Defending India…and its Map

Accurate maps must be easily available to the public

It is one thing for India to ban maps and globes which, by imposing their interpretations of India’s external boundaries, hit the nation’s raw nerve. But it is quite another thing for the defenders of India’s territorial integrity to block the release of accurate maps of India. The Ministry of Defence has been blocking attempts to release detailed maps of India due to, well, security reasons.

Defence Ministry officials said they objected to completely detailed and accurate digital maps for the public domain. These maps were to be called National Base Maps (NBMs) and the Defence Ministry wanted them to be somewhat less accurate than Defence series Maps (DSMs) which would cater to defence and security needs.

For example, the Ministry did not want heights and contours to be shown on the public domain maps.

It had also suggested introducing a random 50-metre error on the public maps. [IE]

Topographical information about India — heights and contours included — is readily available to anyone thanks to satellite imaging. High-resolution satellite photographs are available from various commercial sources. Sinister and non-so-sinister foreigners interested in India’s detailed geography can obtain whatever they want without having to purchase that information from the Indian government’s officially sanctioned vendor. Ordinary citizens, small businesses and local governmental organisations though, cannot. That leaves the bona fide users worse off.

Common sense must be allowed to prevail. Like many other countries, the Indian government must release accurate maps for civilian use, which leave out classified information. But this little episode has a deeper message for the defence establishment — it must learn to operate in an environment of increasing openness and transparency. Recently, the Indian Army regretted not taking journalists up the mountains to cover the Kargil war. In the age of eyes-in-the-sky and embedded reporting, seeking cover behind quaint ideas of secrecy and the ‘classified’ stamp will be ineffective, and worse.

Related Link: The Armed Liberal writes about War in a time of Information over at the Winds of Change.

7 thoughts on “Defending India…and its Map”

  1. In China they actually sell 3D physical maps. You can buy them at any book shop in many different sizes. I though it was a good teaching tool as you can see the patterns of the mountains, river flow etc. I am sure they have contour data on some computer and the Chinese maps show most of north and north east India too. I think if the Indian don’t make the digital maps available, we could always source it from Chinese. Or subscribe to Google’s Keyhole for USD 69.95 and get any detailed 3-D map you want. Wonder how the custom guys will stop digital maps.

  2. As someone who works with GIS, I have to say that this is foolish behavior on the part of the Indian government. They should make the data available for free, give software grants, and watch a thousand flowers bloom …

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