Update: A statement in Parliament is non-committal on why exactly the complaint was filed, except that the Mapathon was without permission. In our opinion (detailed below), India’s Maps policy is regressive and bureaucratic, leaving little scope for innovation, with little focus on consumers and the benefits that easy access to maps bring. The statement in Parliament:

Impact of Mapathon on Security

M/s Google, without any approval from any agency of the Government of India, conducted the Mapathon 2013 Competition to encourage participants to map their neighbourhood and places they ‘care about’ within the geographical boundaries of India. From national security point of view, civil and military Vital Areas (VAs)/Vital Points (VPs) cannot be shown in the map/data published in public domain. Surveyor General of India on 21.3.2013 wrote to M/s Google to stop the competition. A Police Complaint has also been lodged by Survey of India at R.K. Puram PS, New Delhi against M/s Google.

This was stated by Shri R.P.N.Singh, Minister of State in the Ministry of Home Affairs in written reply to a question by Shri R.Thamaraiselvan in the Lok Sabha today.

April 8th 2013: Last week, the Survey of India, the official survey and mapping organization in India, filed a complaint with the Delhi Police against Google for hosting its Mapathon contest, which encourages Indians to add information to maps. According to reports – see Business Standard and the Economic Times – they said that the Mapathon 2013 is likely to jeopardize India’s national security interests and violates the national map policy, as per which the responsibility for producing, maintaining and disseminating the topographic map database lies with the Survey of India.

Issues With The Archaic Maps Policy

Frankly, I don’t understand how mapping Hospitals, Emergency services, Utilities, Restaurants, Roads and Addresses can jeopardize national security: that’s like banning cars on the road because people might be run over. I’m using Google Maps multiple times a week, and if someone is making them more accurate, the utility outweighs the risk. Secondly, I don’t think the mandate to create maps should be restricted to just the Survey of India, which, before this report, I’d never heard of. If there was an official encyclopedia in India, then would the government ban Wikipedia? Instead, the Survey of India should emulate the crowdsourcing model, and provide better and more information to citizens; take a leaf out of the Planning Commission’s book and do a mapping hackathon.

Thirdly, maybe they need to read the National Maps policy again. It’s objectives are quite clear:
– To provide, maintain and allow access and make available the National Topographic Database (NTDB) of the SOI conforming to national standards.
– To promote the use of geospatial knowledge and intelligence through partnerships and other mechanisms by all sections of the society and work towards a knowledge-based society.

Asking for the Mapathon to be banned doesn’t achieve either of these objectives; in fact, it works against them. At the same time, the National Maps Policy does appear to offer Survey of India exclusivity over what it calls ‘Open Series Maps’:

(b) Open Series Maps (OSMs) – OSMs will be brought out exclusively by SOI, primarily for supporting development activities in the country. OSMs shall bear different map sheet numbers
and will be in UTM Projection on WGS-84 datum. Each of these OSMs (in both hard copy and digital form) will become “Unrestricted” after obtaining a one-time clearance of the Ministry of
Defence. The content of the OSMs will be as given in Annexure ‘B’. SOI will ensure that no civil and military Vulnerable Areas and Vulnerable Points (VA’s/VP’s) are shown on OSMs.

The SOI will issue from time to time detailed guidelines regarding all aspects of the OSMs like procedure for access by user agencies, further dissemination/sharing of OSMs amongst user
agencies with or without value additions, ways and means of protecting business and commercial interests of SOI in the data and other incidental matters. Users will be allowed to publish maps on hard copy and web with or without GIS database. However, if the international boundary is depicted on the map, certification by SOI will be necessary.

In addition, the SOI is currently preparing City Maps. These City Maps will be on large scales in WGS-84 datum and in public domain. The contents of such maps will be decided by the
SOI in consultation with Ministry of Defence.

So, if our world was restricted to what the Survey of India allowed, here’s what our maps would have:

open-maps-india

It’s been eight years since 2005. Here’s what the Survey of India appears to have done:
– http://www.surveykshan.gov.in/ , which the Survey of India’s website links to as “web map service” does not work.
– It is selling digital maps. Why aren’t their maps, which are created with taxpayer money, not available for the taxpayer to use?
– There are online maps for 19 Indian states (see this), and this is what the map of Delhi on their website looks like:
open-maps-delhi

Also, how archaic is the thinking in the policy on these maps? No hotels, no key landmarks, no ATMs or banks, Hospitals, petrol pumps.

Frankly, the National Maps policy needs to be revised to allow for innovation, citizen participation, and remove exclusivity for government bodies which appear to be outdated, protectionist and out of touch with peoples needs.

Download: National Maps Policy (pdf) and The Survey of India’s guidelines for implementing the National Maps Policy

P.s.: our stated position on copyright in content and software created by the government of India, which was a part of our comments submitted to the government on amendments to the copyright act:

5) Introduction of Creative Commons, and for certain software to not be under copyright in public interest: Content and computer software technologies created with funding from the Government have been created with funding from the people of India. Yet much of this content remains treated as being owned and for commercial exploitation by the Government. The intellectual property created by the government is the intellectual property of its people, and all citizens of India should have the right to access it, having already paid for it. In many cases, especially research work done related to digital technologies, the society at large would benefit if these would be available for further development by citizens of the county, and are either open sourced or, at least, made available for further development under licences such as Creative Commons.

Take, for specific example, work done by C-DAC on Indian language fonts, which are still treated as proprietary, and are available only for purchase to citizens, and not for creating improved software. There is a clear digital divide being created because the tools and software for creating Indian language content on the Internet and mobile, whether for education, communication or information, are not more widely available. There is also precedence in the Linux Operating System, a collaborative community used as a base for creating free and open source computer operating systems, thus creating an alternative to expensive, proprietary software.

As we move towards 1 billion mobile customers, please keep in mind that a significant majority of it will not be able to SMS or communicate in Indian language fonts. It is pertinent to note that works created by the judiciary i.e. judgments are not subject to copyright. We believe that ideally, works created by the government should not be subject to copyright either. Such a provision would not make Indian law an aberration. For example, it is the law in the US for works created by the employees of the federal government in the course of employment not to be protected by copyright.

As a second best alternative, government works should at least be made easily available to citizens to create (and use!) enhancements and other derivative works possibly through licences such as share-alike Creative Commons licences. This would encourage the collaborative development of tools which will benefit Indian society as digital technologies become more pervasive.