India is rapidly digitising. There are good things and bad, speed-bumps on the way and caveats to be mindful of. The weekly column Terminal focuses on all that is connected and is not – on digital issues, policy, ideas and themes dominating the conversation in India and the world.
Andhra Pradesh has always been at the forefront when it comes to implementing information technology projects. In continuation of real-time governance efforts, the Andhra Pradesh government has hired volunteers as its last mile agents, taking governance door to door. These ‘Ward and Village’ volunteers are people who are usually close to the ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party and act as Common Service Centre agents. Every month these volunteers provide welfare and other subsidies by going door to door and collecting Aadhaar-based eKYC (electronic ‘know your customers’) of residents at their doors.
Around 2.5 lakh volunteers of the state government are equipped with a smartphone, a biometric reader and a host of applications that require data collection for both welfare delivery and other governance activities. Every volunteer is allocated around 70 households with a ‘cluster ID’. Each is part of a village secretariat or an urban ward. This volunteer is the face of Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy’s governance in Andhra Pradesh and is in charge of implementing his 16 flagship welfare schemes.
Armed with their digital tools, the volunteers meet every resident, collecting their household information. Every house is given a household ID, with further details of every resident of the household. If there is migration from one household to another, due to marriage or for work, the resident’s details are also updated accordingly by updating their household status. Any resident who is dead or has migrated is accounted for every six months with a general purpose eKYC before government welfare for that cycle is decided.
It is not just welfare schemes and subsidy delivery. The actual task of these volunteers is to really be last-mile governance agents.
During COVID-19, these volunteers were going door to door identifying if a resident has a smartphone or not and making them install the Aarogya Setu application.
Every time there is an update in a situation, these volunteers are required to go collect more information from the ground and record them in their arsenal of applications. For instance, the government makes them collect survey data which acts as feedback for various scheme implementations.
Every volunteer is tracked through a mobile GPS sensor, which she has to ensure is on when she marks her attendance at the village and ward secretariat every day. Her everyday activity is tracked real-time. Officials at every stage are equipped to track completion of work through their dashboards.
More than 92% pension Distribution completed by 6.30 pm today.
Great work again by village/ward volunteers and Secretariat staff.
Congratulations to all of them.
Wish a very healthy, happy and prosperous new year to all of them. pic.twitter.com/0UN3XhXUlo
— Gopal Krishna Dwivedi, IAS (@GKDwivediIAS) January 1, 2021
This idea of real-time governance goes beyond these volunteers, to Anganwadi workers, teachers and every form of last-mile government agent, who is now required to update one or more of the 50-odd mobile apps that are constantly monitored by the Real-time Governance Society of Andhra Pradesh. An initiative of N. Chandrababu Naidu and retired bureaucrat J. Satyanarayana, ‘real-time governance’ was said to be the only logical evolution to governance with the help of information technology.
Naidu championed this model between 2014 and 2019, when Andhra Pradesh forced Aadhaar linking everywhere in the name of real-time governance. He laid the groundwork for creation of e-pragati – Andhra Pradesh’s State Enterprise Architecture, a 360-degree profile database. In Andhra Pradesh, if you want welfare, there is a six-step check that is performed to identify if you deserve welfare based on your electricity bill, land ownership, house ownership, vehicle ownership, income tax, property tax and job status. The state is able to check all of these details based on 360-degree profiles created with Aadhaar.
In 2007, the Planning Commission of India devised a project for an Integrated Smart Card where every member of a household will be identified and inter-linked to track welfare.
While this project eventually became Aadhaar and each state government started building 360-degree profiles of individuals and households to track welfare spending, in Andhra Pradesh the decade-long project sees completion with village level volunteers mapping each household and tracking every resident.
All of the 360-degree profile Aadhaar data that was collected by the Real-time Governance Society of Andhra Pradesh, was found to have been accessed and used by Telugu Desam Party workers in 2019 for election campaigns.
Workers of TDP were found with an android application with colour photographs of people and all details of the direct benefit transfers they had received from the government. The now ruling YSRCP opposed this development heavily and even filed a complaint with the Election Commission of India, for violation of resident privacy and usage of this information for electioneering.
This has come full circle now, with concerns on YSRCP MLAs accessing welfare data from door to door campaigns for the upcoming elections. As part of Andhra Pradesh government’s effort of “Gadapagadaku our government – to every door our government”, YSRCP MLAs go door to door carrying pamphlets with details of the exact amount received by each household.
The party MLAs are accompanied by ward and village volunteers as they go about distributing ‘verification documents’ with details of direct benefit transfers and the list of schemes each individual has obtained them against.
Jagan’s government has thus continued with the plans of real-time governance conceptualised by N. Chandrababu Naidu and has paved the way for the access to welfare data of every household within the scope of governance.
Andhra and its bureaucrats have evolved a statecraft that has been under development for more than a decade and gone a step ahead by helping political parties use welfare data for electioneering. Now this Aadhaar model of welfare state and 360-degree profiling is being adopted in almost every southern state.
Srinivas Kodali is a researcher on digitisation and hacktivist.