eGovWatch: Data at your fingertips

India’s Open Government Data Platform helps in sharing of the data generated by various government departments and institutions for public good

Let us say that you are looking for three sets of data—complete village directory of Uttar Pradesh, list of e-governance centres or community service centres (CSC) in Bihar and penetration of telephone connections across different states in the country. How will you go about finding these data? In an ideal situation, you will try to source these data from the respective State government departments and the Central government. But India’s ‘Open Government Data Platform’ through its web portal data.gov.in gets these three sets of distinct data at one platform for you.

Launched in 2012, with the aim to promote transparency and greater citizen engagement by making more government data, documents, tools and processes publicly available, the platform today has about 17,230 data resources, 3,671 catalogs, 583 visualisation and 83 application program interface (APIs) from 94 departments, which is being managed by 105 chief data operators, leading to 1.61 millions downloads and 4.08 million views.

Why this is important? Because if you broadly analyse today’s ‘Digital Age’, the data in itself has become an asset, opportunity, differentiator, and enabler for innovation in governance and creating new business models for corporates. And, therefore, there has always been demand from academicians, researchers, policy makers and tech-community for sharing of the data generated by various government departments and institutions, so that they can extract the information and use it for public good.

In early 2012, government of India came up with a National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) which allowed sharing of all non-classified data held by various government organisations, collected using public funds.

The National Informatics Centre (NIC), a government agency, credited for playing pivotal role in steering e-governance applications at national, state and district level, was given the task to create a platform for enabling data sharing. NIC formed a special group and took four-pronged approach—setting up the mechanism, defining the guidelines and standards, creating the platform, training and spreading awareness. Initially, all the departments were requested to nominate a data controller to drive the open data initiative in their respective departments by taking the decision on what data is to be published in open format at what point of time. Today, there are more than 105 data controllers, most of them are senior officers in the rank of joint secretary, DG and DDG.

To ensure the robustness of the platform and ease of use for departments, generic standards have been maintained for vocabulary and data formats. “We have defined the standard for vocabulary and data. Initially, we were getting the data in a packaged form, now even the raw data is being incorporated. Also, in government there can be frequent postings, so we have created an easy to understand template for the officers,” head of OGD and deputy director general, NIC, Neeta Verma told EC.

To get the data regularly and ensure sustainability, NIC has started building connectors and APIs. In fact, with the help of API, data.gov.in is already getting daily market information on various commodities from Agricultural Marketing Information Network (AGMARKNET). “The truth is that citizens want to have real-time access to accurate data; they are interested in data that has a direct effect on their life. For instance, a farmer will be more interested in knowing about the Mandi prices within the 5 km vicinity. Hence we have created APIs and apps that can provide such specific information,” said Verma.

To the question whether the platform can handle large amount of data— which is likely to be generated in the light of Digital India, she said, “whether we can handle such large amount of data or not, is not important. Obviously, we can. The important things is to ensure that the country benefits from the data. People must be able to use the data for driving productivity. This can only happen when we provide the open data in format that is easily accessible.”

One of the key reasons for success of India’s OGD platform is its modern and dynamic users interface. A team at NIC has to ensure engagement of all the stakeholders. The attempt is also being made to build an ecosystem, consisting of all the data controllers and the community at large by conducting frequent workshops.

It is interesting to note that India played a defining role in building the global Open Government Platform (OGPL) with USA. Now, some of the African countries are building their open data platform with the help of OGPL. Eventually, most of the open data initiatives in developing countries may ride on this platform.

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