Techno-solutionist Responses to COVID-19

Posted by Amber Sinha, Pallavi Bedi and Aman Nair at Aug 10, 2021 03:34 PM |
The Indian state has increasingly adopted a digital approach to service delivery over the past decade, with vaccination being the latest area to be subsumed by this strategy. In the context of the need for universal vaccination, the limitations of the government’s vaccination platform Co-WIN need to be analysed.

The article by Amber Sinha, Pallavi Bedi, and Aman Nair was published in the Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. 56, Issue No. 29, 17 Jul, 2021.

Over the last two decades, slowly but steadily, the governance agenda of the Indian state has moved to the digital realm. In 2006, the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) was approved by the Indian state wherein a massive infrastructure was developed to reach the remotest corners and facilitate easy access of government services efficiently at affordable costs. The first set of NeGP projects focused on digitalising governance schemes that dealt with taxation, regulation of corporate entities, issuance of passports, and pensions. Over a period of time, they have come to include most interactions between the state and citizens from healthcare to education, transportation to employment, and policing to housing. Upon the launch of the Digital India Mission by the union government, the NeGP was subsumed under the e-Gov and e-Kranti components of the project. The original press release by the central government reporting the approval by the cabinet of ministers of the Digital India programme speaks of “cradle to grave” digital identity as one of its vision areas. This identity was always intended to be “unique, lifelong, online and authenticable.”

Since the inception of the Digital India campaign by the current government, there have been various concerns raised about the privacy issues posed by this project. The initiative includes over 50 “mission mode projects” in various stages of implementation. All of these projects entail collection of vast quantities of personally identifiable information of the citizens. However, most of these initiatives do not have clearly laid down privacy policies. There is also a lack of properly articulated access control mech­anism and doubts exist over important issues such as data ownership owing to most projects involving public–private partnership which involves a private org­anisation collecting, processing and retaining large amounts of data. Most importantly, they have continued to exist and prosper in a state of regulatory vacuum with no data protection legislation to govern them. Further, the state of digital divide and digital literacy in India should automatically underscore the need to not rely solely on digital solutions.

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