India’s New Map Restriction Policy 2017 is an old wine in a...

India’s New Map Restriction Policy 2017 is an old wine in a new bottle


Before I am incarcerated for commenting on a restricted document please note that I have downloaded this from here.

Old wine in a new bottle sums up the so called new map policy which claims to be prepared considering “the liberal economic regime and to accommodate the technological changes that have taken place in the field of Cartography and advancement in space based technology”. There is no mention of digital technology, in particular GIS and the Internet, unless all these are convolved under the rubric of ‘Cartography’. That itself illustrates the woeful state of mind of the authors of this astounding document. The mindset, in spite of the obeisance to ‘technological changes that have taken place in the field of Cartography and advancement in space based technology’ is well exposed in para 8 where reference is made to an order issued in 1965 for the safe keeping of paper maps! Whither technology advances and space based technologies?

A perspective on the policy

The various clauses are clumsily constructed and at times self contradictory as the discussion will illustrate. Consider clauses 2 and 3. As per clause 2(a) All Defence Series Maps will be restricted or have higher security classification under military considerations. DSMs will not be available to public and these maps will be for official use only and come under the security status required by official documents. Obviously, paper maps are in mind. It would have been better to explicitly state that ‘for official use only’ includes or does not include Civilian government agencies?

New Map Restriction Policy- 2017
The Survey of India’s ‘Instructions for publication of maps by Central/State government Departments/Offices and Private Publishers’ released in 2015 shows areas of India in which certain categories of maps are restricted (in red).
New Map Restriction Policy- 2017
A photocopy copy of the same map in MoD’s New Map Restriction Policy- 2017.

According to clause 2(b) all ‘other’ maps irrespective of scale, format and/or purpose, produced by any government, non-government or private agency are cleared for publication and general distribution including web domain but Clauses 3(d) stipulates that maps at scales larger than 1:4 million will be subject to MoD clearance to assign a suitable security classification. Clauses 3(d) also specifies that maps showing external boundary areas will be vetted by the Survey of India. Thus, there is a conflict between clauses 3(d) and the term ‘irrespective of scale’ in clause 2(b). There is no mention of Open Series Maps of Survey of India. Are they discontinuing this series or are they included in maps from ‘any government agency’?

As per Clause 3(c) the good news is that all small scale maps at scales upto and including 1:50,000 can now include contours and heights but not Civil and Military VAs and VPs.  Thus, OSM maps, satellite and aerial imagery derived maps at 1:50,000 scale are relieved of the restrictions on contours and height points applied under the Map Policy of 2005.  Further, as per interpretation of clause 2(b)(i), such maps at scales larger than 1:50,000 falling within the ‘red line’ demarcated on the SOI index map can also be published. This is an important concession if the interpretation is correct. However as per Clause 3(d) vetting and classification will be applicable.

The exceptions are, as per clause 2(b)(i) all maps at scales larger than 1:50,000 and falling outside the ‘red line’ and which show contours and height points are restricted. As per clause 2(b)(ii) maps of Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands for scales larger than 1:50,000 are also similarly restricted. As per clause 3(a) maps under categories 2(b)(i) and (ii) are for official use only and are to be treated as official documents for security purposes. Further, for military reasons the MoD might upgraded some of the maps to secret. For these areas, as per clause 3(b) only DSMs can be published with contour and height points. Other maps of these areas, which are at scales larger than 1:50,000, cannot show contours and height points as well as VAs and VPs.

Clauses 2(b)(iii) and (iv) completely excludes areas where boundaries are in dispute. The red line clearly avoids POK, for example. Also much of the borders with Tibet and the North East which are ‘unsettled’ will come under this category. In these areas maps at scales larger than 1:50,000 cannot show contours and height points and Civil and Military VAs and VPs. Further, publication of such maps is forbidden under Clause 3(b). Only DSMs can be published for these areas. This implies that maps of all these areas mapped by any other party cannot be published. Thus detailed maps of glaciers, landslides, geomorphology and geology of these areas cannot be published.

Read together these rules imply that all agencies are free to create  and publish maps at scales smaller than1:4 million without any restrictions and vetting by MoD! Incidentally, the only satellite data which can yield meaningful maps at scales smaller than 1:4 million are meteorological satellites whose data is restricted by IMD any way!

Clause 4 covers publication of maps by Central and State government agencies. Apart from clause 4(a) enjoining the adherence to all the stipulations of clause 2, clause 4(b) explicitly forbids the publication of civil and military VAs and VPs by government agencies. It seems that by including Civil VAs and VPs, all government buildings and installations have to be excluded. Ponder over that. A state cannot show its own buildings like bus stands, railway stations, bridges and perhaps even important roads.

Clause 4(c) also reiterates the need for one time clearance by MoD but adds that any value addition will require the maps to be resubmitted for vetting. Strangely, this point is missed in clause 3(d). Does it mean therefore that non-government and private agents are excluded from this clause? Another example of clumsy formulation.

Clause 4(d) deals with individuals and firms and therefore should have been in 3(d)  since clause 4 deals explicitly with map publication by Central and State government agencies. Clause 4(d) states that individuals and firms have to apply to the concerned State or Central agency for permission to publish the maps made by them. The said agencies may refuse or may refer the request to the MoD with appropriate recommendations for clearance or otherwise. This contradicts clause 2 which clearly mentions that all government, non-government and private agencies can publish maps subject to the various conditions as per clauses 2(b).

Clause 3(e) states that maps containing portions of India by foreign agencies will be subject to the same restrictions. It is not clear how this is going to be enforced.

Clause 2(b)(v) is in classic escape clause which says any map can be declared restricted or higher at the discretion of the MoD.

In a ‘significant’ advance as per clause 4(e), Government and Non-government Agencies and private agencies of Indian or Foreign origin are now allowed to undertake aerial surveys of all unrestricted, restricted and higher security classified areas  provided they stick to the stipulations of clause 2 and guidelines as per MoD letter dated 2006. Whither UAVs and the draft UAV policy?

Clauses 5 to 8 are just rehashes of the conditions which were in practice since 1965. There is no mention of digital maps and their use. Even the rudimentary on-line procurement available on the Survey of India website after the introduction of the 2005 Map Policy is not mentioned. Is it superseded through this order?

Keeping it digital

Like SoI’s Nakshe, this order is Rip-Van-Winklian. It pays a lip service to digital data and proceed to treat maps as paper objects. I had earlier blogged that the Survey of India has missed the Geospatial bus, tonga and bullock cart. I think this is true of MoD as well.

The easiest way to get around this order is not to commit any map to paper but keep it digital and online. In that case none of the clauses will apply.