“In India, you might be divided into political lines but it’s time the government unites the country digitally”
While the government recently announced a trial for 5G in the country. The majority of the population is still searching for networks on their mobiles. To add to this conundrum, the government recently opened up vaccination for the age group of 18-44 years. Though this is a promising measure, what’s causing the most trouble is the CoWIN website. Though the website in its title has ‘WIN’, barely anyone accomplishes in booking a slot for vaccination, let alone get one.
We may have entered the digital era but we’re still digitally divided as a country. The government did manage to encompass the entire country during the election, the network is still far from reaching those in the hinterlands of this country.
When you log in to the CoWIN website or app it notifies you about the instructions on ‘How to book a slot’. It goes like 1. Register yourself 2. Choose vaccine location 3. Confirm your slot & 4. Any questions? Yes, where do we get the high-speed internet for commencing the second step?
The Digital Divide has always prevailed but the vaccination drive has made it apparent. Some experts recommend getting vaccinated before the potential ‘Third Wave’ but where to get the internet from. Even if you’ve internet you don’t have an appointment, if you do manage to get an appointment you don’t receive the OTP, if you do manage to receive the OTP by the time you reach to ‘Book a slot’ the centre shows it has already been completely booked.
As per The World Bank report in 2019, India has an Internet penetration of 45% and the number of active internet users at 34.4%. With such a divide and a vast population of 130 crores, we have initiated vaccination drives digitally. The current scenario has caused great distress amongst a section of society who are still not comfortable with technology and to add to that the CoWIN website is not something that can be accessed by everybody. Broadband penetration in rural India is limited to a mere 29.2 per cent, as of 31 March 2020, Sanjay Dhotre, Minister of State for Communications, Education, and Electronics & Information Technology
Even though the government has introduced several additional platforms where a user can register themselves like Aarogya Setu App, Umang App. But the crisis continues to cater to that 55% of people who still don’t have an internet connection at their disposal yet. The government has managed to introduce APIs (Application Programming Interface) for the CoWIN app. Thereby, enabling third-party applications to evolve algorithms so as whenever there is the availability of slots for vaccination they can notify the registered users. Some prominent platforms are being utilized like Telegram under the name of ‘U-45’ wherein the groups are composed based on your specific district. This enables users to narrow down their search for the elixir i.e. Vaccine.
It’s not today that we are unexpectedly facing such a crisis glaring on our face of the Digital Divide. This divide like any other divides that prevail in our country has prevailed since the coming of age of the internet. It has always been the affluent who could afford the internet and not the others. Even after the launch of much-hyped ‘Digital India’ by the incumbent regime in 2015 to connect rural regions with high-speed internet connectivity we still haven’t been able to attain the desired results and the commitments are still in the air and not on papers let alone seen on the surface.
As per the Government’s data, till now over 18 crore people have been inoculated across 29 states at 41,000 centres. Nevertheless, gradually we are witnessing a contraction in the amount of vaccination being done between March and May. We have curtailed our output significantly. Also, some of the states have in recent times notified that they don’t have vaccines available for 18+ groups. Incompetence on the part of the state government or central government, you know who to blame?
For the government, if it intends to plunge soon to address the prevailing issues, it should at first with utmost importance make sure that registration of vaccines should be enabled both digitally as well as On-spot registration. The same can be done with the assistance of ASHA workers’ who have considerable outreach than the government ever desired for them. However, to make sure people register themselves, the government should instil confidence-building measures amongst the masses about the usefulness of getting inoculated as there is tremendous scepticism amongst the people about the vaccination.
To make the model more productive, state governments should ensure more vaccination sites are opened up near the rural regions thereby making sure people don’t have to traverse long distances and wait in lengthy queues to get themselves vaccinated. The same is being carried out in the United States wherein they have opened up vaccination sites at their stadiums, primary health centres thereby decentralising the whole system.
However, all the above-mentioned solutions can be put in motion only when we have a considerable amount of vaccines to inoculate the majority. Since, as of today, only 3.5% of the population has been vaccinated compared to other countries that have vaccinated almost 40-60% of their population.
The author if final Year law student of Law Centre I, University of Delhi. views are personal.