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.
This topic of “[Editorials] Data divide – Issues and the way forward” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
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.
- 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
- 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)