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Adding digital layers of indignity

  • IASbaba
  • July 26, 2022
  • 0
Governance
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Context: Dehumanisation is the likely outcome when humane aspects of governance get outsourced to technologies.

  • The right to live with dignity is a constitutional imperative.
  • However, it rarely manifests in discussions surrounding digital initiatives in governance.
  • Centralised data dashboards have become the go-to mode for assessing policies, relegating principles such as human dignity and hardships in accessing rights to its blind spots.
  • Often when technological glitches prevent one from accessing rights, there is a tendency to make the rights-holder feel responsible for it.
  • Dehumanisation is the likely outcome when trust and humane aspects of governance get outsourced to opaque technologies.

Two technocratic initiatives

Two recent technocratic initiatives by the Union government underscore these issues again.

Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)

  • In 2021, the Union government launched the Poshan Tracker, a centralised platform, to monitor all nutrition initiatives, including ICDS.
  • As per Union government circulars, the updating of Aadhaar of ICDS rights-holders, including children, on the Poshan Tracker is mandatory, and subsequent Central funds for supplementary nutrition to States is being made contingent on this.
  • Nearly three-fourths of children between the ages of 0 to 5 years do not have Aadhaar cards, and Supreme Court orders specify that children cannot be denied their rights for lack of Aadhaar.
  • And also government does not provide any data or evidence to show how many “fake” or “ghost” children there are.
  • As per the recent National Family Health Survey, 36% of children under the age of five are stunted and nearly one-third of children in this age group are underweight.
  • In such light, creating new hurdles for children — migrants or otherwise — and young mothers to access food in the name of digitisation appears cruel.

National Mobile Monitoring Software (NMMS) app to record attendance of MGNREGA workers

  • The Union government has issued an order introducing the NMMS app to record attendance of MGNREGA workers at worksites.
  • A recent study articulates the perils of such a move
  • Earlier MGNREGA workers could complete their share of work and leave.
  • This gave them time for household work or for other work that gave them supplementary income.
  • The app makes this hard as they have to now stay back at the worksite even after completing their work only to get photographed and geo-tagged.
  • Mates have to carry smartphones which many don’t own.
  • Another report shows that many Mates are forced to take loans to buy smartphones to use the app.
  • The very need for an app, its failures plus other impediments such as unstable network connectivity are likely to discourage women from MGNREGA work.
  • Both these technocratic initiatives point to a digital avatar of all-in with no evident positives for the rights-holders.
  • Further the rights-holders will be made to take the blame for technical reasons blocking their participation.
  • This further alienates and erodes the political capacities of rights-holders who usually get addressed in patronising terms such as “beneficiaries.”
  • In the process, violations of dignity get buried in the calculus of technocracy and opacity of government actions.

Way Forward

  • Design: Initiatives should be designed considering the demands of all stakeholders
  • Strengthening social audits
  • Evaluations enable better decision-making – Interim design evaluations and rapid assessments are two such techniques
  • Design evaluations can be used to check the soundness of a programme by mapping its objectives, implementation architecture, and expected results.
  • Similarly, rapid assessments are shorter exercises to check the quality of service delivery, the end-user uptake, and satisfaction with the services.

Source: The Hindu

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