The Geospatial Information Regulation Bill, 2016, with severe punishment for the wrong depiction of the map of India, is yet another ritualistic frivolity the Narendra Modi government intends to indulge in. Quite apart from the fact that the legislation gives the false impression of a strong measure to promote national security, it is grossly illiberal.
To begin with, imprisonment with a maximum term of seven years and fine up to Rs 100 crore is harsh and excessive. The Bill stipulates permission from a government authority before acquiring, disseminating, publishing, or distributing any geospatial information of India. “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.”
Further, “whoever acquired any geospatial information of India in contravention of the law shall be punished with a fine ranging from Rs 1 crore to Rs 100 crore and/or imprisonment for a period up to seven years.”
Apart from the harshness of the provisions, there is the issue of innocent and careless depiction of wrong maps. It is an indisputable fact that good laws may or may not yield good results but bad ones are also misused and abused. Section 498A and the new provisions enlarging the scope of the outraging of a woman’s modesty are some cases in point. The notorious Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, which was struck down by the Supreme Court last year, was also widely misused all over the country. In general, such legal provisions empower the unscrupulous and cops, at the expense of the law-abiding citizen.
Then there is the question: would the proposed law improve national security? It needs to be emphasized here that national security is a function of the overall efficacy of statecraft, and thus depends on the law-and-order situation, the justice system, general administration, the national defence doctrine, and the foreign policy paradigm. In short, national security has a very strong correlation with the health of the body politic. Improving its health by way of a law is akin to using slimming pills; ill effects invariably follow. This is the reason that tough laws like Tada and Pota were finally withdrawn.
Yet, the charm of special laws is irresistible. For a law is an event, and endeavor to improve governance is a process; the former can be sexy, the latter is full of hard work, even drudgery; the former can be celebrated, the latter can’t be. The United Progressive Alliance could say, and it does say, ‘We brought Nrega. We ensured employment to rural masses.’ But the National Democratic Alliance does not say, ‘We generated 60 million jobs in six years (1998-2004).’ The NDA’s silence over its own excellence is less because of its folly than the perverted state of our public discourse which glorifies statist monstrosities like Nrega that make serfs out of freemen and freewomen. The truth, at any rate, is that events are considered marketable while processes are regarded as electorally less attractive. Hence the appeal of laws in the political class.
The purpose of the proposed legislation seems to appear tough against the enemies of the nation: a regime obsessed with jamborees, optics, and theatrics is concerned primarily with appearances; and the reality is… who cares about it anyway? Therefore, it is not surprising that, despite its bluff and bluster, the Modi government has failed to do anything substantive to improve defence and security.
Modi tries to boast about his personal chemistry with US President Barack Obama by calling him by his Christian name, but this fails to humor the latter. The word ‘India’ does not appear in the 20,000-word Obama doctrine, a treatise prepared by the prominent journalist Jeffrey Goldberg. China continues to be aggressive and obnoxious—the latest instance being its veto at the UN on Azhar Masood—Modi’s Sabarmati bonhomie with Chinese President Xi Jinping notwithstanding. Pakistan remains stubborn in its support of jihadist terror. We have no say in the affairs of Afghanistan despite our good work in rebuilding that war-torn nation. Nepal is getting closer to China.
If the Modi regime feels that its all-around failure on defence, security, and foreign policy can be camouflaged by bringing out an illiberal law, it is being delusional.