Pakistan expresses concern over India’s controversial ‘maps bill’


ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has expressed serious concern to the United Nations (UN) Secretary General and the President of the UN Security Council (UNSC) over efforts to pass into law the controversial Geospatial Information Regulation Bill which aims to restrict geographical depictions of India and disputed Kashmir to those that are government-approved.

Under the draft bill, anyone distributing a map the Indian government deems to be “wrong” could be liable for a billion-rupee fine and jail time.

Foreign Office Spokesman Nafees Zakaria said India’s “incorrect and legally untenable” official map, in violation of UNSC resolutions, displays the disputed territory of Azad Jammu and Kashmir as part of India.

Through the passage of this Bill, the Indian government would be able to penalise the individuals and organisations that depict AJK as a disputed territory in accordance with UNSC resolutions, Zakaria said.

New Delhi already imposes tight restrictions on maps but if it becomes law, the bill would impose specific penalties for the first time.

A letter sent to the UN in this regard by Pakistan’s permanent representative in New York calls on the body to uphold the UNSC resolutions and urge India to stop acts that are in violation of international law.

Pakistan also urged the international community and UN to fulfil their commitment to the people of AJK by holding an independent and impartial plebiscite under UN auspices.

India’s Geospatial Information Regulation Bill

The bill, which is up for public consultation, was published on the home ministry’s website earlier this month and lists penalties, including a prison term of up to seven years and a fine of one billion rupees.

“No person shall depict, disseminate, publish or distribute any wrong or false topographic information of India including international boundaries through Internet platforms or online services or in any electronic or physical form,” the draft Geospatial Information Regulation Bill says.

The new bill also states that a licence will be needed to “acquire, disseminate, publish or distribute” maps, meaning services like Google Maps and Apple Maps could have to apply for permits.

Anyone wanting to use India’s geospatial image outside the country will also have to secure permission.

Last year, the government took the Al Jazeera news channel off air for nearly a week, saying it had repeatedly shown incorrect maps of Kashmir.

In 2011 it ordered The Economist magazine to cover up a map of disputed borders in Kashmir. The news weekly placed white stickers over a diagram of the borders in 28,000 copies on sale in India. Google has also run into problems with Indian authorities over maps.

In 2014, the national surveying agency filed a complaint against the company for displaying varying maps of India on its different country webpages.

The government has invited comments and suggestions from the public on the new draft, which will likely be tabled in the next session of parliament in July.

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