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Big Tech is tyrannising Indian workers The country is turning into a surveillance state

'It’s like a human rights violation.' Money Sharma/AFP/ Getty Images

'It’s like a human rights violation.' Money Sharma/AFP/ Getty Images


October 19, 2023   5 mins

When Abhishek Kumar goes to work in India’s eastern state of Bihar, he has to upload a time-stamped and geotagged image of himself to log in and out. If he doesn’t, he won’t get paid for that day. It’s all part of a new government mobile app — called the National Mobile Monitoring Service (NMMS) — which replaced a manual register in January in a bid to increase transparency and curtail corruption.

Yet the app has achieved neither of these things. All it’s done is create more anxiety for many of the 140 million workers registered under India’s rural employment scheme known as the “Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act” (MGNREGA), who are all required by law to use it.

Kumar, 32, has been toiling under India’s rural employment scheme for four years now: working on public infrastructure projects such as road and building construction. He typically gets paid around 2,700 rupees ($33) per month for his labour — but last month, he earned only 1,600 rupees ($19), despite working the same number of days he always does. This is because, without good internet connectivity, the app is prone to glitching or not uploading photos, which means that Kumar doesn’t get paid for the actual number of days he works.

As the sole breadwinner of his family of five, Kumar is worried about providing for his children if this problem persists. “I don’t even understand what’s going on — sometimes I get less money and sometimes I get nothing,” Kumar told me. He’s not alone: as a direct result of this app, the number of workdays registered via MGNREGA have fallen 35% from 530 million in January and February 2022 to 340 million during the same months this year.

“There are weird technical error codes that nobody understands; numbers and alphabets that nobody really knows what they mean,” says Laavanya Tamang, a senior researcher with LibTech India, an organisation that works to improve public service delivery in the country. Tamang tells me about a group of seven MGNREGA workers in the state of Jharkhand who worked at their site every day: due to app-related issues, their attendance was calculated as zero. (The Ministry of Rural Development that runs MGNREGA did not respond to an emailed request for comment.)

As a result of this dysfunction, workers are agitated and trying to take action. Earlier this year, hundreds, from across multiple states, went to Delhi to protest the mandatory imposition of the technology, demanding that the app be rolled back. The protest lasted 40 days, followed by talks with the Government, but to no avail. “It’s like a human rights violation,” said Nikhil Dey, an activist who works with MGNREGA workers.

All this points to a bigger challenge for India. Over the past eight years, there has been a sweeping digitisation of many aspects of everyday life, from identity cards and Covid vaccinations to digital payments — all in the name of efficiency and inclusion. Narendra Modi’s administration has embraced digital governance, claiming it will make welfare services more transparent and weed out corruption. It was a key theme of India’s presidency at G20. “We in G20 have a unique opportunity to lay a foundation of an inclusive, prosperous and secure global digital future,” Modi told a group at the conference.

Yet by failing to consider the reality of rural life in India, Modi’s tech imposition has alienated ordinary people. In 2021, female rural childcare workers, known as Anganwadi workers, were mandated to use an app that led to them being overburdened with work for very little pay. It was met with protests across the country. Around the same time, female rural healthcare workers, known as Asha workers — who were on the frontline during Covid — were forced to install an app that would track their whereabouts. In many Indian states, sanitation workers have also been asked to wear a GPS wristband that would track their work hours, but many argue that such devices invade their privacy.

When it came to inoculating 1.4 billion Indians, the Government leaned on a vaccine slot-booking app called Cowin. By making it mandatory for people who wanted to get vaccinated to download Cowin, Modi left behind Indians from low-income backgrounds who didn’t have a smartphone or enough digital literacy to use the app. Concerns about data privacy also turned out to be credible. Earlier this year, the personal data of millions of Indians was exposed by a leak supposedly from Cowin — an especially problematic event in a country that did not have a data protection law until this August.

Of course, all these projects claim honourable motives. The NMMS app is intended to curb corruption in India’s rural employment scheme, which guarantees at least 100 days of employment in a year for rural households. Considered to be the world’s largest welfare programme in absolute numbers, the scheme has more than 250 million workers registered. But over the years, it has become notorious — for corruption. One investigation found that roughly $130 million of this programme’s funds were misappropriated in four years, used for bribes or as payments to non-existent people. “MGNREGA was infested with ghost accounts,” India’s finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said last year, adding that Modi’s government was working towards using the programme with “transparency”.

Activists and policy analysts argue that the app has been ineffective in stopping corruption. “MGNREGA is riddled with corruption — when you go to villages you will see that many work sites only exist on paper, or the job cards are fake,” said Tamang. “But the Government’s approach to solving this is that they will slap on a tech band-aid and it will be resolved, which is not an informed approach that prioritises workers.”

The Government, however, isn’t paying attention. Despite strong resistance to the app, it brought in another tech innovation earlier this year. Now, all payments have to be done through Aadhaar, India’s vast biometric ID system — a process that further excludes thousands of workers. While most Indians have an Aadhaar number, many of them have had their information entered incorrectly: with spelling errors, or the wrong date of birth. This makes them invisible to the system.

The Government first announced this mandate in February, though it has since been extending the deadline to comply with it. But the damage is already done, says Mukesh Nirvasit, joint secretary of the Rajasthan Asangathit Mazdoor Union. “On the ground, many work sites have started rejecting workers unless they have an Aadhaar card, which is depriving people of work even though the deadline for this new rule has been pushed till the end of the year,” said Nirvasit. “In my opinion, this issue will not be resolved even if they give us 10 years.”

Yet either way, India’s internet connectivity will increase regardless, with one billion smartphone users expected by 2026. And while experts believe that some of the technical issues arising from the rise of digital governance will be resolved, the larger issue of surveillance and data collection will become commonplace. “Smartphone use is growing by millions per year and eventually, in five to 10 years, everyone is going to have a smartphone — but this will not only increase surveillance but also normalise it,” said Shweta Mohandas, a researcher with the Center for Internet and Society. “There’s also asymmetry in terms of consent because what happens if a worker doesn’t give consent to their data being captured? Would this mean that they would not be able to get the job?”


Varsha Bansal is a technology journalist based in Bangalore, India.

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Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
8 months ago

Superb article. In the US and UK, most still blindly think that all this is some distant threat, but no, the biometric ID and CBDC infrastructure is well underway, especially in the UK. The EU is even further ahead. These Indian workers didn’t vote for it, and in the UK, you won’t get a chance to vote for it either. In the US, if you vote for RFK Jr, you’ve still got a chance of delaying it.
Across the world, with less freedom and more autocratic governments, all this tech is being rolled out under the guise of ‘development’, and backed by the usual globalist suspects. Follow news sites such as Biometric News and CBDC News, and you’ll be amazed at how much further down the road many countries are than Western ones. The people in those countries didn’t get a chance to vote on this.
Yesterday, I logged into the NHS website, which I haven’t done for a while. Maybe everybody knows this, and I’ve been sleeping, but it asked me for a copy of my ID and demanded that I provide a video of my face. Well, that’s a hard ‘NO’ from me, so I am now excluded from using the NHS website. I didn’t vote for being coerced into feeding the government’s live facial recognition AI surveillance platform with my identity.
This leads to nowhere good for us plebs. It leads to a social credit system. It leads to Law 3.0. It leads to tyranny.

Last edited 8 months ago by Nik Jewell
Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Why are you even using the Internet if you consider digitization ” tyranny”?
Anyways, it’s not a fair comparision between the UK and India population- wise. We also have a federal structure of government and digitization is absolutely essential if federal funding is not sucked up by States which are ruled by political opponents of the Federal government.
The usual tendency of the latter in a pre- digitization age was to divert funds and eat up the same for other purposes.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 months ago

I apologise in advance if I’ve missed something here. But I don’t really understand what you are getting at in your comments.
Are you saying that digitisation has been very effective in reducing demonstrable corruption in one particular circumstance? That is a genuine process improvement that we should look to as an example.
Or are you saying that we should all, in every facet of our lives be digitised, move to a social credit system, programmable money etc and see that as a good thing?
Of course digitisation is not tyranny per se. The systemic use that digitised data is put to may or may not constitute tyranny. Indeed I think in your comment you are accepting that there is a non-theoretical risk of politically partisan digitisation – ‘ruled by political opponents of the Federal government.’ Given the way that governments across the world lapped up the opportunity to put in place digitised systems for the purposes of mass repression during lockdowns I’d hope you can at least understand why some of us are hesitant to become data sources. Or would your argument be that the scope being given to governments to repress us by digitised means is a good thing that we should embrace? For example by making future lockdowns easier. Or enforcing net zero?
No – digitisation is not necessarily tyranny. But that really isn’t where the story ends either. I just don’t really understand what you are driving at here. And as I say, apologies if I missed something in your comments.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

I already said that in Western systems your concerns are different.
Many tend to forget that India is a non Western country though it maybe pro Western.
I don’t know how familiar you are with Indian government systems but the Socialist architecture created by 70 years of Nehru Gandhi dynastic democracy took away whatever benefits the colonial administration structure had created.
Basically it was run badly to suit a handful of elites. And massive money made illegally by the corrupt nexus I stated.
The plethora of Government schemes just didn’t reach the poor they were planned for.
Digitization has largely solved the problem.
But some States ruled by the dynastic corrupt political parties are refusing to switch to digitization. To continue the old modes of malfeasance.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 months ago

OK – I get that. This particular digitisation in this Indian context has provided a serious benefit in seeing money reach the places intended relative to a (presumably) paper based system.
But that’s not what I asked you. What I asked was: do you think that digitalisation is something to be replicated in the initiative-based way that you are talking about, or do you see mass digitisation of everything as a good thing to be embraced, regardless of what it opens up.
Put another way – my (apparently) Western concern is that digitisation is the thin end of the wedge. What I tried to put to you, perhaps not very well, is that digitisation to improve distribution of government revenue in a particular Indian context is one thing. CBDCs and social credits are quite another. It may be that the Indian citizen at large is quite happy to be a data source to facilitate government locking him/her down at any given moment. That’s fine in my view.
What I’m asking is whether or not you think anyone with real concerns about a hyper-digitalised world is somehow malign. If you think a wish for privacy and is a western decadence then fine, but please just say so – there’s nothing wrong with that as such.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

The fact that India is non Western emanates from your query. Here the poor view digitization as a form of empowerment. In a country where till the 1990s you couldn’t get a land phone connection as you were not part of an elite; it is immensely empowering to know the government is giving you free access to mobile telephony, bank accounts and digital IDs.
And it is the manual system which blocked you from getting your dues- if you were owed 100 Indian Rupees by the government, you would probably get only 10 Rs finally as the rest would be stolen by middlemen and corrupt bureaucrats.
Please read P Sainath ” Everybody Loves a Good Drought” to understand venality as it used to be.
He is a Communist leaning activist by the way.
Please also see the 2013 Performance Audit Report of the CAG on MNREGA at www. cag.gov.in
https://cag.gov.in/en/audit-report/details/704

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 months ago

‘It is immensely empowering to know the government is giving you free access to mobile telephony, bank accounts and digital IDs.’
With respect, you seem here to be sharing my concerns. It may well be empowering on your terms but what is rather less empowering is that those things can be withdrawn by the government. Or controlled by the government. Or used as weapons by the government.
Now, of course one could very easily say that phone companies, big banks and particularly big tech are not exactly paragons of virtue and exercise too much control over us.
But several posts in I still really don’t get what it is you are arguing. Is your point here that digitalisation can effectively cut out corruption and that initiatives like the one you are talking about are good things – I suspect few would disagree with you if that is your argument. In that case digitalisation was a tool, not an end in iteslf.
Or are you saying that we should all digitally submit ourselves to social credit and the like and be relaxed about it because government is, to your mind and that of the Indian citizen, some sort of paternalistic benefactor, guaranteed forever. If the latter then I would suggest that you have no reasonable foundation for a belief that your world-view will be shared globally.
You seem to have an interesting story to tell – I just don’t think I get from your posts what it is you think the confluence of me, big tech and government should be and I do really want to understand that.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

Situations are different in India. If you are truly interested scroll my comments and then see the Report links I gave.
The issue in India is one of governance versus malfeasance.
The issue in the West is of individual rights versus state surveillance ( if I have understood).

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

I have never visited a village in India. I have twice been to Pune and once to Haridwar, a total of about 5 weeks. This was not as a tourist but a visitor to factories. What I saw confirmed that you can’t in any way compare life there with life in Europe. There was almost no job security except at the top, very few safety precautions taken in extreme dangerous areas with hot metal flying about and the word of the boss decided your future in life. A car driver was fired on the spot for being 15 minutes late.
And those were the people actually working. Many just lived from day to day. Which is why theories developed in super-organised societies just don’t apply. You have to struggle for everything, even normal dues and benefits. Anything which improves the situation is good.
Personally, I don’t have anything to hide here in the UK, and I no longer get excited about Big Brother watching me – a worry of the past. Wake up to the fact that digitalisation is here and things have moved on!!

Last edited 8 months ago by Caradog Wiliams
Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago

And that was presumably some decades back?
You are right in the third para
Having said that, Indian society has a lot of strength in its community and family bonds.
But digitization is the only way to reach genuine social security benefits to the poorest of the poor.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
8 months ago

‘I don’t have anything to hide here in the UK, and I no longer get excited about Big Brother watching me – a worry of the past. Wake up to the fact that digitalisation is here and things have moved on!!’
Part of me wonders whether you have been in a coma since March 2020.
OK – suppose we had this level of digitalisation (and indeed we had social media) in the 1980s during AIDS. How do you think that would have played out?
I suppose I can only say to you what I said to the other commentator which I that I’m really not sure what you are getting at here. Are you saying that we should be relaxed about CBDC, social credit at the like? If so, that’s a perfectly reasonable position to take – I’ll disagree, but the position is reasonable. Or are you saying that digital business process improvement is fine, but funny, luxury things like consent and privacy are just nothing now and that exclusion is a corollary we should all expect for actually thinking Big Brother really isn’t our friend.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
8 months ago

‘Digitisation has largely solved the problem’. Not in the specific example described in the article it hasn’t. Quite the reverse.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Coralie Palmer

The article is below par and misleading

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
8 months ago

The structure of your argument seems to rest on being opposed to states having power rather than the central government; that India has found no other means to resolve the problems you perceive; and therefore, the only solution is to impose upon citizens, without their consent, a technocratic solution that breaches their rights.
Is that correct?

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Not just States, but local village level institutions called Gram Panchayats.
The manual system was a web of corruption.
For reasons I have consistently explained.
This is a dole scheme and in India when honest taxpayers subsidize rural poor we expect that the money reaches them and not a corrupt nexus of manual intervention seekers.
You need to visit rural India and stay in a village to grasp realities before you throw concepts popular with Western activists like ” consent”.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
8 months ago

We are never going to agree here because we have fundamental differences in outlook about the powers of the state.

rob drummond
rob drummond
8 months ago

there is no ‘S’ in the word ”anyway”

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  rob drummond

True. My mistake

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago

Again an activist hit job from UH.
As someone extremely familiar with the implementation of digital architecture in India, I must say the article is motivated and distorted.

Prior to digitization the corruption and malfeasance in MNREGA was staggering. The national auditor put it at crores being siphoned off due to fake claims, duplicate benefits being doled out often to ineligible beneficiaries, and a slew of other major frauds.
The author mentions none of that. Curiously she also fails to mention the current scandal in the hard Left ruled state of West Bengal which doesn’t implement digital ID for the precise reasons I mention.

Actually digitization has hit hard the troika of corruption by political parties, business contractors and venal civil servants.
As in any Socialist system anywhere the Congress Left parties thrived on this pork barrel welfarist non- digitised system to gain money for its campaign funds.
And to sustain an ecosystem of activists as obviously this author belongs to.
Lies, lies and lies all over.
UH- are you stealing Guardian hacks to do your India posts? You could do much better.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago

I suspect however that when you digitise a corrupt society, you do not eliminate corruption: you supercharge it.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

It’s like this- you eliminate process corruption of releasing payments done manually earlier by linking the payment with direct bank account transfers. Earlier the money would be mostly eaten up at village council levels by local politicians/ bureaucrats/ contractors.
Now the corruption is much less in States where the digitization works on what we call here the ” JAM” trinity- you have a Social ID number which is linked directly to your bank account which in turn is linked to your tax ID.
Where it is a problem is in States where the systemic corruption of obtaining a Social ID is tampered with- by allowing illegal immigrants from Bangladesh or Myanmar( like your small boat crowd in the UK) to gain access.
As in Bengal where I have personal knowledge of being blocked by a hard Left government to do an IT Audit of the process of obtaining social ID.
Bengal also keeps things manual.
So your conclusion is kind of wrong as far as India is concerned.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

You’re commenting to a largely Western readership – what does “crores” mean?

Also, the author refers several times to the corruption endemic in the old non-digitised system. Your comment therefore loses merit by being ill-thought through.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

10 million Rupees.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

Thanks.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Her exclusions of the real problems are significant. The real issue is that of the manner in which Left ruled States of the Federation are introducing people with fake documents into the biometric system.
You obviously don’t know much about India and/or are part of the Woke cabal who of late are vocal on UH.
If you wish to truly educate yourself look at the Auditor general of India’s 2008 Report on MNREGA at http://www.cag.gov.in

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

I don’t know much about India, but i prefer to read comments which are more explanatory than you provided with your initial attempt.
I also critiqued your comment, not you as an individual. The attempt to align me with a particular “cabal” was both unnecessary and inaccurate; once again, ill-considered.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I gave my reasons as to why I consider the UH piece absurd.
And the reasons I mention a cabal is as I am not blind to see the usual suspects moan about anything positive that emanates from the present government in most sections of British media.

It’s pointless to take this further with those already pre- judging both me and the reasons for finding the UH piece motivated.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

We’re judging what you’ve written, not you.
In comments on previous articles, i’ve agreed with you. That’s the nature of discourse.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I don’t have endless time to wax eloquent. Start by reading the CAG Report I suggested to first get the context right.
Incidentally even the vehemently anti India coverage of the Economist was forced to conclude what a success digitization in the Indian context has been in a recent issue( July I think).
I am somewhat familiar with why many of you in the West are opposing digitization.
It doesn’t work that way in India. Here technology is a leveller of terrible elitism unleashed by decades of poor governance by a venal Federal government.
Using ” povertarianism” it sought to keep the poor coddled and discriminated against.
Concepts of “space”, ” privacy” and “consent” are individualistic and not representative of a collectivist, conservative society.
Technology is a liberator. Much as the Industrial revolution empowered vast sections of an agricultural society in the West in the 19th century.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago

You have to excuse some of the comments to your post. Most UnHerd subscribers are old men who don’t have much experience of other cultures and can only see things from one point of view. I can see that a benefit system which allocates 100 days of work per year to each individual has to have 100% traceability.
We talk in the UK about ID cards from time to time and we pride ourselves that we don’t have them – unlike anyone else in the world. Part of being British.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago

Thanks- yes, most people on UH are not very familiar with India as it is today.
The problem is that any digitization affects powerful vested interests- from CCP( who incidentally signed an MOU with the Congress Party in 2008 on secret terms yet undisclosed) to people I mentioned taking ” cuts” to release manual cash payments.
I have been involved with several appraisals with MNREGA, and oversight processes.
I know what I speak about unlike some others spouting balderdash here in support of this activist author for vested interests of their own.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

It could well be that “old men” have travelled extensively and have much greater experience of other cultures than younger ones, especially those with a basic lack of insight to hinder their experience in the first place.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Strangely, I knew what crores were but if II hadn’t known I would have stirred myself to look it up instead of pouting about it.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago

I am glad to see at least one well informed individual like you compared to the rest of the invective laden mob here.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
8 months ago

That is a puzzling comment, because I genuinely don’t see ‘invective’ against you, but comments that don’t agree with your comment. There really is a difference you know. And I’m still genuinely interested to know what you would do about the problem outlined in the article. You are clearly an expert (that’s not snark by the way!) so you will doubtless have come across the issue. How do you think it can be resolved?

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Coralie Palmer

The article doesn’t mention that there is a social audit and grievances redressal system available in each village council.
As an oversight expert who has written numerous evaluations on MNREGA, I wonder if the author has studied the scheme in detail. She could have then asked those deprived why they didn’t approach the social audit hearings at village level.
If that mechanism did not exist as it was mandatory per the scheme, that is a slippage.
The author gives away her agenda when she says” Modi’s tech imposition has alienated ordinary people”.
Half- baked idiotic drivel.
Btw, I am a “she”.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

As it happens, i already did. It’s usual as a matter of courtesy and simple explanatory insight to provide an equivalent value to a sum of money involving a currency many readers might be unfamiliar with.
The more general point was that SG ignored what the author of the article had mentioned at several points (the corrupt nature of the old system) to launch a diatribe against her for pointing out the problems of the new system. Your inability to look beyond the first point to see the wider one is precisely what i mean about lack of insight.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
8 months ago

A dozen evil people going unpunished is unjust. One innocent person knowingly unfairly punished is an outrage.

Sure, MNREGA was corrupted, which is a serious problem, but ordinary people received their fair pay. With the NMMS knowingly very many ordinary people are being cheated of their already tiny earnings with no redress, which is abhorent.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Do you know that? Have you worked in India in implementing MNREGA to make such sweeping assertions?

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Nell Clover
Nell Clover
8 months ago

I don’t think anyone is questioning that MNREGA was corrupted. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India presented his evidence. It isn’t a matter of opinion.

That the new NMMS has access problems isn’t contested either. The Ministry of Rural Development has conceded there are issues of access due to the mobile network having significant coverage gaps in the rural areas where there are many users of NMMS. Last year’s delayed 5G spectrum auction caused a major interruption to network expansion. Again, this isn’t a matter of opinion.

Last edited 8 months ago by Nell Clover
Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

So read what I said above. I am not talking through my elbows about why I find the UH article above absurd.
Of course there are issues in implementation but the UH article is non- factual or based on distortions.
It’s strange exclusions of Bengal where the live instance of fraud in manual systems are coming to light are appearing to me motivated or ignorant or both.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Sundaramani Krishnan
Sundaramani Krishnan
8 months ago

Why are you being so touchy?

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago

Not in my estimation. You should use that epithet for some others here.

Last edited 8 months ago by Sayantani Gupta
Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
8 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Thanks for an informative – and courteous – reply. SG’s exchanges with you are rather highlighting the peremptory and somewhat one-sided nature of his responses. Interesting in itself.

Last edited 8 months ago by Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
8 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

That’s exactly my query too.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
8 months ago

All good points. But what do you have to say to the actual problem described in the article?

Naren Savani
Naren Savani
8 months ago

Keep up the good work.You seem to be the only one on this thread who knows the realities of India.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Naren Savani

Thank you for understanding. I live in India and my work enables me to understand the governance issues. Village India is something I live in and know well.
It did appear to me that except a few, most others are not familiar with life in rural India.
Nor did the author of this article research the issue of governance closely.
If she had, it could have been a valuable addition, instead of the agit- prop activism it is to attract Western audiences.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
8 months ago

I think there’s an element of cultural bias in this article. India has a very different culture and viewing this issue through the prism of the very western issues of digital rights, information security, and government domestic surveillance is probably misleading. As other commenters have pointed out, its’ difficult to compare across cultural boundaries. I was struck by the fact that the problem here isn’t the system or the government’s bad intentions, but arises from a lack of proper infrastructure. The government made an app that allows rural laborers to bypass the bureaucracy and get paid, and it isn’t working because of technological issues like bandwidth capacity and cellphone coverage. They don’t have enough cell towers and infrastructure to make it work effectively. This seems to be a problem of application rather than intent.
There’s a certain amount of Ludditeism in these types of articles. Certainly, one can bemoan the fact that everyone needs a smartphone and a digital ID to be employed, but to me this is a consequence of economic and social change, not some nefarious government plot. Before the industrial age, there was no great need for most people to read and most people were illiterate. Now basically nobody questions this basic requirement. The digital age is simply requiring a new set of skills to function in the society in a similar fashion to how industrialization required mass literacy. In that context, the Indian government is simply trying to do what happened naturally and without government impetus in the west, that is get everyone on the internet and using a smartphone or computer to conduct their business digitally, because we’re rapidly approaching the point where pretty much all the business of society is conducted in this arena. I know some people who still use paper checks or won’t purchase things over the Internet, which is absolutely pointless because once you have a bank account and a credit card, the bank is using the digital system and the internet and the information is out there. Unless you’re willing to take only the sorts of jobs that pay out of pocket cash and keep whatever savings you have under your mattress, there’s no escaping the digital reality.
A lot of hay has been made about how much bad government can do using new technology for surveillance and tracking, and a lot of those threats are real, but every age has its threats, and the threat of government using whatever tools are available to increase its power at the expense of people’s individual rights is nothing new. The threat of governmental tyranny precedes the digital age and it will presumably remain in whatever age follows the digital. The tools may be different and that’s frightening and intimidating to many, but it is simply the same struggle for individual rights against the machinations of governments and powerful individuals. For a good example of what tyranny looks like in the digital age, we need look no further than Xi’s China. Still probably not as bad as Nazi Germany, which tyrannized and murdered millions without the help of the digital tools of mass surveillance. The author probably could have made his point more effectively and hit the nail more directly on the head by using the Chinese example rather than trying to jam this square peg into a round hole.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Well put Sir. You have grasped the nub of the issue very well.
I tried repeatedly to point out how important technology is to the poor in India.
It’s a means of empowerment and a challenge to an elite dominated malfeasance trap.
I also tried to bring out that the problems with digitization in MNREGA are being addressed through improvement in the infrastructure of rural India which the present Indian government has pushed in a big way since 2016.
Of course there could be issues- but this article is pushing a political agenda instead of dealing with the genuine systemic and institutional issues which I have brought out.
I am closely associated with the oversight process of government schemes in India, thus I found it annoying that many who are not acquainted with the realities of rural India were making rather judgement based assertions.
The downticks I received donot deter me, though I do suspect that if I made similar sweeping judgements about scheme implementation in the West ( which I am unfamiliar with)I would attract outrage.
Thanks for understanding the problematic.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
8 months ago

I think digitization is simply a fact of life in today’s technologically advanced world. It’s basically baked. I do think it’s possible to push back against all the cameras though.

R Wright
R Wright
8 months ago

“the app is prone to glitching or not uploading photos”
I’d wager it’s because it was coded by lowly paid Indian coders.

Sayantani Gupta
Sayantani Gupta
8 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

No, it was probably because the net speed was low.

Coralie Palmer
Coralie Palmer
8 months ago

So that’s alright then.