Geospatial information basically refers to data of any location on Earth. This includes details or imagery of the geographical features of a particular place, latitude and longitude coordinates, names of urban or rural centres, addresses, territorial boundaries, ZIP codes and so on. It is usually acquired through aerial means like satellites, planes, balloons by the use of various techniques. It also refers to information that is related or near to cartographic devices like maps, surveys and terrestrial photographs and geographical charts.
The government has formulated the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill to regulate the dissemination of geospatial information. However, it has not been implemented as of yet due to heavy opposition. The government, in response, has invited the Indian public to put forward their suggestions on improving the bill.
Provisions of the Geospatial Information Regulation Bill
1. Acquisition of Geospatial Information of India
The introductory clause states that no entity or individual has the right to acquire geospatial information of India, except those who have been granted permission by this act or by the Security Vetting Authority. Individuals who are already in possession of such information should approach the Security Vetting Authority within a year and submit an application to it for continued used of it.
The said agency should respond within three months by either approving or rejecting the request. Opportunities will be given to appeal against rejections and present a defence.
2. Dissemination, Publication or Distribution of the Geospatial Information of India
Dissemination and visual representation of geospatial information through the internet or electronic media is to be prohibited.
3. Use of Geospatial Information of India outside India
Distribution and publication of geospatial information outside India has been disallowed, except if sanctioned by an international treaty or the Security Vetting Authority of India.
4. Wrongful depiction of the map of India etc.
This provision proscribes incorrect depiction of India’s international boundaries and its topographical features.
5. Apex Committee
An Apex Committee will be created to supervise the implementation of the provisions of this bill and the various national policies associated with this subject. Fiduciary matters like fees and charges will also be handled by this body. It will be formed by the central government which will give it guidelines to follow on national security and public interest.
6. Security Vetting Authority
A Security Vetting Authority will be constituted to look into requests for permission and conduct background checks on them. This agency will comprise three individuals – a Chairman not below the rank of a Joint Secretary, a technical expert and a national security expert. The actions of the Security Vetting Authority will have to accord with the government-issued guidelines on national security and public interest.
7. Licence to acquire, disseminate, publish or distribute any Geospatial Information of India
In order to publish or distribute geospatial information about India, an individual will have to request permission from the Security Vetting Authority. After a thorough examination is conducted, the Security Vetting Authority may select to approve or reject the request. In case of a rejection, the applicant will be given ample opportunity to defend his or her case.
8. Suspension or revocation of licence
Licenses granted may be suspended or revoked if proper procedures are not followed. Licenses will be suspended for at most ten days and they will be revoked if the enforcement authority finds the licensee to be at fault. The licensee will again be given ample opportunity to defend himself or herself.
9. Obligations of Licensee
The licensee is allowed to disseminate and publish only that which has been approved by the Security Vetting Authority. The nature of dissemination and publication of the information and the term of publication needs to determined beforehand. The insignia of the Security Vetting Authority needs to be present on all images or documents shared. The licensee must pay punitive charges for any loss or damage caused to an entity situated in India or abroad, if the information is misused.
10. Offences and penalties
The bill prescribes various fines and penalties for failing to comply with the guidelines so far listed. Anyone who obtains geospatial information on India without the explicit permission of the Security Vetting Authority or as mentioned in the bill will have to tender an amount ranging from one crore to hundred crores as fine and can be jailed for a period of seven years at the most.
Unauthorised individuals who distribute geospatial information about India through online mass media are liable to be fined an amount ranging from ten lakhs to one hundred crores and can be imprisoned for seven years. Usage of geospatial information of India abroad may lead to a fine of one to one hundred crores and a prison sentence of up to seven years.
Incorrect depictions of Indian geography and international boundaries will result in a fine of ten lakhs to one hundred crores and an imprisonment of up to seven years. A similar fine and prison sentence will be imposed on people who violate the terms and conditions of their licence.
11. Enforcement Authority
An administrative body such as an Enforcement Authority needs to be constituted by the central government to ensure that the provisions of this act are put into effect. The Enforcement Authority will be headed by a Chairman, who bears the position equivalent to a Joint Secretary, a technical expert and a national security expert.
This body will supervise the enforcement of the act and make sure that individuals and companies conform to the guidelines set down in this act. The Enforcement Authority will also be empowered to delegate its powers to subordinate committees and officers.
However, this will not apply to its powers of adjudicating whether a case is to be tried at the Court of Sessions or the determination of the amount of fine that is to be paid. This body will also have to follow the guidelines framed by the government or the Apex Committee.
12. Power to inquire into contraventions
The Enforcement Authority will be able to investigate any violations of the terms of a license. It will be allowed to access any material or database to acquire information which will help it either substantiate or debunk its suspicions. It may instruct and even order people to assist its inquiry.
13. Power to adjudicate
The Enforcement Authority has been endowed with certain powers of a civil court, therefore, it will be able to adjudicate cases of violations of its terms. Cases may be filed on the basis of complaints or if the Enforcement Authority itself finds substantial basis for it. It can also ask the police to investigate the matter and bring it in front of a Sessions Court. Punitive measures include the imposition of fines, confiscation of property and resources and suspension or revocation of licenses.
14. Power of Enforcement Authority to give directions
The Enforcement Authority can serve cease and desist notices to violators. If the violator chooses to disregard it, it will be denoted as an offence on their part and they will be liable to fines up to one crore and a prison sentence of up to three years.
15. Compounding of contraventions
In case of repeat offences within one year, fines may be compounded. However, they should not exceed the maximum amount.
16. Recovery of penalty
Failure to pay the penalty will result in suspension of the license.
17. Appellate Authority
An Appellate Authority needs to be constituted for the purpose of judging appeals against the decisions of the Security Vetting Authority and the Enforcement Authority. It will comprise a retired Supreme Court or High Court Judge who will act as the Chairman, Other members will include a national security expert and a technical expert. Conversely, an already existing judicial body like the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) may also be nominated to serve the purpose of an Appellate Authority.
18. Appeal to Appellate Authority
The Appellate Authority will be available to listen to grievances caused by the orders of the Security Vetting Authority and the Enforcement Authority, provided the appeal is filed within forty five days of the issuance of the original order. However, appeals filed after the lapse of forty five days may be heard if the body is given a valid reason for it. The Appellate Authority will pass its judgement on the case as soon as possible, preferably within six months.
19. Procedure and powers of the Appellate Authority
The Appellate Authority will be vested by the same powers as is endowed on a civil court. It will be able to summon individuals, mandate the production of evidence, examine witnesses and so on.
20. Court will not have jurisdiction
No court is allowed to judge a matter which should be judged by the Appellate Authority.
21. Appeal to High Court
An appeal to the High Court may be made if an individual is dissatisfied with the judgement of the Appellate Authority. This appeal needs to be filed within sixty days. Appeals filed afterwards will be entertained only if the High Court finds the reason for the delay acceptable.
22. Prompt disposal of Appeals
All appeals will be handled as speedily as possible, keeping in mind the sensitive matter of national security.
23. Power to make rules
The Central Government is allowed to modify the provisions of this act, with respect to the constitution of the three regulatory bodies, the manner in which they will discharge their duties and their salaries and terms of office.
24. Rules and regulations to be laid before the Parliament
All modifications and alterations made by the Central Government or the Apex Committee will be subject to discussion in the Parliament for a period of thirty days. The order of the Parliament will be final and binding and the government will have to withdraw the changes if both the houses of the Parliament do not accept it.
The Act’s provisions will be overridden if they are seen to hamper the government’s policies. Furthermore, no legal suit can be raised against the Central Government or the regulatory bodies for acting in good faith while pursuing the aims of this Act.
25. This Act will not apply to Indian Governmental Bodies
The Central Government may decide to excuse certain government ministries, departments and agencies from the purview of the act