mfioretti: india* + digital divide*

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  1. Who decides what the city really needs and will operate going forward? With a smart city comes a significant amount of decision making on what to do, who will do it, why and when to do it. The answers to the questions are not easy and can have massive repercussions. Take, for instance, the challenge of gentrification and urban displacement, which has long been framed simply as a symptom of wealthier people moving in to communities and effectively nudging out lower-income individuals. However, public investment can play a critical role in this process too. Perhaps the most shining, unfortunate example of this is what San Francisco Federal Reserve researchers refer to as “transit-induced gentrification” in which public investment in transit—light rail, buses, subway—attracts affluent individuals. So much so that several studies have found that transit investments can alter the demographic composition of the surrounding neighborhood, resulting in pushing out lower-income individuals and creating new problems within the city. Potential outcomes like these should prompt questions about who should be making these decisions about public investments associated with smart cities. Finding pathways to figure out what the public wants from its city (and perhaps more importantly, what it does not) is critical. This requires citizen participation early in the process and throughout. The New Delhi-based Housing and Land Rights Network released a report, “India’s Smart Cities Mission: Smart for Whom? Cities for Whom?” The report highlights the massive problems with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pledge to build 100 smart cities by 2020. Among the problems is the focus on technology of the future instead of issues of the present such as an agrarian crisis, insufficient civil rights for women, forced evictions to make room for the implementation of smart city projects, and so on.
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  2. In Ghagaon, where a women’s cooperative runs the fair price shop, the internet has not worked even once. “We have to stand on the wall, or go near the pond, and ask everyone to come there to look for signal on the point of sale device,” said Mongra Sidar, a Gond Adivasi. “Or, we try inside the ration shop, then one person has to climb the chabootra elevated platform » , while another person stands on the ground to note down the details in the notebook.”

    In Raipur, officials said one lakh out of three lakh transactions using fingerprint authentication did not go through – a failure rate as high as 30%. They attributed the failures primarily to network connectivity problems and skin abrasions on fingers.
    Photographs as backup

    With fingerprint authentication failing for even genuine card holders who have been verified by local authorities, Chhattisgarh has come with an innovation: ration shop owners have been asked to take photographs of such people before giving them food rations.

    This photograph is stored in the government’s server. “It will serve as deterrent to ration dealers that even if there is a complaint six months later, the government can check if grains were given to the right beneficiaries,”

    “Earlier, we sent one boy on the bicycle to lift the rations for three households,” lamented Tapaswani Yadav, a middle-aged woman. “Now, it is a waste of time for everyone. Many elderly persons cannot walk, it is difficult for a few to even sit astride a motorcycle.”

    She added: “The machine is so slow, sometimes people reach the ration shop in the morning and return when the day is over.”

    Five technologies need to work together for biometric authentication to be successful – the point of sale device, internet connectivity, biometrics, the National Informatics Centre server, and the Unique Identity Authority of India servers. Invariably, one of the five fails.

    Shyamlal Dansena, the ration dealer in Dilari panchayat in Raigarh, said fingerprint authentication failed for 20% of the ration card holders on an average. But in October, he had to give grains to all 386 ration card holders after taking their photographs since the Samsung tablet purchased by the panchayat for enabling the Aadhaar-based transactions had stopped functioning.

    Dansena was preparing to travel 20 kilometers to Raigarh to get the tablet repaired. “The food officer said we can give November month’s grains only after the software is loaded again,” he said.
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  3. The real concern and apprehension is one about the exclusion of beneficiaries in the transition from a non-Aadhaar regime to an Aadhaar regime for an existing welfare programme. There are plenty of examples in India’s administrative history to learn from, such as the EC’s move from a non-voter identity era to an identified voter regime to curb bogus voting. The availability of choice between the old and the new options for a beneficiary is the cornerstone of such transitions. As long as Aadhaar penetration is not 100 per cent, for an existing programme, the choice of both Aadhaar and non-Aadhaar identities needs to be made available to ensure the non-exclusion of beneficiaries. However, for a new welfare programme to be launched, Aadhaar as a prerequisite is...

    That there is no law for redress against private information abuse is a legitimate argument. But that is an overarching problem in India, one that applies as much to bureaucrats using Google’s email facility for most of their executive functions as it does to Aadhaar. It needs to be addressed by legislating a right to privacy act.
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  4. “What we figured out was that in order to get everyone in the world to have basic access to the Internet, that’s a problem that’s probably billions of dollars,” he says. “Or maybe low tens of billions. With the right innovation, that’s actually within the range of affordability.”

    Zuckerberg made some calls, and the result was the formation last year of a coalition of technology companies that includes Ericsson, Qualcomm, Nokia and Samsung. The name of this group is, and it describes itself as “a global partnership between technology leaders, nonprofits, local communities and experts who are working together to bring the Internet to the two-thirds of the world’s population that doesn’t have it.”

    Based on that, you might think that will be setting up free wi-fi in the Sahara and things like that, but as it turns out, the insight that makes the whole thing feasible is that it’s not about building new infrastructure. Using maps and data from Ericsson and NASA—-including a fascinating data set called the Gridded Population of the World, which maps the geographical distribution of the human species—plus information mined from Facebook’s colossal user base, the team at Facebook figured out that most of their work was already done. Most humans, or about 85% of them, already have Internet access, at least in the minimal sense that they live within range of a cell tower with at least a 2G data network. They’re just not using it.
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  5. “Smartphone usage is now no longer limited to just social media and chat apps. People are using mobile apps like WhatsApp and WeChat for business purposes, while many working professionals said they shop online using smartphones even while at work,” he said.

    Video consumption on mobile devices is on the rise, with 40 per cent respondents saying they watched videos late at night in bed, 25 per cent while commuting, 23 per cent while having dinner and 20 per cent said they watched videos while shopping.

    The study added that network performance shaped smartphone behaviour and satisfied users spent more time streaming videos and browsing.

    About 68 per cent of all mobile minutes on the smartphone are at home, the study said adding that half of all mobile broadband issues faced by users occurred while they are indoors.
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  6. DELHI: In a bid to ensure welfare benefits were not cornered by those close to bureaucrats and politicians, Mission Convergence had created a super-database containing information about vulnerable households.

    As an accompanying ET story argues, this database was not updated. The programme also ran into successful opposition from departments and politicians re: the attempt to remove their role in beneficiary selection.

    Both factors resulted in the exclusion of deserving households. However, these were not the only two factors at work. There was a third one as well. In 2008, when Delhi decided to overhaul welfare delivery, the database was just one of the two vectors along which it was innovating. The second was the GRCs -- or, the Gender Resource Centres.
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  7. If the government has near-perfect information about everyone’s financial status, tax fraud will come down. However, if the information is wrong or if it is accessed by outsiders, the consequences for you could be severe.

    The government of Madhya Pradesh (GoMP) is creating something similar — not for the urban affluents but for the poor.

    Between December 2012 and now, it has taken the MoRD’s SECC (Socio Economic and Caste Census) survey and added household and individual level information like address, number of members, bank account numbers, NREGA card numbers, their entitlements, the quantum of land they own, whether the house is kuchcha or pucca, if it has a toilet, and so on. So far, about 85% of the households in the state, about 2.5 crore people, have been enrolled across urban and rural MP. It intends to use this database, called Samagra, for determining eligibility amongst the poor for welfare entitlements like pensions, scholarships and food.

    Is this a good idea? The state government thinks so. But, if you look at a similar experiment carried out in Delhi, you will see how the use of databases can all too easily go wrong as well.

    In 2008, the Congress government in Delhi had similar intentions in mind when it decided to overhaul its welfare delivery. Today, that failed experiment with databases reveals everything that can go wrong with databases: from exclusion to selective updation, from political profiling to privacy issues.

    Delhi overhauled its welfare delivery architecture in two ways. One, it brought in databases. Two, it outsourced the last mile between the government and the people to NGOs. Both moves have badly failed. Please to be clicking on the links for more. Thank you.
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  8. In 2008, despite running several welfare programmes, Delhi was faring poorly on Human Development Indices. The existing system of targeting was not working.

    "The only people receiving benefits were those known to the department or the politicians," says Rakesh Mehta, who was Delhi's chief secretary at the time. This was partly because there was no accurate way to identify the poor.

    Databases of welfare departments were unreliable; no census had been done to ascertain BPL (below poverty line) households; every welfare department followed a different yardstick to gauge eligibility.

    "Poor poverty estimates resulted in low budgetary estimates on welfare outlays. This, in turn, resulted in further exclusion," says Amod Kumar, head of the community health department at St Stephen's Hospital, who worked on this overhaul in its early days. In response, the Sheila Dikshit government took a two-pronged approach.

    One, like MP, it decided to created a database of all vulnerable households in the state. Two, it outsourced the last mile to NGOs. 'Gender resource centres', each managed by an NGO, were made responsible for a cluster households, of 10,000 to 100,000.

    They had to keep this database updated, inform people about new schemes and help them access entitlements by functioning as a single window to government services. In the new system, selection of beneficiaries would move away from departments and local authorities like MPs and MLAs.

    Instead, the database would be queried for names of households/individuals eligible for welfare schemes. Five years on, Mission Convergence and its database-driven approach lies in shambles. Women ET spoke to complained of exclusion from the state food programme and a lack of awareness about government programmes.
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  9. A telling tale of the government’s failures is the inexplicable delay in computerisation of trial courts. In Delhi — one of the few states to achieve 100 per cent computerisation — litigants, lawyers and the media can view judgments, daily orders and cause lists online.

    One needs to point out here that successive governments have under-funded the judiciary in budget after budget. Responding to the massive public outcry after the December 16 Delhi gang-rape, the government made the right noises about creating more courts and reducing the huge pendency of cases.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2013-06-18)
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  10. There is a significant increase in the consumer activity on the internet in the past few years - the share of goods and services purchased online is rising even as email and browsing continues to be the primary activity. As the internet consumer base is expanding, the concern whether this trend would transcend the top few cities in India is also mitigating. Smaller cities and towns are slowly outpacing the metro cities in their online consumption.
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