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India is considering fines and prison time for people who make maps with the “wrong” borders

The lines have been drawn
David Yanofsky/Quartz on Reto Stöckli/NASA Earth Observatory
The lines have been drawn.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The Indian government takes its borders very seriously—so seriously that it is now considering fining and imprisoning people who publish maps containing borders that don’t match the government’s territorial claims.

A draft measure called “The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016” proposes to punish any person in India or any Indian abroad for publishing or distributing maps, online or in physical form, with “wrong or false topographic information”—in other words, maps with boundaries that don’t match the government’s.

Trouble is, the Indian government’s definition of its borders (pdf) are drawn not according to the area it controls, but rather as if all of its ongoing territorial disputes with China and Pakistan were already settled in India’s favor.

The draft bill (pdf) specifies: “Whoever depicts, disseminates, publishes or distributes any wrong or false topographic information of India including international boundaries…shall be punished with a fine ranging from Rupees ten lac to Rupees one hundred crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.” Rs 10 lac is about $15,000, and Rs 100 crore $15 million.

This is not the first time India has shown its sensitivity about the representation of its borders. The country admonished Google, first in December 2005 and then again in 2013, for showing Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as part of Pakistan in various Google products. A 2014 report from the US Department of Defense made the same cartographic choice, catching the attention of Indian media. Now, Google Maps won’t highlight any borders of the country.

Of course, if Pakistan and China, which also are sensitive about their borders, started prosecuting under similar laws, it would be impossible to make a map of the region including political borders without running afoul of any of the nations’ laws.

(This post was updated at 5:40pm ET with a link to the draft bill and a more relevant excerpt from it.)

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