March 2, 2008 12:22:20 am
In the time of Google Earth when you can locate your living room on the web, in the time of a confident India emerging as a global power, the government still feels that a line-drawing could undermine its sovereignty.
So even as the Information and Broadcasting Ministry plans to ease regulations on advertising in foreign print media, an archaic practice is delaying their distribution.
Every edition which carries a map of India — particularly one depicting the Indo-Pak border — is delayed by at least two days. The reason: a special cell of the Customs department stamps each map in every single copy imported with the message: “The external boundaries of India as depicted are neither accurate nor authentic”. The ugly sarkari blue stamp impression is often illegible.
“While our magazine is to hit the stands on Mondays, we are only able to make it available on Wednesdays due to this whole map-stamping exercise. This is a problem in the competitive media world. You have a story which must be out on Monday but fails to do so. Then the story becomes stale or has already been published. All the clockwork precision falls apart,” says the bureau chief of a foreign news magazine on the condition that he not be named. “It is ridiculous. The stamping is done manually so the map can hardly be seen properly in any case and, worse, even the stamp impression is unreadable at times. Now that we are picking up circulation, it’s a pity such things can delay the magazine’s distribution so badly.”
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The head of another reputed international news magazine says he faces the “rubber stamping” almost with every single issue. His predecessor is reported to have taken up the issue with officials concerned but it didn’t help.
In New Delhi, the process starts at the Indira Gandhi International terminal’s cargo shed. The Joint Commissioner, Cargo, heads a 40-member team with an Inspector and Superintendent who have been deputed the job of checking all printed material for anything that may be “inflammatory” or any representation of India in maps which is considered “incorrect”.
In case of any “offensive” representation, the clearing agent of the magazine’s publishing house in India is called to the Customs office. The consignment is opened, and each map in every single copy is then stamped.
While cargo sections at the airports in Delhi and Mumbai carry out this exercise zealously, it is not followed so strictly in smaller cities. To convey its frustration, The Economist, in its edition dated September 5, 2007, published a piece titled “No cartographical conspiracy here” under a section titled “No offence” in its “Asia View” section. (The magazine has an editorial arrangement with The Indian Express.)
“There is no surer way for The Economist’s Asia section to cause offence than to publish a map. Almost any cartographic representation of the continent is bound to upset some individual reader or government. Alas, we use maps not to portray the world as it ought to be, or even as we would like it to be, but as it is,” it said.
“Angered most often, to judge by its actions, is the government of India. Our maps that include the disputed territory of Kashmir show it carved up into Indian, Pakistani and Chinese areas of control. Every time we print one, every single issue of the magazine distributed in India is defaced with an official stamp. The government thinks it important to inform readers that the external boundaries of India as depicted are ‘neither correct nor authentic’.
“Some readers in India seem to suspect us of malice: perhaps we publish such maps purely to irk the authorities and add to the overtime earnings of the hard-pressed stampers. The truth is more benign: in using ‘the line of control’ that divides Kashmir in the absence of an agreed international frontier we are merely noting the status quo, not endorsing it,” it added.
Inaccurate map an offence
Anyone who wants to publish a map of India in a textbook or magazine has to approach the Survey of India, which has a special cell that takes at least a month to certify the map after checking its authenticity manually. In case the map is of a higher scale than usual, a certification is also required from the Military Survey Cell. The Survey of India gets over 3,700 such requests every year. Publication of inaccurate external boundaries and coastline of India is a cognizable offence under Section 2 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1961 and is tantamount to questioning the territorial integrity of India.
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