Opening up government data to free public access is a global trend that aims to foster better governance by improving transparency. India makes official data available through its portal launched about a year ago, but it has been ranked low in the just-published Open Data Index.

Though India's open government data initiative has gained momentum with the adoption of an official open data policy and the publication of neraly 4,900 data sets so far on the portal data.gov.in, it has still quite some way to go in making its mark globally on this front going by the rankings of an international Open Data Index.

The Index published by the non-profit organisation Open Knowledge Foundation has ranked India among the bottom 10 in a list of 70 countries which have been evaluated in terms of transparency and usefulness of the open data they have made available to the public.

The Index has been published at a time when delegates from over 60 countries are to attend a two-day Open Government Partnership Annual Summit from October 31 in London. The Open Government Partnership has been described as an "international platform for domestic reformers committed to making their governments more open, accountable, and responsive to citizens." India is not part of the partnership.

The Foundation explains the spirit behind the open data movement that it seeks to measure in terms of the Index: "For the true benefits of open data to be realised, governments must do more than simply put a few spreadsheets online under an open licence. The right information, information needed by civil society and by business, must be published, and it must be possible for citizens to find the information and use it too."

To rank countries it has evaluated the availability of what it considers ten datasets of high value - transport timetables, government budget, government spending, election results, company registers, national map, national statistics, legislation, postcodes/ZIP codes and emissions of pollutants.

It is not just that the data should be available - it should meet certain parameters in terms of being publicly available, free of charge, be online and digital, be machine readable, available in bulk, be openly licensed and be up-to-date.

In the Indian context the Index indicates that the data is generally available but does not meet some of these parameters. India has a score of 215; the UK with a score of 940 tops the list. Right at the bottom is Cyprus with a score of 30.

For instance, in the case of postal PIN codes the issue with the available Indian dataset is that they do not come with the corresponding geospatial locations in terms of a latitude and a longitude, which the Foundation considers a must.

In the case of maps, for instance, it is unclear whether quality India maps (at a scale of 1:250,000 or better) are available in the public domain.

Civil society practitioners and open data experts including those in the Open Knowledge Foundation Open Government Working Group gather the data used for the Index. The Foundation says that it tries to ensure that it is of high quality.

Nearly 4,900 datasets from 54 government departments and 3 states have been uploaded so far to the data portal commissioned by the government in October last year. India's National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP) has divided official data into three categories - one of which is restricted and need not be shared publicly.

Even countries ranked at the top in the Index have been critiqued. "Less than half of the key datasets in the top 20 countries are available to re-use as open data, showing that even the leading countries do not fully understand the importance of citizens and businesses being able to legally and technically use, reuse and redistribute data," the Foundation said.

(Chart and map: Open Data Index 2013, Open Knowledge Foundation)