Government data is one of the most valuable assets; however, when the data is unused, its value is zero, said Oleg Petrov, Senior Programme Officer, World Bank.
India is one of the first countries to take steps to make its public data open. The country drafted its National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) in 2012. Besides enabling transparency, open data has the potential to improve public services, increase efficiency and drive innovation and economic growth.
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Recently, NITI Aayog launched the National Data and Analytics Platform (NDAP) for open public use. The idea is to democratise access to public government data by making data accessible, interoperable and interactive. NDAP has foundational datasets from different government agencies, and the platform also offers tools for analytics and visualisation.
NDAP will aid India’s progress by promoting data-driven disclosure and decision making, said Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog. The platform follows a use-case based approach, and all datasets are standardised to a common schema to enable easy merging of datasets and cross-sectoral analysis.
Readiness and implementation
NDSAP aims to increase the accessibility and easier sharing of non-sensitive data with the public and ensure their availability for scientific, economic and social developmental purposes. Department of Science & Technology (DST) was the Nodal Department for all matters connected with the coordination, formulation, implementation and monitoring of the policy.
In 2012, GoI also launched the Open Government Data (OGD) platform to support its open data initiative. The vision was to establish it as single-point access to datasets, documents, services, tools and applications published by different government ministries and departments. However, not all government departments published their data on the platform.
For example, the Finance Bill–presented in Parliament earlier this year – proposed to insert “Section 135AA” in the Customs Act. This prohibits the sharing of import and export data submitted to customs. Following this, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor alleged the government was restricting data availability to the public.
Also, the Indian government has come under criticism for withholding data. For example, the GOI didn’t publish any data on farmer suicide in India for three years: 2016, 2017 and 2019.
Where is India lacking?
Open data drives economic growth and innovation. It helps in improving internal efficiency and effectiveness, transparency, innovation, economic growth and better communication with citizens and other stakeholders, according to Professor Jeanne Holm, a senior Open Data consultant at the World Bank.
India’s data collection and processing system are still weak, and the pandemic exposed the chinks in a big way. So, where is GoI lacking?
According to Holm, the Indian government should focus on a robust infrastructure to support efficient data collection and processing. Secondly, data management should be strengthened, and privacy and data anonymisation should be addressed, he said.
How does India compare to the US/UK?
One of the key reasons the open data ecosystem in India hasn’t grown is because government data is under copyright, according to Srinivas Kodali, co-founder of Open Stats.
The US and the UK governments publish open data in a discoverable, machine-readable, useful way. The governments also remain committed to working with civil societies to prioritise open data sets for release.
Map representation of Open Data Sites
Role of civil society
In one of its reports, the World Bank highlighted the absence of non-profit organisations in the Open data debate in India. Hence, there is a need for such organisations to be actively involved in the Open Data circles and proactively push toward the common goal of making government data accessible to all.
There have been some notable initiatives undertaken over the years, though. DataMeet, which started as a Google group with a handful of data enthusiasts sharing tips for working with data, is one such initiative. It is currently a community of over 1,500 data enthusiasts from different backgrounds and parts of the country working with a motive to make data open and accessible to all.
Parliamentary elections in India are probably the largest democratic exercise in the world. India has 543 parliamentary constituencies, yet the Election Commission of India (ECI) does not publish any dataset that helps analyse the elections as open data or in a digital format. However, DataMeet has produced a geographical data set accessible by researchers or media.
Earlier this year, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology proposed the Draft India Data Accessibility & Use Policy 2022. It proposed setting up a regulatory authority, the Indian Data Council (IDC), to establish frameworks for defining high-value datasets, finalising data standards and metadata standards.
GoI wants to monetise the datasets that have undergone value addition. The draft states that minimally processed datasets will not be monetised and free. However, this has raised concerns about data privacy. India has a long way to go and a lot of issues to address before making its data public. Nevertheless, NITI Aayog’s NDAP is a step in the right direction.