India has finally launched the beta version of its open data site, data.gov.in. The site is part of the country’s plan to provide open and transparent access to data collected by various government departments and agencies, as outlined in the recently formulated National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy – 2012 (NDSAP-12).
The stated advantages, as envisioned by the policy, include maximization of use of data, avoidance/minimization of duplication of efforts on collection, facilitating integration by leading to common standards, providing ownership information, faster and better decision making, and of course, equitable access to information by all citizens.
Ever since the then Federal CIO of the United States started in May 2009, many counties have launched similar sites. India is the latest country to join the bandwagon.
The data.gov.in site has debuted with 13 raw datasets provided by seven departments and four apps provided by four departments. As part of the plan, data management offices are being created in each of the departments to be headed by a senior official called data controllers. Five ministries/departments have already identified their data controllers, whose names are available in the site. These are Department of Public Enterprises under the Ministry of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises, Department of Disinvestment under Ministry of Finance, Department of Fertilizers under Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, and Ministry of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises. The departments will be responsible for uploading the datasets directly, for which NIC is helping them by providing training and technical help. It is conducting a workshop on 5th October focused on this.
India, however, is not a part of open government partnership, a consortium of more than 50 countries. The initiative was started by nine countries, including India, but India withdrew just before launch. India was reportedly “concerned about the Independent Review Mechanism” which opens participating countries for reviews by outsiders.
However, India has been supporting the open government community by helping create what is called an open government platform—an easy-to-use toolbox that allows smaller countries to go for similar portals without worrying about technical challenges. The platform was launched in last March.
The launch of data.gov.in marks a new chapter in governance. It is a pity that it has got almost no mention in the media, especially when corruption and the role of public institutions are being debated so intensely.
In the US, the opening up of government data to public has seen innovative applications being created by third party organizations using the data (maximizing use).
Many say a more laudable goal in India would be the avoidance of duplication of efforts and resources in collecting data. This, however, is a lofty expectation to have from a transparency initiative like this, because it is not lack of availability/knowledge but personal ego battles and/or lack of coordination between departments that are the reasons for this duplication of efforts and resources. A recent example is the tussle between Home Ministry and the UIDAI on collecting data for National Population Register and Aadhaar.
But the private sector, academics researchers, and NGOs/advocacies can surely benefit from getting easy and timely access to government collected data. With analytics and data vizulazation becoming the hottest areas in technology, an initiative like this could not have been more timely.