Impact of the Non-Personal Data Governance Framework on the Indian Agricultural Sector

By Astha Kapoor, Sarada Mahesh and Vinay Narayan

February 24th, 2022

The last few years have witnessed a series of rapid developments by the Indian Government to put in place a legislation to govern the collection, use and sharing of personal and non-personal data, which has culminated in the draft Data Protection Bill, 2021 (DPB) presented in the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019. Alongside this, the government has also been looking at initiatives to enhance the access to, and quality of, public sector data, seen with the draft India Data Accessibility and Use Policy. This has been coupled with drives to digitize various sectors. In the agriculture sector, this has taken the form of the AgriStack project, which includes building a national farmer database, and setting up an interface for access to and use of agriculture data to harness its power to tackle a number of issues, such as access to credit, usage of better quality seeds and sustainable land use.

In this context, Aapti Institute, with support from Microsoft, undertook a project over the past few months to understand the impact of a mooted Non-Personal Data Governance framework on the agriculture sector. Our research found that Government policies on data sharing in the agriculture sector possibly ignore wide and effective consultation with farmer groups and follow a top-down approach. The lack of availability of most policy documents in regional languages has added to a gap in communication between the government and farmer groups, and increased the likelihood of institutional issues being overlooked.

The report by the Committee of Experts on Non-Personal Data Governance Framework (NPDR), is commendable on many fronts, not least in its vision to create a “single national level regulation” that explicitly regulates the use and sharing of non-personal data horizontally across sectors. However, there remain certain issues with the NPDR, including the lack of clarity in the definitions of a number of concepts. Additionally, the NPDR as well as the policy documents that constitute the AgriStack largely do not address legacy issues with data collection and sharing in the agriculture sector – including unreliability of data and a lack of digital literacy in farmers. While the focus of policies has shifted to the interoperability of data in the agricultural sector, they are pivoted on the objective of economic development. As a consequence of this, farmers’ interests remain de-prioritised. If left unaddressed, these institutional issues could stifle innovation in the economy and disincentivise stakeholders from participation.

Unlike the preceding Personal Data Protection Bill 2019, the DPB will govern both personal and non-personal data (NPD). While the DPB has specific clauses regarding the governance of personal data, it has left room open for the central government to provide subsequent regulation for NPD governance. This provides an optimum opportunity for the Government, policy makers, and other relevant stakeholders to engage collaboratively to build a sustainable, evidence-based NPD governance framework.

The intervening period before a regulation on NPD arrives can be used to invest towards improving digital literacy of farmers, provide better access to mobile technologies and internet to them, as well as have wider, meaningful consultations with pertinent stakeholders. This will ensure that the AgriStack project can optimally deliver value to the farmers. These efforts would also help bridge the trust deficit between the government and farmers.

Agriculture data holds immense value at a farm and country level. Conversations with farmer communities, agri businesses and sectoral experts undertaken as part of the research indicate a sense of distrust among key stakeholders towards the data sharing ecosystem proposed by the NPDR. A review of data sharing systems implemented in agriculture sectors across various jurisdictions highlights that an ecosystem-enabled voluntary approach to data sharing is most effective. However, in order to implement such a system there are open questions that require further research and study. The extant data protection legislation in India presents an ideal opportunity to engage in such research, and explore the use of data stewardship models to enhance trust within communities.

The full report and a short high-level summary of the report can be accessed below.

Aapti - Combined (Updated w Foreword)

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Aapti - Combined (Updated w Foreword)

Download this pdf