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Restrictions on map data in digital form

Please help make the Manifesto better, or accept it, and propagate it!
Date: Thu, 16 Dec 1999 05:49:54 +0530

India is almost the only country in the world, which has put enormous 
restrictions in the usage of topographic maps and aerial photographs 
ever since its war with China. Procedure to procure aerial photographs 
and coastal topographic maps has been made so difficult that most people 
particularly teachers, researchers and students requiring them forgot 
that there were such maps at all. In order to teach aerial photography 
and coastal geomorphology, the readily-available coastal maps and aerial 
photographs of other countries had to be used.

Through a World Bank assisted project, the National Remote Sensing 
Agency (NRSA) supplied aerial photographs to several corporations and 
municipalities in India. Because of the restrictions of  the Ministry of 
Defence (MOD), these photographs in the custody of the town planning 
officers could never be put to use, except for sending at the end of 
every year a safe custody report to the concerned authorities. Despite 
these restrictions, foreign companies had to be allowed to take aerial 
photographs of potential mineral-bearing areas for the purpose of 
mineral exploration.

With the initial availability of satellite imageries without 
restrictions, there was a sigh of relief that these imageries could at 
least be used without any restriction. The Ministry of Defence (MOD) 
soon found a method of introducing restrictions even in the use of 
output obtained from coastal satellite imageries on the basis that their 
preparation involved the use of restricted topographic maps. The MOD in 
its memorandum dated 13th July 1998 has introduced severe restrictions 
in the use of information obtained through digitisation of map data and 
showing digital data in the Internet even in the case of unrestricted 

Because of the initiative of the high-tech Chief Minister N. Chandrababu 
Naidu, the Government of Andhra Pradesh has used a Geographic 
Information System (GIS) to prepare about a year ago nine-metre 
resolution maps covering almost the entire state giving the exact 
location of features such as buildings, dwellings, godowns, schools and 
agricultural fields, which help in the planning and execution of rescue 
and relief operations during disasters such as floods and cyclones. But 
these maps could not be put to use so far for want of a certificate from 
the MOD that their usage does not lead to leakage of information on 
sensitive installations vital for the security of the country. After all 
the security of the country is more important than the possible help 
these maps would render to the disaster victims!

The Government of Andhra Pradesh has now taken up two works involving 
digitisation of high resolution maps under the World Bank Assisted 
Hazard Mitigation and Emergency Cyclone Recovery Project. One is the 
"Delta and watershed managements including development of flood 
forecasting model and spatial flood warning" entrusted to Babtie 
International, a UK-based consulting firm, while the other is the 
"Rainfall, wind and storm surge modelling, cyclone tracking including 
coastal zone management" entrusted to WLI Delft Hydraulics, a 
Netherlands-based consulting firm.

All these works could be entrusted to foreign firms, as the MOD does not 
think that the country's security would be hampered by involving foreign 
experts in the digitisation work, but only find it necessary to impose 
restrictions for government departments to make use of the output of 
digitisation work.

As there is no clearance from the MOD, the official website of Andhra 
Pradesh www.andhrapradesh.com had to keep the highly informative GIS 
available with it in cold storage and be content showing the sketchy 
maps of Andhra Pradesh prepared by the www.mapsofindia.com in its 

Why should India alone follow these policies in the name of security 
when the entire world including Russia do not impose such restrictions? 
When a person of the stature of the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh has 
to accept delays and bow down to the policies of the MOD, who else can 
remove these restrictions?

Remote sensing has developed so much that high resolution maps with high 
positional accuracy, exceptional detail and GIS-ready, where one can 
recognise objects as small as one metre on the Earth, could be purchased 
from companies such as the Colorado-based "Space Imaging" at affordable 
price. The MOD may impose restrictions in the use of such maps in India, 
but can it stop other countries from buying imageries of India? The MOD 
may prohibit government departments and companies in India from showing 
accurate digitised maps in the Internet, but can it stop MSN Encarta 
from showing large scale digitised maps of India of high accuracy in the 

A gist of the latest MOD restrictions on map data as approved by the 
Committee of Secretaries, Government of India is as follows.

1.. Till now, Survey of India (SOI) was the only agency authorised to 
undertake digitisation on the basis of Ground Survey Data. In addition 
to this, eight other Government departments requiring digital map data 
for various development activities (that is, Department of Space, 
National Informatics Centre, Ministry of Rural Areas and Employment, 
Geological Survey of India, National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use 
Planning, Ministry of Water Resources, Ministry of Environment & 
Forests, and Department of Ocean Development) would be allowed to 
undertake digitisation of topographic maps of unrestricted areas upto 
1:50,000 scale, already published by SOI, after deleting Defence/Civil 
VAs/VPs and important strategic locations.

2. The digital data/map content of unrestricted areas can include

(i) administrative boundaries as depicted in the SOI maps,
(ii) road features,
(iii) drainage system not connected with any dam,
(iv) all water bodies excepting dams, hydroelectric station symbols and 
their descriptions,
(v) relief in form of layers/slopes and a few spot heights that appear 
on the SOI maps,
(vi) boundaries of cities, towns and villages,
(vii) man-made features other than those areas falling under existing 
MOD restriction,
(viii) area and point features of 'development specific' nature as 
worked out with SOI alone to be provided to each user, and
(ix) an arbitrary grid (not the 'true' grid) for the 'development 
specific' areas.

3. Any of these nine authorised Government departments can provide the 
above digital data to Non-Governmental Organisations and private 
agencies registered with them for development activities for bonafide 
use on the basis of a Memorandum of Understanding and an undertaking 
that the information would not be disclosed to third parties.

4.  Although any of these nine authorised Government departments can 
make value addition to the digitised data, any circulation of the 
improved data has to be cleared by the SOI.

5. Security clearance for 'restricted areas' has to be obtained as usual 
from the Army Headquarters and such data should not be made available in 
the Internet.

R. Jagadiswara Rao

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