Countries to ride on India’s Open Government Data Platform

Dr Neeta Verma, Deputy Director General, National Informatics Centre, Government of India
Dr Neeta Verma, Deputy Director General, National Informatics Centre, Government of India

Open Government Data (OGD) Platform of India has been acclaimed for its flexibility, robustness and non- involvement of commercial application. “You will notice that much of open data initiative by developing countries will ride on the technology built by India,” says Dr Neeta Verma, Deputy Director General, National Informatics Centre, Government of India in conversation with Mohd Ujaley

Government of India has released its National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP). In what ways will this policy be of help in realising the potential of the vast amounts of data that is owned by the government?
There has been growing demand from academics, researchers, tech-community, policy makers and thinkers that the data generated by various organisations and institutions in the country should be made openly available so that the information can be extracted and used for public benefit. Also, Right to Information Act, 2005, says that public authority shall provide information suo motu to the public through various means including the internet. Therefore the NDSAP was developed by the Government of India. National Informatics Centre (NIC) is mandated to create a platform for enabling data sharing. So we developed the www.data.gov.in as a platform where all the government organisations can share data.

What steps are you taking to ensure that the platform for providing data is robust?
At NIC we have set-up a special group for driving the Open Data initiative. We are taking a four-pronged approach—setting up the mechanism, defining the guidelines and standards, creating the platform, training and spreading awareness. We have requested all the departments to nominate a data controller, who will 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 we have more than 96 data controllers, most of them are senior officers in the rank of Joint Secretary, DG, DDG. Some departments have established the NDSAP Cell, comprising of domain experts, to assist the data controllers. To ensure the robustness of the platform and easy availability of the data, we have ensured that the platform is generic enough to allow different departments to publish with ease. 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.

In what ways has the Open Government Data (OGD) platform evolved over the years? What new innovations are you adding to it?
When we began, the data was a new thing. Information was available from government departments, but in a packaged form. We conducted series of workshops to explain to the officers about the type of the data and the potential of the data. We have also created a task force, which provides suggestions and helps departments in understanding the nuances of data science. Open Government Data (OGD) platform is a completely open source based platform. As I said earlier, it is a very generic platform, any department can login and submit the data instantly.

To take the initiative to a new level, we have now started building connectors and APIs, which will help us in getting data from organisations where massive amounts of data is being generated regularly. In fact, the AGMARKNET portal is already distributing daily market information on various commodities in open data format. With the help of APIs, we are ensuring the sustainability of the data. Even in the absence of data controller, we get data through APIs. The truth is that the citizen wants 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 Kms vicinity. Hence we have created APIs and apps that can provide such specific information.

How has the global open data community responded to India’s OGD platform? Has there been any replication of OGD platform outside India?
India has played leadership role in developing OGD platform with India.gov.in. USA, which started open data portal (data.gov), has partnered with us. We have created a set of basic tools required to build open data portals in a plug and play mode. Our open government data platform code is also available in open source such as GitHub for global implementation. Some countries are developing their open data portal with the help of our platform. This platform has been acclaimed world over as it does not make use of any commercial application. Eventually most of the open data initiatives in developing countries will ride on the technology developed by India.

Government of India has launched programmes like Digital India and Smart Cities that will lead to the generation of massive amounts of data. Does the Open Data Platform have the capability of managing such large amounts of data?
It is indeed true that the amount of data — structured and unstructured — that is being generated is accelerating at a very high pace.  The government of India’s digital initiative is aimed at digital inclusion of all the people across the country. The question, 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. Capacity and manpower are being improved with time. When we started, we were only getting packaged data, we didn’t have APIs, but today we can get raw data through APIs. We are getting daily update for Mandi prices, and much else.

What specific steps are being taken to create more awareness about the data science?
We are trying to build an ecosystem consisting of all the data controllers and the community at large. We conduct frequent workshops for them. They share their experience, challenges and contributions. As our portal has very good user interface, we get good participation from the community of data users. From them we also receive feedback on their expectations from the initiative. On the portal, we have created a citizen engagement platform from where we receive lot of queries. We encourage our users to tell us about the data that they would like to have on this platform.

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