao, who heads the national survey and mapping organization of the country, the Dehra Dun-based Survey of India.
The legislation, which may eventually be called the Indian Survey Act, has been prepared by the department of science and technology, which is responsible for implementation of the national map policy, and is currently being vetted by the law ministry.
Rao said publications and electronic media can either procure licensed maps from the Survey of India, or generate maps and have them authenticated by the organization.
“However, there have been cases, especially involving missionary organizations funded from abroad, where we have seen repeated violations and distorted depictions of our national boundaries. Depictions in keeping with our stated positions are vital for our territorial integrity and a specific law will help us do that,” he added.
In some international maps, the area India defines as Pakistan occupied Kashmir is shown to be part of Kashmir, and some parts of the North-Eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh are show as part of China.
According to an official familiar with the proposed legislation, it seeks to empower the Survey of India with rights to “search and seize”.
Currently, most serious complaints are routed through the home ministry to the local administration.
“In cases where distorted or wrong maps are published, the state government is asked to take action against the publisher,” a spokesperson of the home ministry said. “In cases where distorted or wrong maps are televised, the ministry of information and broadcasting can be asked to take necessary action against the TV channel. And in case distorted maps have been published abroad, the ministry of external affairs is asked to take up the matter with the country concerned.”
Rao said while about a dozen cases of inaccurate depiction of the country’s external boundaries are noticed annually, in most cases the media organizations concerned withdraw such maps after being intimated by the Survey of India.
But in some cases the government has had to clamp down on the publications due to repeated violations.
And in cases of distorted maps published abroad—Rao said this is understandable to an extent because some publications need to take into account divergent claims of different countries—customs authorities have sometimes had to step in and seize copies being brought into the country.
Apart from clearer guidelines for dealing with violations, the proposed legislation seeks to grant functional autonomy to the Survey of India, the oldest scientific department in the country, set up by the British in 1767.