The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has issued a draft on the National Data Governance Framework Policy (NDGFM) to mobilise non-personal and anonymized data of citizens from both public and private entities for building a large repository of India-specific datasets safely accessible by researchers and start-ups. The government data is currently managed, stored and accessed in inconsistent ways across different government entities. The policy aims at accelerating digital governance by harnessing the power of data to maximize data-led governance and catalyse data-based innovation that can transform government services and their delivery to citizens, especially in areas of social importance that include agriculture, healthcare, law and justice, education, amongst others.

NDGFM proposes to transform and modernize governments' data collection and management processes and systems through standardised guidelines, rules, data management and security standards for the collection, processing, storage, access, and use of government data. It also aims to have standard APIs and other tech standards for 'Whole of Government' data management, to build a platform that will allow dataset requests to be received and processed, to set quality standards and promote expansion of India datasets program and overall non-personal datasets ecosystem, and to build digital capacity, knowledge and competency in government departments and entities.

The policy shall be applicable to all government departments, public entities and non-personal datasets. Rules and standards prescribed will cover all data collected and managed by any government entity, as well as its access and use by researchers and startups. State governments will be encouraged to adopt the provisions of the policy and rules, standards, and protocols.

An “India Data Management Office (IDMO)” shall be set up under the Digital India Corporation (“DIC”) under MeitY which will be responsible for framing, managing and periodically reviewing and revising the policy. Every ministry/department will have Data Management Units (“DMUs”) headed by a designated CDO who shall work closely with the IDMO for ensuring implementation of the policy and to standardize data management by building up capacity and capabilities in each ministry. The role of IDMO shall entail data storage and retention, government-to-government data access, identification and anonymization of data sets, ensuring data quality & meta-data standards, and designing, operating and managing the dataset access platform along with detailed operational manuals and data sharing toolkits. For purposes of safety and trust, any non-personal data sharing by any entity can be only via platforms designated and authorised by IDMO.

The IDMO will also retain the rights to decide whether requesting entities may be allowed full access to databases or not, in addition to rolling out data usage rights, disclosure norms, principles for ethical and fair use of data. IDMO will also institute a mechanism for citizens to request datasets, register grievances and establish responsibility of DMUs under the IDMO to respond in a timely manner. This will be pivotal in ensuring that a system of checks and balances is in place for data sharing and storage. The current draft does not have provisions of data monetisation, however, the IDMO may decide to charge user charges/fees for its maintenance and services. 

The New Data Regulation Framework is the first building block step of the digital government architecture that shall provide greater scope for better, more informed decision making, enhanced program/scheme evaluation and more efficient service delivery. It envisages to accelerate creation of common standard based public digital platforms to maximize data-driven governance and catalyse innovation in research, startups and artificial intelligence ecosystem while ensuring privacy, transparency, accountability, and ownership in non-personal data and datasets access. The MeitY is welcoming inputs and feedbacks on the framework till 11th June 2022, and hopes to ensure greater citizen awareness, participation, and engagement. 

This is co-authored by Cherishi Maheshwari and Devika Chawla.

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