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MAPPING DEFENCE

There are still people around who believe that the earth is flat. If this sounds incredible one has only to look at India’s ministry of defence. The ministry retains control over the production of maps. In the latest instalment of its show of control, the defence ministry is likely, according to reports, to shoot down the idea of producing computer-based navigational maps which could help motorists and travellers to find their bearings in an unknown area or locality. According to existing regulations the production of all maps, in print or in digital form, require the prior approval of the ministry of defence and the Survey of India. This approval is not always forthcoming and publishers of maps have to go through innumerable bureaucratic obstacles to get the required permission. The project that is now under the threat of being vetoed by defence ministry officials is similar to the global positioning system which is now widely used all over the developed world. It will be recalled that earlier this year, the defence ministry, in a fit of paranoia, ordered the Survey of India to do away with contour lines and the highlighting of intersection points between latitudes and longitudes. These essential features of a map are supposed to represent, according to the wisdom of defence ministry mandarins, a threat to national security since missile technology uses contour lines.

Maps have always been very prickly things for Indian officialdom. The rejection of the GPS is one more instance of the bizarre and antiquated notions that inform the decisions of people who nonchalantly walk the corridors of power. Any power or organization harbouring hostile intentions towards India will not be insane enough to depend on contour lines on maps or on the GPS to execute their plans. Far more sophisticated technology and methods are available to get data about the enemy’s terrain. One hopes for the sake of India’s security that the ministry of defence and intelligence agencies use this technology and do not depend on contour lines and the GPS. The control that the defence ministry and the Survey of India maintains over maps and their production is nothing more than a show of petty power. It is one of the ways in which the state stands in the way of citizens accessing even ordinary and innocent information. Indian officialdom is unaware that in an era when even the most secret and classified information of the Pentagon or the Central Intelligence Agency can be hacked into, this kind of obsession about withholding information is nothing short of obtuseness.

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