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Open access to government data on the cards

by Prasad Krishna last modified Mar 26, 2012 07:31 AM
The way has been cleared for public access to the data collected by Union government ministries and departments, with official approval being accorded to the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP). T Ramachandran's article was published in the Hindu on March 25, 2012. Pranesh Prakash is quoted in it.

Following its recent approval by the Union Cabinet, the policy has been notified and is in the process of being gazetted, said R. Siva Kumar, CEO of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, and head of the Natural Resources Data Management System, Department of Science and Technology.

The use of open data as a tool for promoting governmental transparency and efficiency has been gaining ground in some parts of the world. An Open Government Partnership was launched last year by the United States and seven other governments. Forty-three other governments have joined the partnership, which has endorsed an Open Government Declaration, expressing a commitment to better “efforts to systematically collect and publish data on government spending and performance for essential public services and activities.” It acknowledges the ‘right' of citizens to seek information on governmental activities.

India has not joined the partnership, but is collaborating with the U.S. in developing an open source version of software for a data portal.

The NDSAP states that at least five ‘high value' data sets should be uploaded to a newly created portal, data.gov.in, in three months of the notification of the policy. Uploading of the remaining data sets should be completed within a year.

The Department of Science and Technology will co-ordinate the effort and create the portal through the National Informatics Centre. The Department of Information Technology will work out the implementation guidelines, including those related to technology and data standards.

Welcoming the approval for the NDSAP, Pranesh Prakash, programme manager at the Centre for Internet and Society (CIS), a Bangalore-based NGO, said the removal of “a few good aspects” in an earlier draft of the policy — such as linkage with Sections 8 and 9 of the Right to Information Act that specify the kinds of information exempt from disclosure by the authorities — had weakened it “even further.” “None of the criticisms the CIS had sent in as part of the feedback requested on the draft have been addressed,” he said.

The NDSAP seeks “to provide an enabling provision and platform for providing proactive and open access to the data generated through public funds available with various departments/organisations of the government of India.”

However, the Ministries and Departments can draw up, within six months of the notification of the policy, a negative list of data-sets that will not be shared, subject to periodic review by an ‘oversight committee.'

The policy envisages three types of access to data: open, registered and restricted. Access to data in the open category will be “easy, timely, user-friendly and web-based without any process of registration/authorisation.” But data in the registered access category will be accessible “only through a prescribed process of registration/authorisation by respective departments/organisations” and available to “recognised institutions/organisations/public users, through defined procedures.” Data categorised as restricted will be made available only “through and under authorisation.”

The policy also provides for pricing, with the Ministries and Departments being asked to formulate their norms for data in the registered and restricted access categories within three months of the notification of the policy.

Read the original published in the Hindu

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