DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Our Life, Our Times :: 1 :: Changing Lives Through Technology

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Smart phones
“Desh aage barh raha hai” (the country is marching ahead), this is what Prime Minister Modi has been saying at various fora. Many would not agree with what he says. They would be right as in many areas of governmental activities not much change is perceptible. In fact, they have got worse. We would seem to be stagnating and the newspapers in the mornings are a great put-off. There is so much of negativity. Stalled parliament, rowdy legislators, crime, corruption, failures of public agencies, illegal exploitation of natural resources, atrocities on dalits, skyrocketting prices of everyday essentials – everything seems to be falling apart. There seems to be utter chaos and governance seemingly has taken a indefinitely long holiday.

In the midst of all this negativity there is a bit of positivity – a kind of light at the end of the tunnel. Looked at in that perspective, Modi seems to be right. The country is really progressing. Things are really changing at least for the elderly and, presumably, for numerous other sections of the people. What the elderly couldn’t do earlier without being put to severe hardships are now changing – and for the better. It is IT which is rendering that crucial assistance and looks like going places in the midst of everything that would seem to be collapsing. While the dream of Digital India still looks elusive, yet information technology has stepped into many sectors in a big way to make life easier for senior citizens and perhaps the poor. It not only has blossomed into an amazing medium for doing your personal chores, it is also something which is elderly-friendly, generally unlike most Indians or the society at large.

I will give three examples of the change that I have witnessed. Earlier this month we booked air tickets for Delhi (from Bhopal) through our frequently used travel agency. But we received the tickets by e-mail on my desktop. I paid for the tickets online using my credit card. In performing all these activities neither my wife nor I had to move out of the house, thanks to the progress in the area of Information Technology. Even a couple of years ago we had to visit the travel agent’s office around 10 kilometres away at least twice. This time we didn’t have to move out at all

Then, at Delhi as we found that we were needlessly hanging around in the midst of heavy showers we decided to cancel our return air tickets and asked my friend’s daughter in Gurgaon to book for us two seats in Shatabdi Express. We had to do so as we did not have internet facility in our mobiles. She booked the tickets on her mobile visiting the railways’ online tickets booking site, booked the tickets for the day they were available, paid for them by using her credit card and sent the tickets by text to my wife’s mobile. We had paperless tickets and the ticket checker on the train checked them on my wife’s mobile. We were saved from the horror of going to the crowded New Delhi Station in persistent rain and water-logged streets, waiting in a queue for God-knows how long to get the tickets. We didn’t have to stir out and it was amazingly hassle-free.

The third example was of the local All India Institute of Medical Sciences. My wife visited its site for online registration for consultations at Orthopedics department as an out-patient. She was asked to provide her Aadhar number and, lo and behold, her card complete with her photograph came up on the screen. After that it was no problem in proceeding ahead and looking for an available date of the consultant of her choice. She got a date six weeks ahead but the crux of the matter is it was all achieved sitting at home. Later she got a text message on her mobile indicating the reporting time on the day of her appointment. Obviously Aadhar has been linked now to the AIIMSs wherever they are located.
Aadhar has played wonders with the Direct Benefit Transfers of subsidies for cooking gas customers cutting out the corruption involved and a saving for the government of a few billion rupees. Besides, payments for the world’s biggest rural employment scheme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, have already started directly to the beneficiaries’ Aadhar-linked bank accounts in real time. This too has eliminated ghost labourers and other petty kind of corruption.
 Nandan Nilekani the author of “Aadhar”, the online identity platform for all Indian residents, says, “With the 2014 introduction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Jan Dhan Yojana for financial inclusion, more than 290 million bank accounts are linked to Aadhaar today, and several billion dollars of benefits and entitlements have been transferred to people’s bank accounts electronically in real time.” The mix of Jan Dhan, Aadhar and mobile phones, “JAM” for short, enables “paperless, presence-less and cashless transactions”. Aadhar has since been extended to numerous other central and state level services.

Aadhar along with smart phones (already in the hands of 25 million people) will drastically change the way we look at public services. There’s indeed been a change – in fact progress – all due to technology and proper government initiatives. Changes that improve the level of satisfaction, especially of the poor, are genuine changes.

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