India’s mapping and survey authority, Survey of India (SOI), has dismissed Google Maps as an unauthenticated source that isn’t good enough for serious applications. Taking aim at the accuracy of the mapping and turn-by-turn navigation services provided by the search giant, the SOI has implored Indian citizens to use maps provided by the official mapping organisation itself. This statement comes a little over two months after SOI launched a dedicated website providing access to roughly 3000 maps of the sovereign states and union territories of India.
“Google Maps are not authenticated and are widely used by consumers to find restaurants and parks only,” alleged Surveyor General of India Swarna Subba Rao while speaking at SOI’s 250th anniversary programme in New Delhi. “If you are using Google Maps to reach a restaurant or park, even if you reach 50 meters close to that place, you are happy. But when we have to put a new railway line or a make canals, that is where our topographic maps come in, when you require very accurate, engineering quality data.”
The mapping body’s ire towards Google stems from its lack of control over applications such as Google Maps and Google Earth, which are open and freely available to the Indian populace. The main bone of contention was Google’s mapping solutions showing Jammu & Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh as ‘disputed territories’ and not integral parts of India, which the search giant since has corrected as per the government’s regulations for the Indian editions of Google Maps and Google Earth. Accusing Google’s maps of being inaccurate, the mapping body also claims to deliver accurate maps for serious engineering, developmental, and defence applications. However, SOI has failed to clarify that maps of such precision aren’t available to the public yet.
Interestingly, this statement comes from the same body that some say was tacitly responsible for the disastrous Sino-Indian war of 1962, which arguably stemmed from mapping errors. But historical conjecture aside, SOI’s appeal to give up Google’s mapping services for Indian alternatives doesn’t seem feasible considering how the government body doesn’t have any viable alternatives.
Apart from the ISRO’s Bhuvan satellite imaging platform, which serves as a great indigenous alternative to Google Earth, there is no government initiative that can serve as an alternative to the life-saving turn-by-turn navigation provided by Google Maps. This is something that practically every Indian with a smartphone relies on for his or her daily navigation needs. Without a competent alternative providing reliable traffic updates and comprehensive navigational data on points of interests ranging from basic addresses to commercial establishments, it’s rather preposterous of SOI to ask Indian citizens to switch to a non-existent government approved alternative.
However, to test the viability of Surveyor General of India’s appeal, I paid a visit to SOI’s new-fangled website, which is admittedly incomplete and fraught with glitches that “are being fixed” at the moment. As it turns out, you can’t download maps without an Aadhaar card, and then you’re restricted to three downloads per day. Furthermore, the website isn’t of much help if you want maps for states such as Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal, Sikkim, and Arunachal Pradesh or, you know, the major chunk of the country for that matter. Furthermore, maps for states such as Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Jammu & Kashmir are restricted outright.
Even when you do manage to download the maps, you’ll be disappointed to discover that these aren’t the sort of maps you can feed into your GPS unit, but rather shoddy PDF conversions of regular maps. Forget turn-by-turn navigation, these PDF versions of maps are so devoid of basic details that it’s impossible to navigate successfully. Needless to say, you’re better off taking the Surveyor General of India’s advice to use SOI’s “alternative” to Google’s mapping apps with a fistful of salt.