For a country where people often get reduced to statistics given the humongous population, India hardly has any effective data measurement tools that can be relied upon and swung into action amidst a pandemic, as the ongoing Covid-19 crisis has exposed.
The Indian administration doesn’t have data on how many migrant workers lost their lives during the crisis. There is no record of the number of healthcare staff that have died fighting the coronavirus. There is hardly any real-time tracking mechanism to know the nearest hospital having an ICU bed for a patient needing one. There has been discrepancy found in the Covid-19 data reported by the health ministry and that by the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Absence of any data record relieves the authorities of their liability and obliviate any question of compensation while leaving millions of people with no pay protection during the mandatory lockdowns and quarantines.
Six months after its launch, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of Aarogya Setu app as a tool for disease prediction and contact tracing. It is yet to be seen how the health data collected through the app is going to be used in improving public healthcare in the country. Nonetheless, this has not prevented the government to roll out a national health ID for every individual â the world’s biggest national digital health scheme â amidst the pandemic.
If âone country-one taxâ and âone country-one cardâ can be formulated and implemented, then can the Aadhaar card become the sole data source for the entire country and its population for all the essential purposes?
Incidentally, the labour ministry on Wednesday pronounced that it will develop a national database for unorganised workers that will be seeded with Aadhaar. This comes quite late, given that 90% of India’s workforce has been engaged in the unorganised sectors.
The private sector in the country has been better at collecting public data and leveraging it effectively using big data analytics.
The government still remains technologically, administratively and conceptually challenged to use public data meaningfully.
While the legal mechanism to protect individual data has been framed â the bill on data protection is pending to be cleared by Indian legislature â the government will do well to focus on collection of public data first.