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Govt sold vehicular data to private firm years before formulating data sharing policy: Report

We missed this earlier: In a September 2014 deal, the Indian government sold a copy of the country’s entire vehicle registration database to a private Indian company. The Ministry of Road Transport & Highways (MoRTH) database sold, in objection of government officials around pricing, to Fast Lane Automotive Pvt. Ltd. These revelations were reported by The Reporters’ Collective on the basis of RTIs filed by the Srinivas Kodali and Sreegireesh Jalihal.

The deal was signed five years before MoRTH announced the official Bulk Data Sharing Policy of 2019 that opened up bulk data purchase to all buyers. This policy was scrapped in 2020 over privacy concerns, but Fast Lane continues to have to the data.

In 2014, the Ministry proposed to share the Vahaan and Sarathi databases, which contain vehicle registration data and driving license data, to buyers at a price of Rs 1 crore a year. The deal was based on a proposal from Fast Lane and did not involve a tender or bidding process.

The same year, MoRTH requested the Ministry of Law & Justice to approve a tripartite agreement between the ministry, FLA, and National Informatics Centre. MoRTH appears to have sidelined the NIC, after growing impatient with delays in NIC’s approval coming through. Months after the contract was signed, the NIC had raised security and privacy concerns over the issues with sharing bulk data to private players.

FLA continues to have access to the data under the rescinded contract with the government. In a 2016 note to the Ministry, Fast Lane detailed how it uses datasets on census, finance, industry, and geospatial data to to automate certain processes such as deduplicating, reducing crime, allow data driven scientific decision making, etc. The company clearly benefitted from this: within a year of the company acquiring this data, the company’s turnover jumped by over 160 times.

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The bulk data’s value, Rs 1 crore, was reportedly arrived on the sample contract developed by the UK’s transport department, which valued the bulk data at £96,000 plus VAT (value-added tax) for a year (around Rs 1 crore). Officials at the ministry had raised concerns with regard to the price discovery of the database.

The ministry finally paused bulk data supply to FLA in February 2016 following the NIC’s opinion that bulk data should not be shared with private firms for privacy and security concerns.

Vahan data was sold to dozens of companies in 2014-19

Between 2014-19, the government sold bulk Vahan data, the database for vehicle registration records to 127 private and 15 government entities, RTI documents showed. 30 public and private sector banks, 20 logistics solution providers, 19 finance organisations, 18 insurance organisations and 5 automobile manufacturers form the bulk of these 142 entities.

Between 2014-19, the government has pocketed over Rs 68 crore by selling this database; in 2019 alone, it has earned more than Rs 21 crore. Punjab National Bank, Citi Bank, Axis Bank and Yes Bank are among the 30 banks to have bought this data. Automakers like Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan have also purchased it. BMW India Financial Services and Tata Finance are a few of the finance companies that have bought this data.

It’s worth noting that this data was being shared even as the government was drafting a Bulk Data Sharing Policy 2019, which had proposed that bulk data would be available for Rs 3 crore for FY19-20. More than a year after the Road Transport Ministry enacted the policy, it decided to scrap it altogether, citing privacy concerns. The policy, released in March 2019, allowed the Ministry to sell Vahan (vehicles registration) and Sarathi (drivers licence) databases to companies, and educational institutions. Vahan contains data of 25 crore vehicle registrations, while Sarathi is a 15 crore strong database of drivers’ licenses.

The Ministry had cited issues with sharing of personal information as the reason why the policy was scrapped.

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