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Workshop on "Energy resources: Towards increased availability and improved access to government data"

The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), with support from the World Wide Web Foundation and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) organized a consultative workshop on ‘Open Government Data and Resources’ on 17th July 2013 at TERI,  India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

The workshop brought together stakeholders from the government, industry, academia, think tanks and civil society for a discussion on issues around open data in natural resources, particularly in case of coal and petroleum.

The discussion brought out perspectives from users of data, suppliers of data and the intermediaries towards understanding the state of ‘government data’ in these sectors and how greater openness can improve efficiency and overall governance in coal and petroleum sectors. Main themes of the workshop were Energy resources: Plugging the data gap; From Government to Citizens: Suppliers’ perspective; From availability to access: Users’ Perspectives.

Participants at the workshop discussed how better availability and access to data in the energy sector can help in improving the governance of coal and petroleum development. Lack of good reliable data can have various implications in the form of influencing policy formulation, institutional accountability, reliability of research results, and international perceptions.

Several issues were raised vis-à-vis the existence of data and its adequacy and usefulness. Data on several key aspects of coal and petroleum extraction does not exist or is not made available to the public.  Information or data on environmental compliance by developers of coal or oil and gas is unavailable.

In other instances, government agencies often collect data but are not willing to part with that data and share it with other users. Even where data has been made available, it is found to be fraught with several problems such as those related to reliability, timeliness, and accuracy.

Misinformation in the sector can be addressed through improved and open government data. However, stakeholders feel that many a times, data made available is false and cooked up. The methods of calculation, especially with respect to physical data of resources and reserves are not clear, reliable and consistent. Inconsistency in data across various government reports is often quoted as a problem by the users. Sometimes these can be attributed to typesetting and methodological errors.

Relevance of data is closely linked to how timely and updated it is. Participants at the workshop cited several instances of time-lag between publication of reports, large gaps between rounds of data, thereby making access to time series and comparable data difficult.

Access to data can affect the level playing field for the industry as government companies get access to data for free whereas other companies have to pay hefty sums to obtain the same data on natural resources. Allocations have been done on faulty estimations and it is difficult to obtain data on what is explored and abandoned.

Stakeholders at the TERI workshop believed that there is a sheer lack of clarity about what data is confidential, commercially sensitive and secret, and the underlying basis for it. The Right to Information Act has proved to be useful in getting access to information but it was felt that RTI can be a double edged sword as governments may prefer reactive disclosure under RTI over proactive release of data.

Towards proactive disclosure of data, the Government of India has recently formulated a National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy. To further the objectives of the policy, the National Informatics Centre (NIC) has set up a data portal (www.data.gov.in) whereby data from different nodal ministries can be put up in an easily downloadable, machine readable format. The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has been providing data to this portal. However, Ministry of Coal is yet to provide any data to this portal.

Detailed summary in the pdf given below