[Editorials] Data divide – Issues and the way forward

Context: While this year’s Economic Survey focuses on improving the quality and quantity of data for a better and quicker assessment of the state of the economy, it pays little attention to access to the data by citizens, ignoring the criticality of data for a healthy and informed public discourse on issues of policy relevance.

Quick revision mind map

Measures undertaken by GOI to strengthen the data architecture

  • The Indian state has been proactively strengthening the data architecture in the name of tackling corruption and better targeting beneficiaries.
  • Since 2014, the scope of UIDAI has seen a huge expansion.
  • An initiative like JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) has private details of citizens, breaching their fundamental right to privacy.
  • When such integration of databases was questioned in court, the government resorted to artificial barriers and restrictions in accessing public services for those who are unwilling to share their details.
  • Along with traditional instruments such as the Census, sample surveys and registers of various departments, the government is now armed with real-time data.

In short, the government is sufficiently empowered to collect and use information about its citizens touching all the spheres of their life.

Issues with the widening data divide

A missing chance to make the government accountable:

  • The citizen’s right to access relevant data for quality public discussion seems to be gradually eroding.
  • In this process, the government has refused to hold itself accountable.
  • This is evident from repeated events of the delayed release of various survey data.

Independence of the data production and credibility of the data produced:

  • The effectiveness of state policies can be judged from the data produced by the statistical wings of the government, which have a reputation for being independent and credible.
  • However, recent events have severely dented this perception. The government is increasingly intervening in the everyday functioning of data production for political convenience.

Way forward

  • The data divide between the state and its citizens is a potential threat to the smooth functioning of a democracy.
  • While the government has significantly expanded its scope as the custodian of data, it is increasingly limiting the scope of access to it by responsible citizens and stakeholders.
  • Without bridging this data gap, the scope of modern technology for tracking development cannot be realised.

Practice Question for Mains

  1. Amassing data by the government in itself will not lead to improvements, but its use by different stakeholders will. Critically comment. (250 Words, 15 Marks)
Referred Sources

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