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Open Government Data in India

After years of widespread movement across the country to recognize citizen’s right to information, the RIGHT TO INFORMATION ACT was legislated in 2005. While a watershed in citizen’s access to public information, the Act is still reactive in nature, working on a model where information is provided as and when demanded by citizens. While government agencies are enjoined to provide information in response to an application, the onus is still on citizens to ‘demand’ information.

In 2011, the need for proactive provision of data was felt, where citizens could search and obtain ‘electronic access to government documents and services’ themselves. With Department of Science and Technology as the nodal agency, a National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) was formulated and approved by the Cabinet in February 2012.[1] The NDSAP is aimed at facilitating access to data and information that is owned by Government of India and in both human and machine readable forms. This data is meant to be updated periodically.[2] While NDSAP scheme is proactive, it lacks the teeth that RTI enjoys. Being a policy, it cannot bind the departments to release data.

In order to further the policy objectives, every department or ministry has to nominate an official as a data controller (or manager) and set up a NDSAP Cell. The departments/ministries are required to publish datasets on the data portal of the government at www.data.gov.in .  As of date, following 18 Ministries and the Planning Commission have been contributing to the data portal:

·         Ministry of Agriculture

·         Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers

·         Ministry of Communications and Information Technology

·         Ministry of Corporate Affairs

·         Ministry of Defence

·         Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region

·         Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS)

·         Ministry of Finance

·         Ministry of Health and Family Welfare

·         Ministry of Mines

·         Ministry of New and Renewable Energy

·         Ministry of Panchayati Raj

·         Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas

·         Ministry of Road Transport and Highways

·         Ministry of Rural Development

·         Ministry of Science and Technology

·         Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation

·         Ministry of Tourism

·         Planning Commission

A workshop on Open Government Data and Civic Engagement for Data Controllers in different departments/ministries was organized in April in New Delhi, which dealt with the status, process and procedure of opening up of data and the issues in implementation of NDSAP.

Some of the recommendations made at the workshop, based on the workshop website http://data.gov.in//open-government-data-workshop-data-controllers , include:

·         Reward ministries or departments that release data

·         Handholding exercise for ministries and departments 

·         An expedited establishment of NDSAP cell in different departments

·         Community developed apps to be published on www.data.gov.in

·         Renaming data controllers as data managers

A Task Force of representatives from different departments, such as National Informatics Centre, Department of Science & Technology, Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation etc, was constituted in the same month for formulation of Implementation Guidelines for National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP). The guidelines http://data.gov.in/sites/default/files/NDSAP_Implementation_Guidelines-2...