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How Google, Uber, Ola And Others Might Soon Need A License To Operate There Mapping Services In India

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Well, with the India’s own navigation system safely up into space, it seems like private companies that offer mapping services are going to get it. A proposal from the Home Ministry has suggested that no-one, organization or private individual, should be able to offer maps online without first getting a license for the same from the government.

The proposal, which has been going under the rather fancy name of  “REGULATION OF GEOSPATIAL INFORMATION OF INDIA” seeks to limit the private parties that have until now, been freely mapping the country.

A quick look at one of the introductory paragraphs is sufficient to understand the proposing committee’s viewpoint.

Save as otherwise provided in this Act, rules or regulations made thereunder, or with a general or special permission of the Security Vetting Authority, no person shall acquire geospatial imagery or data including value addition of any part of India either through any space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles or terrestrial vehicles, or any other means whatsoever.

Well, the ministry seemed to have had no such qualms until now. Companies like Google, Uber, Ola etc. had been making free use of the information and what’s more, without any suitable ‘government approved’ alternatives to turn to, the general public had been turning to one or other of these services whenever they needed some “geospatial information’ as well.

So what will happen to these companies, should the draft be formed into a law? They are private after all and have been in possession of this data since years. In fact, companies like Uber and Ola can hardly be expected to survive without a perfectly functioning mapping system. Well, the private agencies may be allowed to hold on to their information, but only after they have been scrutinized by a Security Vetting Authority constituted for this express purpose — and have paid a fees.

Every person who has already acquired any geospatial imagery or data of any part of India either through space or aerial platforms such as satellite, aircrafts, airships, balloons, unmanned aerial vehicles or terrestrial vehiclesor any other manner including value addition prior to coming of this Act into effect, shall within one year from the commencement of this Act,make an application alongwith requisite fees to the Security Vetting Authority for retaining such geospatial information and grant of licence thereof.

So, yup. We are not expecting any private agency that makes use of mapping in its business to root for the draft. And you will be surprised by the actual number of companies that deploy this information. While Uber and Ola are some of the most obvious candidates, delivery services — be it food, goods, whatever — vehicle aggregators — cabs, trucks, mini trucks — are also going to be affected, should this draft be presented and passed. Flipkart Maps, delivery services operating for online retailers? All covered.

What’s more, the fine for using the information without permits, or even publishing information that differs from the official viewpoint in certain cases — for example, in term of the disputed Kashmir territory– will be illegal and will attract a large fine ranging anywhere between Rs. 10 lakh and Rs. 100 crore along with upto seven years in jail. Wow, talk about disproportionate punishments!

So the draft, if converted to a law, basically has the potential to leave a significant chunk of companies operating in the country — including giants like Uber, Zomato, Ola etc. — at the mercy of the government, while also giving the latter an additional source of revenue. Somehow, i don’t really think this is what PM Modi was envisioning when talking about a connected, digital India.

I think we can pretty much guess how corporate entities are going to react to the proposal. Apart from restraining the use of information they have been using to run their businesses, the draft if passed, will also hinder regular updates as the companies wait for their submissions to be passed by the authorities. Well, lets see how the legislative bodies react to the draft and if it’s seriously considered as eligible to be formed into a law or not.

A bibliophile and a business enthusiast.

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