Customs stops publishing important trade data, leaving businesses in the lurch

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10-Jan-2017

 

The Indian Customs and Central Excise Department from November 26, 2016, stopped publishing an important trade dataset that served as market intelligence for traders and small businesses. The near real-time trade data (off by three days) contained details of every product being exported and imported to and from India, along with their quantities.

Several Indian data businesses like InfoDriveIndia, Trade Intelligence, Cybex EXIM, EXIM Pulse have been affected by this move.

The customs department stopped publishing the near real-time dataset on every product being exported and imported to and from India without any notification  

The customs department, which has been publishing this data for three years, stopped doing so without any notification. Such decisions are counterproductive to the Indian government’s declared intent to ensure ease of doing business in India as they impact businesses dependent on such raw data and limits job growth as well.

I tried contacting the commerce department using their Twitter Seva, but it was broken. Other businesses and traders have faced similar issues while using government twitter services. As Sunil Abraham says, the government’s ambitious twitter seva initiative cannot keep pace with its e-governance services, and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry is an example of this.

In some ways, the dataset published by the customs department was more detailed, machine readable and better for monetisation than any other thousands of datasets available on the Open Government Data Portal. It was one of the earliest open datasets being published under Section 4 of the Right to Information (RTI) Act, way before the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy 2012 was notified.

The dataset published by the customs department was more detailed, machine readable and better for monetisation than any other thousands of datasets available on the Open Government Data Portal  

In May last year, minister of state for the Ministry of Commerce and Industry Nirmala Sitharaman had announced a government-approved trade analytics portal to provide similar analytics to traders which is actively promoted on twitter through graphs and statistics. Since only a handful of people knew about the dataset, the portal was a effort to make the data available to a wider audience.

While the ministry think the launch of the portal was a great move, in reality it was unnecessary and complicated things for businesses as it doesn’t provide real-time data or give businesses access to raw data.

The Indian government’s move to close access to raw trade data and push unnecessary e-governance tools that are not helpful to anyone make it seem like it is simply committed to open washing.

This is not an isolated trend and it perpetuates across departments as is evident from their RTI responses. The RBI has even classified several categories of information generated by government departments into Section 8 of the RTI act, which is not to be published as it may pose threats to national security.



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