The Political Journey of Healthcare in Select Indian States

The Political Journey of Healthcare in Select Indian States

Authors: Sandhya Venkateswaran, Mayank Mishra and Nikhil Iyer
Published: October 2022

To comprehend the advancements in health within India, it’s essential to analyse the progress achieved in different states. While many aspects, including fiscal health, governance, institutional capacity, and others influence health progress, the political priority accorded to health by a state’s leadership remains a key driver.

How the leadership views and positions healthcare in their vision for the state and its development path and the potential incentives they see accruing as a result of healthcare improvements, forms the basis of the attention given to this issue in a state.

In light of this context, The Quantum Hub worked with the Lancet Citizen’s Commission on Reimagining India’s Health System to examine the socio-political determinants of attention to health in five Indian states – Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand.

The analysis surfaces four insights. One, political ideology plays a role in driving attention to health, but political legitimacy can be linked with healthcare to drive attention in the absence of an ideological driver. External stakeholders can create an environment where legitimacy is linked with healthcare.

Two, sensitizing politicians to electorally rewarding policies elsewhere, and relevant to the state’s development journey, can motivate them to act.

Three, state capacity is a key variable in the confidence to undertake reforms and the choice of reforms.

Four, both the Central government and external stakeholders such as civil society can contribute to agenda setting at the state level.

Go back to a clean slate on data protection for children

Go back to a clean slate on data protection for children

Children can use platforms with parental consent but child users cannot be tracked, making safety measures hard to apply, even as the law’s exemptions could have unintended adverse effects.

Author: Nikhil Iyer
Published: August 24, 2023 in Livemint

After nearly a decade of discourse around a data protection law for India, a requirement that was given urgency by a landmark Supreme Court judgement in 2017 on the fundamental right to privacy, the Indian Parliament has finally passed the Digital Personal Data Protection Bill, 2023. This is the third version; previous drafts of the Bill were circulated in 2019 and 2022. However, in each draft, the law’s approach to protecting children’s privacy has remained hazy.

To recap, the current law sets the age of consent to use online services at 18 years. If you are younger than 18, then the online platform has to obtain “verifiable parental consent,” failing which the platform can incur massive penalties up to 200 crore. While a child can use an internet platform once a parent provides consent, the platform is completely prohibited from tracking and monitoring the behaviour of child users, irrespective of the purpose for which such data processing is to be conducted.

This is where this approach becomes problematic. How can online platforms prevent a child from being exposed to harmful, risky or illegal content, interactions and experiences without tracking or monitoring their behaviour? How are they expected to take precautionary measures, such as alerting parents or law enforcement agencies, if the child is getting drawn towards self-harm, bullying, harassment, hate speech or other dangers? While other jurisdictions have chosen to place high responsibility on platforms for keeping children safer, the Indian law takes a diametrically opposite approach.

The law looks at “verifiable parental consent” as an end-all solution. This is in a country where less than 40% Indians are digitally literate, as per the National Sample Survey’s 78th Round (2020-21) data, with the distinct possibility of children gaming the system by using their parents’ phones/email IDs to provide consent without their knowledge. The mere fact of parental consent is presumed to take care of any harm or risk which may befall children after they begin using the platform.

To add to this, the law is willing to provide exemptions from parental consent requirements for certain platforms that will be certified as being “verifiably safe,” allowing them to process data of children above a certain age (16 years) without parental consent. As per an interview of the IT minister of state, this certification could be reserved for platforms that ensure “100% KYC,” through identity-proofs such as government ID cards. The exemption may be available to specific entities such as “education, skilling, some vocational music websites where children are learning music and they [platforms, i.e.] take all kinds of precautions” and “certainly not social media.”

This exemption carrot is riddled with issues as well. One, it is prima facie in conflict with the data minimization principle: platforms should only collect data necessary for achieving specific purposes. It is unclear how collecting parents’ IDs will help in keeping children safe while using the platform. Two, by laying down a white-listing process, where platforms have to apply for ‘verifiably safe’ certification, the law will increase bureaucratic entanglement in a dynamic digital economy. It is unclear if entities will have to apply to a government authority for every incremental change by which they seek to create more value for children using their products or services.

Further, the rationale for singling out certain categories of platforms is not immediately clear. Today, the lines between a platform’s purpose are blurred. For instance, YouTube is perhaps the world’s biggest ed-tech platform, with its invaluable and democratized repository of knowledge on everything from exam preparation to art and music lessons and personal development; but the government may categorize it as a social media or a streaming platform. Through this certification, the law would end up discriminating among entities that may be offering equally strong protections while processing children’s data, but may either be shut out at the door itself or not have applied for ‘verifiably safe’ certification for other reasons. This may also reduce the incentive of online platforms to innovate for children, as they may want to avoid an over-regulated market segment. India’s young netizens would then be at a disadvantage vis-a-vis their global peers in all these situations.

An alternative approach could have been to uphold ‘best interests of the child’ obligations under an internationally recognized standard of the UN convention on child rights, to which India is a signatory. In practice, the design of platforms would have to uphold this standard in terms of default settings, nudges, location tracking, publishing regular risk self-assessments, issuing prescriptions against detrimental use of data and so on. Beyond this, the government could blacklist any platform found to be violating the rules and stop it from processing children’s data. This will push all platforms to adhere to high data protection standards based on associated risk, while children would be able to freely access the internet based on varying levels of maturity.

How to protect children online is a global debate and there are no easy answers. However, the approach that we have taken to this issue suits neither the realities of India nor the challenges of cyberspace.

Nikhil Iyer is Senior Analyst, Public Policy at The Quantum Hub.

Tackling multidimensional poverty must for inclusive development

Tackling multidimensional poverty must for inclusive development

Tackling the root causes of deprivation, investing in education, improving nutrition and food security, and accelerating access to clean energy can help transform the lives of millions.

Authors: Mayank Mishra and Swathi Rao
Published: July 11, 2023 in Outlook

As the world commemorates World Population Day today, it is important to look at the most pressing issue faced by millions in India: poverty. While poverty is often used to describe monetary poverty, this definition is often too simplistic. Therefore, the United Nations recommends a different measure of poverty – the multidimensional poverty index (MPI), which is a measure of deprivation that encompasses a web of interconnected disadvantages, including limited access to basic infrastructure, education, healthcare, housing, and more. In fact, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to address precisely this complex nature of poverty.

In simple terms, MPI measures deprivation of three important aspects of a person’s life – their health, education, and living standards – each with specific indicators (10 in total) and having the same weightage. If a person is multidimensionally poor, it means that s/he is deprived in at least three indicators.

Globally, over a billion people are reported to be multidimensionally poor. In the context of India, a country with a diverse population and varying socio-economic landscapes, measuring and addressing multidimensional poverty takes on even greater significance. It necessitates an understanding of the nuanced challenges faced by individuals and communities in different regions.

The story of India’s poverty alleviation in the decade between 2005-06 and 2015-16 is nothing short of extraordinary. Over the last 15 years, the number of multidimensionally poor people in India has fallen by more than 415 million. According to the SDG Tracker developed by the India Policy Insights (IPI) initiative at Harvard University, a significant majority of districts (52 per cent) have achieved their SDG targets, demonstrating commendable efforts in alleviating multidimensional poverty. Encouragingly, 41 per cent of the districts are on track to meet these targets by 2030, indicating positive momentum towards sustainable development. However, despite notable progress, there are still areas that demand urgent attention.

Data on MPI from the UN reveals that nutrition, years of schooling, and cooking fuel, in particular, are areas of high deprivation in India, compared to other indicators, implying that a considerable number of people are undernourished, have not completed six years of schooling, and still use dung, agricultural crops, shrubs, wood, charcoal or coal as primary sources of cooking fuel.

While comprising only 6 per cent of the total number of districts in India, there are still 43 districts in the north, eastern, and north-eastern parts of India that are lagging in the pursuit of poverty alleviation. Although a relatively small proportion, when looked at in terms of population, this represents a substantial number of communities grappling with multidimensional poverty, and calls for immediate attention and investigation.

MPI considers undernourishment, based on age-specific BMI, weight-for-age, and stunting (for children 5 years and under), in any member of a household, as nutritional deprivation. According to the IPI Districts Tracker, the aforementioned 43 districts have some of the country’s highest prevalence of stunting and underweight women. Additionally, over 62 per cent districts in the country are not on track to meeting the SDG target for nutrition, serving as a grim reminder of the burden of undernutrition and highlighting the urgent need to address the nutritional crisis that continues to plague India.

According to the latest National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) data, the number of years of schooling among urban and rural areas was 7.5 years versus 4.0 years among women, and 8.8 years versus 6.5 years among men. While this is a remarkable improvement from the previous NFHS round (2015-2016), it is also important to note that men consistently have a higher average number of years of schooling compared to women. Further, 27 of the 43 districts falling behind have female attendance rates below the national average (71.76 per cent). This disparity not only perpetuates inequality but also hampers the nation’s progress in achieving sustainable development.

In terms of access to clean cooking fuel, although India has made significant progress through schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), nearly 68 per cent districts in the country are still unlikely to meet the SDG target for clean cooking fuel. At the current rate of progress, most districts in central, northern, and north eastern India are unlikely to have 100 per cent access to clean fuel by 2030. This means that a significant portion of the population may continue to rely on primitive cooking methods, exposing them to hazardous fumes and compromising their health.

Amidst these concerning statistics, it is also worth noting that Indian districts have shown exceptional performance on living standard indicators like sanitation and electricity; while 43 per cent districts have already met the SDG target for electricity, 78 per cent districts are on-target to meet the SDG target for sanitation and an additional 47 per cent for electricity.

The year 2023 is an important year for India. It not only signifies the halfway point to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda but also marks a significant demographic shift, with India surpassing China as the world’s most populous country. In light of these developments, it becomes imperative for us to take stock of our development goals and course-correct. India’s journey towards inclusive and sustainable development hinges on our ability to address the multidimensional nature of poverty. By tackling the root causes of deprivation, investing in education, improving nutrition and food security, and accelerating access to clean energy, we can transform the lives of millions.

Swathi Rao and Mayank Mishra are with The Quantum Hub (TQH).

Infocalypse: AI, fake reviews and trust in digital commerce

Infocalypse: AI, fake reviews and trust in digital commerce

Authentic reviews, whether positive or negative, serve as a valuable resource by sharing genuine experiences. In contrast, fake reviews distort the marketplace by depriving consumers of accurate information and swaying their decisions with misleading endorsements.

Authors: Mayank Mishra and Salil Ahuja
Published: July 27, 2023 in Hindustan Times

While there have been several discussions on how this may impact our society, we specifically examine the challenges that may emerge in digital commerce. Within a few months of generative AI’s rollout for common use, we’re witnessing the early signs of AI tools, like ChatGPT, being misused to power bots, generate fake reviews, and saturate the web with subpar content. The products and services listed on online marketplaces are already witnessing reviews that begin with the telltale words, “As an AI language model…”, which clearly implies that these reviews have been written with the help of generative AI.

This is a significant threat to trust in digital platforms because when it comes to making purchasing decisions, the opinions of consumers, who have used a particular product, hold significant sway. According to a survey by an SEO platform, a staggering 76% of consumers regularly consider reviews before making a product choice. Furthermore, nearly 75% admit that a positive review is the key factor influencing their perception of the product. However, the proliferation of fake reviews jeopardises consumer trust in online reviews as a whole. Authentic reviews, whether positive or negative, serve as a valuable resource by sharing genuine experiences. In contrast, fake reviews distort the marketplace by depriving consumers of accurate information and swaying their decisions with misleading endorsements. Fake reviews also hold the power to either damage or bolster a business’s reputation, with far-reaching consequences. Research conducted by Harvard Professor Michael Luca suggests that a mere one-star change in a company’s Yelp rating can substantially impact its revenue by 5-9%.

In the early days of digital commerce, there wasn’t significant recognition of the need to regulate platforms to ensure genuineness of reviews. Unfortunately, this led to the rise of paid-review farms, which exploit businesses seeking to artificially boost their ratings on review platforms. A different study by Luca highlighted that in 2015, fake reviews could be brought for as little as 25 cents per review, indicating that the cost of posting fake reviews was much lower than the benefit one could reap out of them.

Recognising the severity of the problem, the European Commission (EU) and national consumer protection authorities conducted an extensive EU-wide website screening to assess the credibility of consumer reviews. The results revealed deep doubts about the authenticity of reviews on the majority of the analysed websites. In India, the proliferation of fake and misleading reviews also violates consumers’ right to be informed, as enshrined in the Consumer Protection Act, 2019. The Department of Consumer Affairs therefore took notice after the release of the EU report and promptly invited key stakeholders to address the issue.

As a result of these discussions, the Department in collaboration with the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), introduced voluntary standards for online reviews in November 2022. However, when these standards were created, they did not proactively account for the generative abilities of AI. It is now crucial to consider the ongoing AI boom and its implications on the industry.

AI is a dynamic field, and regulating fake reviews online requires the support and collaboration of industry stakeholders. The government must encourage innovation by the private sector in collaboration with experts and consumer groups to address this problem at scale as proliferation of fake reviews is likely to increase given the short time required to generate new content. Online marketplaces also have market incentives to address this problem, as they are well aware that fake reviews undermine trust and credibility, leading to decreased user engagement and ultimately people’s reluctance to use their platforms. We must therefore also build systems so that platforms collaborate with each other to identify common bad actors who are operating across online marketplaces.

Further, in India, initiatives such as the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC) which are encouraging interoperability could also play a potential role in building systems of cooperation to check fake reviews. Fixing accountability of fake reviews and law enforcement mechanisms may also need to be revisited as AI’s impact on this aspect becomes clearer.

As the AI revolution unfolds, our ability to preserve the integrity of digital commerce becomes paramount to ensure continued trust in digital markets. We should take proactive steps to regulate and combat the proliferation of fake reviews to enable informed decision-making and protect online commerce from AI-powered manipulative practices.

Mayank Mishra is Manager, Public Policy and Salil Ahuja is Associate, Public Policy at TQH Consulting.

India urgently needs a new policy for the elderly

India urgently needs a new policy for the elderly

We need a policy that views senior citizens not just as passive recipients of welfare schemes but as valuable assets who can contribute significantly to society.

Authors: Srijan Rai and Aparajita Bharti
Published: July 24, 2023 in Livemint

The wellbeing of the elderly is mandated by the Constitution, specifically the Directive Principles of State Policy. However, the fact that the existing policy on older people was introduced in 1999 reflects the lack of policy focus on this issue. According to a report by the Parliamentary Committee on Government Assurances, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has given 11 assurances in Parliament since 2011 about bringing in a new policy. However, a draft of the National Policy for Senior Citizens from 2016 is yet to be finalised.

As we set our sights towards the India of 2047, this lack of attention to the country’s elderly population needs to change. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) provides valuable insights into the changing needs and dynamics of senior citizens. The survey reveals that the number of senior citizens living with chronic illness is rising every year. It showed that about a quarter of those aged 40-49 already have hypertension and that its prevalence increases sharply with age. The findings show a similar pattern for diabetes. These health challenges demand a well-structured policy that integrates healthcare services, promotes preventive measures, and ensures that all elderly citizens have access to quality medical care.

The NFHS data also shows that a significant proportion of the elderly population faces financial hardships and social isolation. Many are dependent on their families or meager pensions. For instance, the National Social Assistance Programme provides a pension of ₹500 rupees a month and the Atal Pension Yojana (available to a small proportion of elderly) offers ₹1,000-6,000 a month . These sums are insufficient to cover even basic needs.

Several other changes – such as a rise in the number of nuclear families, a decline in family size, and migration to urban areas and abroad – are also displacing the existing system of elderly care within families. India’s average family size decreased from 4.67 members in 2001 to 4.45 members in 2011 and is likely to drop further with fertility rates falling. The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 – the law that allows the elderly to take legal action against their children if they fail to provide for them – is also insufficient. It does not take into account the reality of shame and social pressure that prevents many elders from taking legal recourse even if they are aware of their rights under this act. It is also silent on the government’s responsibilities towards elderly Indians.

Another aspect of India’s aging population is that the share of women in this group is increasing. In line with global trends, Indian women’s life expectancy is already more than men’s and this gap is only expected to increase, according to the UN Population Division.This means the issue must also be seen through the lens of gender. Older women are at more risk of neglect, abuse and ill-treatment due to their higher financial dependence and lack of agency. Apart from women, we also need to focus on other marginalised groups within the elderly population, such as those without any pension support, and individuals with chronic diseases and disabilities.

Given all these factors, a new policy approach is needed urgently to help enhance financial security through social-security measures, and promote opportunities for productive engagement to combat social isolation. From an infrastructure perspective, we need to start thinking about creating incentives for the private sector to build and maintain facilities, create budget space for public provision and explore community-led models with support from the government.

We also need to set up an institutional owner with a dedicated budget to help us achieve these goals. The Ministry of Social Justice, in its initial draft of the policy, emphasised the need for a dedicated Department for Senior Citizens, with state commissions and nodal officers at the district level to ensure policies are implemented.

Even as we wait for a clearer view of how India’s population has changed in the next census, we must act now based on what we already know. We need a new policy that views senior citizens not just as passive recipients of welfare schemes but as valuable assets who can contribute significantly to society. To enact such a policy, we need political foresight and the will to prepare for this imminent future.

This would entail exploring existing models in other countries such as Japan’s Community-Based Integrated Care System and Singapore’s ‘Aging-in-Place’ which focuses on supporting the well-being of elderly through home care, healthcare, day rehabilitation centers, senior activity centers, and so on.

Srijan Rai is Associate and Aparajita Bharti is Founding Partner, The Quantum Hub (TQH).

Data Reveals Regional Disparities in Menstrual Hygiene Management in India

Data Reveals Regional Disparities in Menstrual Hygiene Management in India

Addressing menstrual hygiene requires a multi-faceted and holistic approach, as it is both caused by and affects a range of other indicators, including gender equality, health, education, and economic empowerment.

Authors: Shubham Mudgil and Dr. S. V. Subramanian
Published: July 10, 2023 in IndiaSpend

Women menstruate for a total of approximately six to seven years in their lifetime. This makes menstrual hygiene a crucial concern for women and girls. Managing menstruation hygienically and with dignity requires adequate knowledge, appropriate facilities, and a supportive cultural environment. However, taboos related to menstruation continue to dominate the mainstream narrative in India and hinder progress in improving menstrual hygiene practices.

Inadequate access to proper menstrual hygiene management has far-reaching consequences, affecting individuals physically, emotionally, and economically. In some cases, it can even lead to depression due to societal stigmatization and cultural taboos associated with menstruation. Tragically, these circumstances may lead to girls discontinuing their education. Dropping out of school has a strong negative impact on girls as they become much more likely to be married young, bear children before the age of 18, experience poorer health and nutrition outcomes and experience reduced earnings in adulthood.

In recognition of the importance of menstrual hygiene, the Supreme Court deemed it an “important issue of public interest” and directed the Central Government to develop a National Policy specifically targeting school-going girls in April 2023. This decision serves as a potent reminder of the urgent need for comprehensive action to ensure access to quality menstrual hygiene management throughout India.

In this context, this data story delves into the prevailing trends of menstrual hygiene at the level of parliamentary constituencies using data from the NFHS Policy Tracker for Parliamentary Constituencies developed by the India Policy Insights initiative at Harvard University. It also tries to highlight the consequential impact of the inadequate management of menstrual hygiene.

1) Menstrual Hygiene levels vary across regions

Fig 1: NFHS 5 levels of prevalence of menstrual hygiene

The current levels of menstrual hygiene vary significantly across the Indian states. These levels vary from 34.5% to 96.6% across parliamentary constituencies. Areas with low levels of menstrual hygiene (highlighted by shades of red) are concentrated in central India. Bihar (59.9%), Madhya Pradesh (61.5%), Uttar Pradesh (74%) and Rajasthan (85.8%) lie in the bottom deciles while states like Tamil Nadu (99.1%), Goa (98.1%), Punjab (95.3%), Kerala (95.2%) and Haryana (95.2%) lead the way in menstrual hygiene.

2) Menstrual Hygiene levels have improved significantly over the years

Fig 2: Change in the prevalence of menstrual hygiene between NFHS 4 and 5

Fig 2: Change in the prevalence of menstrual hygiene between NFHS 4 and 5

Significant progress has been made in advancing menstrual hygiene between NFHS 4 and 5. An impressive 97.7% of parliamentary constituencies (PCs) registered an average increase of 20.1 percentage points in the prevalence of menstrual hygiene. Aska PC in Odisha saw the highest improvement of 54.7 percentage points in menstrual hygiene as the prevalence went up from 30.4 in NFHS 4 to 85.1 in NFHS 5. Barmer PC in Rajasthan and Maldaha Uttar PC in West Bengal followed next with each registering a 52.5 and 49.3 percentage points increase respectively.

Overall, Odisha, Bihar and Rajasthan have led the way by registering an increase of 34.5, 30.1 and 29.0 percentage points respectively. However, in the same time period, 12 PCs across the nation witnessed a decline in menstrual hygiene levels, 5 of which were in Gujarat and 3 in Kerala. For an indicator which saw vast improvement across the nation, the reasons for regression in these PCs are worth investigating and addressing immediately.

3) Access to Sanitation Facilities: An Important Element of Menstrual Hygiene

Fig 3: NFHS 5 levels of Population living in households that use an improved sanitation facility

Inadequate water and sanitation facilities pose a major impediment to maintaining proper hygiene and privacy for menstruating women. A UNICEF study noted that a higher percentage of women and adolescent girls practising adequate MHM live in households with improved sanitation facilities and with safe excreta disposal on site compared to those who practice inadequate MHM. The NFHS data highlights a similar trend for Indian parliamentary constituencies (PCs).

Most PCs with low levels of menstrual hygiene (highlighted by shades of red in Fig 1) are also found to have a low proportion of households using improved sanitation facilities (highlighted by shades of red in Fig 3). States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura have notably low levels of sanitation as well as menstrual hygiene. This warrants immediate attention. Interestingly, Tamil Nadu stands to be an outlier as NFHS reports very high levels of menstrual hygiene but relatively low levels of households with improved sanitation facilities.

4) Inadequate Menstrual Hygiene aggravates the risk of Anaemia

Fig 4: Anaemia (All Women) Prevalence at NFHS 5 levels

Anaemia is a significant problem among females in India, where per NFHS-5, 57% of females in their childbearing age are estimated to be anaemic in the country. The government has been promoting initiatives to ensure Iron and Folic Acid supplementation, provide fortified food for women at risk and run large-scale awareness drives. However, improvements in promoting menstrual hygiene can also play a significant role in India’s fight against anaemia. Improper menstrual hygiene management can lead to urinary or reproductive tract infections and pelvic inflammatory disease that can further lead to blood loss ultimately resulting in a higher risk of anaemia.

Studies have established “a significant association between poor menstrual hygiene management and anaemia”. This appears to be the case in Fig 1 and Fig 4 as PCs with poor menstrual hygiene overlap with PCs with high levels of anaemia among females across multiple regions in India. Therefore, it is likely that a deeper understanding of the causes of poor menstrual hygiene and addressing related risk factors could also help in curbing anaemia in the country.


Addressing menstrual hygiene requires a multi-faceted and holistic approach, as it is both caused by and affects a range of other indicators, including gender equality, health, education, and economic empowerment. Therefore, a comprehensive policy response to this issue must weave together education, awareness, access to affordable and hygienic menstrual products and improved sanitation facilities. By prioritizing these areas and implementing evidence-based and focused policy strategies, India can make significant strides in ensuring that women and girls have the necessary support, knowledge, and facilities to manage menstruation hygienically and with dignity.

Such efforts would also promote progress on several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 3: Good Health and Well-being, SDG 4: Quality Education, SDG 5: Gender Equality, and SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Therefore, by promoting menstrual hygiene management, we can contribute to building a sustainable and equitable future for all.

Shubham Mudgil is a Public Policy Associate at The Quantum Hub and Dr. SV Subramanian is Professor of Population Health and Geography at Harvard University and Principal Investigator of the Geographic Insights Lab at Harvard.

*This data story uses data from the NFHS Policy Tracker for Parliamentary Constituencies developed by India Policy Insights at Harvard University. The tracker is accessible here.

संसदीय क्षेत्रों में प्रगति का आंकलन कैसे?

संसदीय क्षेत्रों में प्रगति का आंकलन कैसे?

संसदीय क्षेत्रों के स्तर पर डेटा उपलब्ध होने से न केवल सांसद अपने क्षेत्र की आकांक्षाओं और जरूरतों पर बेहतर काम कर सकेंगे बल्कि यह कदम मतदाताओं को भी सशक्त बनाएगा। इससे जनता द्वारा अपने सांसद के प्रदर्शन का आंकलन भी डेटा आधारित मजबूत मापदंडों पर हो सकेगा। 

लेखक: डॉ. एस. वी. सुब्रमनियन और शुभम मुद्गिल
यह लेख 1 जून, 2023 को दैनिक जागरण में प्रकाशित हुआ था

अगले साल अठारवीं लोक सभा के गठन हेतु भारत में आम चुनावों का आयोजन होगा। लोकतंत्र का सबसे बड़ा त्यौहार माने जाने वाले इन्हीं चुनावों के माध्यम से भारतीय जनता अपने सर्वोच्च जन प्रतिनिधिओं (अर्थात सांसदों) का चयन करेगी। अपने संसदीय क्षेत्रों के मतदाताओं की आकांक्षाओं और उमीदों का भार संभालें, यही सांसद राष्ट्रीय स्तर पर क़ानून, निति, विकास से जुड़े अनेकों मुद्दों पर देश का पथ प्रबल करेंगे। परन्तु जिन संसदीय क्षेत्रों से भारत के सर्वोच जन प्रतिनिधि चुने जाते हैं, आज उसी स्तर पर विकास के अनेक सूचकों से सम्बंधित डेटा का आभाव है।

इस साल की शुरुआत में लोकसभा सांसद श्रीमती सुनीता दुग्गल ने श्रम और रोजगार मंत्रालय से उनकी एक विशेष योजना के तहत पंजीकृत कृषि मजदूर लाभार्थियों की संख्या पर डेटा मांगा। माननीय सांसद विशेष रूप से अपने संसदीय क्षेत्र में इन लाभार्थियों की संख्या जानना चाहती थीं। हालाँकि, जवाब सवरूप उन्हें बताया गया कि मंत्रालय संसदीय क्षेत्र के स्तर पर डेटा एकत्रित नहीं करता। यह समस्या केवल मंत्रालयों तक ही सीमित नहीं बल्कि आज सरकार द्वारा किसी भी विकास सूचक का डेटा संसदीय क्षेत्र स्तर पर जारी नहीं किया जाता।   

ऐतिहासिक रूप से सरकारी योजनाओं और अभियानों के लिए डेटा मुख्य तौर पर जिला स्तर पर एकत्रित और जारी किया जाता रहा है। जिला-स्तरीय डेटा – चाहे भारत सरकार के प्रशासनिक डेटा से या राष्ट्रीय परिवार स्वास्थ्य सर्वेक्षण (एन.एफ.एच.एस.) जैसे स्वतंत्र सर्वेक्षणों से – आज नीतिगत विचार-विमर्श के लिए एक महत्वपूर्ण इनपुट के रूप में स्थापित है। परन्तु संसदीय क्षेत्रों के विकास के आंकलन में जिला-स्तरीय आंकड़ें कम पड़ जाते हैं। 

इसका कारण है भारत के जिलों और संसदीय क्षेत्रों की कभी न मेल खाती सीमाएं। वर्त्तमान में जहाँ देश में 766 जिलें हैं, वहीं संसदीय क्षेत्र केवल 543 है। कुल 391 संसदीय क्षेत्र तो अपना नाम जिलों के साथ साझा करते है। एक ही नाम होने के बावजूद भी इन संसदीय क्षेत्रों और जिलों की जनसंख्या और जनसांख्यिकी अलग है। उदाहरण के लिए उदयपुर जिले का नाम धारण करने वाले उदयपुर संसदीय क्षेत्र को ही ले लीजिये। इस संसदीय क्षेत्र में उदयपुर जिले के अलावा भी प्रतापगढ़ और डूंगरपुर जिलों के कुछ हिस्से शामिल हैं। ऐसे में यदि उदयपुर के सांसद को अपने संसदीय क्षेत्र में एनीमिया के प्रसार के बारे में जानकारी चाहिए तो महज़ उदयपुर जिले का डेटा सहायक नहीं होगा। जिलों की लगातार विकसित होती सीमाएं और बढ़ती संख्या इस समस्या को और जटिल बना देती है। 

संसदीय क्षेत्रों के स्तर पर डेटा उपलब्ध होने से न केवल सांसद अपने क्षेत्र की आकांक्षाओं और जरूरतों पर बेहतर काम कर सकेंगे बल्कि यह कदम मतदाताओं को भी सशक्त बनाएगा। इससे जनता द्वारा अपने सांसद के प्रदर्शन का आंकलन भी डेटा आधारित मजबूत मापदंडों पर हो सकेगा। जैसे प्लेटफॉर्म के साथ, भारत सरकार ने उच्च गुणवत्ता वाले डेटा को एकत्र करने और साझा करने में सराहनीय प्रगति की है। परन्तु उन पर उपलब्ध डेटा अभी भी राज्य, जिला, शहर और ब्लॉक जैसी प्रशासनिक सीमाओं तक ही सीमित है। हालाँकि भारतीय परिवेश में संसदीय क्षेत्रों के स्तर पर डेटा की कमी को पाट रहा है हार्वर्ड की ज्योग्राफिक इनसाइट्स लैब का इंडिया पॉलिसी इनसाइट्स इनिशिएटिव (आई.पी.आई. )।

आई.पी.आई. द्वारा विकसित एक नए इंटरैक्टिव डेटा ट्रैकर ने पहली बार भारत के प्रत्येक 543 संसदीय निर्वाचन क्षेत्रों के लिए आबादी, स्वास्थ्य और कल्याण से जुड़ा महत्वपूर्ण डेटा प्रदान किया है। राष्ट्रीय परिवार स्वास्थ्य सर्वेक्षण (एनएफएचएस) के सार्वजनिक रूप से उपलब्ध डेटा पर आधारित ये ट्रैकर प्रत्येक निर्वाचन क्षेत्र के लिए 90 से ज्यादा विकास सूचकों पर आधारित एक फैक्टशीट भी उपलब्ध करता है। इस फैक्टशीट का उपयोग कर सांसद, पत्रकार, शोधकर्ता, समाजसेवी और आम नागरिक भी अपने निर्वाचन क्षेत्रों में हुई प्रगति का आंकलन कर सकते हैं।

इस ट्रैकर के उपयोग संसदीय क्षेत्र ओर जिले के डेटा में अंतर साफ़ दिखाई देता है। जहाँ कन्नौज जिले  में 12-23 महीने की आयु के 56.8 प्रतिशत बच्चों को वैक्सीन कार्ड से प्राप्त जानकारी के आधार पर पूर्ण टीकाकरण प्राप्त हुआ, वहीं कन्नौज संसदीय क्षेत्र में यह आंकड़ा 69.7 प्रतिशत है। हिमाचल प्रदेश के हमीरपुर संसदीय क्षेत्र; जो पांच जिलों (हमीरपुर, कांगड़ा, ऊना, मंडी और बिलासपुर) में फैला है, वहां प्रसवपूर्व कम से कम चार बार देखभाल दौरा पाने वाली माताओं का प्रसार 75.5 प्रतिशत है, जबकि हमीरपुर जिले में यह 59.4 प्रतिशत है। इसी कारणवश संसदीय क्षेत्र स्तरीय डेटा की उपलब्धता निर्वाचित प्रतिनिधियों को उनके निर्वाचन क्षेत्रों में अपूर्ण जरूरतों की पहचान करने और उनमें सुधर हेतु शासन-प्रशासन, समाज व अन्य हितधारकों के साथ काम करने में बड़ी मदद कर सकती है।  

सांसदों और जिला प्रशासन के बीच समन्वय में सुधार करने के लिए ग्रामीण विकास मंत्रालय ने 2016 में जिला समन्वय और निगरानी समितियों का गठन किया। अपने संसदीय क्षेत्र में आने वाले जिलों में इन समितिओं की अध्यक्षता कर सांसद अपने क्षेत्र में केंद्रीय योजनाओं के कार्यान्वयन का आंकलन करते हैं। हालाँकि, सांसदों के पास अपने संसदीय क्षेत्र से सम्बन्धी डेटा का कोई स्वतंत्र स्रोत न होने के कारण उन्हें जिला प्रशाशन द्वारा सोपें आकड़ों पर ही निर्भर होना पड़ता है। ऐसी स्थिति में, यदि इन बैठकों की अध्यक्षता करने वाले सांसदों के पास अपने निर्वाचन क्षेत्रों से संबंधित विश्वसनीय डेटा हो, जैसे आईपीआई के ट्रैकर द्वारा प्रदान की गई जानकारी, तो इससे उन्हें जिला प्रशासन के प्रदर्शन का बेहतर आकलन करने में मदद मिलेगी।

प्रधान मंत्री नरेंद्र मोदी ने 2019 में, सरकार के 2022 तक साक्ष्य आधारित नीति निर्माण की ओर बढ़ने के इरादे की घोषणा की थी। भारत में डेटा की उपलब्धि को सुधारने पर काम कर रही सरकार के पास अब संसदीय निर्वाचन क्षेत्र के स्तर पर डेटा के संग्रह को प्रोत्साहित करने और इसे उपयोगकर्ता के अनुकूल और इंटरैक्टिव प्रारूपों में प्रसारित करने का एक सुनहरा अवसर है। जियोग्राफिक इनसाइट्स लैब द्वारा विकसित आई.पी.आई. ट्रैकर्स जैसी पहलों से साफ़ ज़ाहिर है कि इस तरह के डेटा की उपलब्धता से न केवल निर्वाचित प्रतिनिधियों को संसाधनों के बेहतर आवंटन में मदद मिलेगी, बल्कि देश में नीतिगत विमर्श में नागरिकों की सहभागिता भी बढ़ेगी।  

डॉ. एस. वी. सुब्रमनियन हार्वर्ड विश्वविद्यालय में जनसंख्या स्वास्थ्य और भूगोल के प्रोफेसर और ज्योग्राफिक इनसाइट्स लैब के प्रधान अन्वेषक हैं। शुभम मुदगिल द क्वांटम हब नामक एक पब्लिक पालिसी रिसर्च और कम्युनिकेशनस फर्म में पब्लिक पॉलिसी एसोसिएट हैं।

हार्वर्ड विश्विद्यालय के ज्योग्राफिक इनसाइट्स लैब के इंडिया पॉलिसी इनसाइट्स इनिशिएटिव द्वारा संसदीय क्षेत्रों के स्तर पर जारी किया गया स्वास्थ, जनसँख्या और विकास सम्बन्धी डेटा देखने के लिए इस लिंक का प्रयोग करें।

विश्व की सबसे बड़ी आबादी के लिए मूलभूत सुविधाएं

विश्व की सबसे बड़ी आबादी के लिए मूलभूत सुविधाएं

142 करोड़ की जनसँख्या को पार कर चुके भारत की जनसँख्या विस्तार गति में पिछले कुछ दशकों में कमी तो आई है, परन्तु अगले कुछ दशकों तक जनसँख्या के बढ़ने की ही उम्मीद है।

लेखक: शुभम मुद्गिल और रोहित कुमार
यह 11 जुलाई, 2023 को दैनिक जागरण में प्रकाशित लेख का लंबा संस्करण है।

वर्ष 1990 में आज ही के दिन पहली बार विश्व जनसंख्या दिवस मनाया गया। उस समय 90 देशों की भागीदारी से आरम्भ हुए इस दिवस को आज विश्व भर में जनसंख्या मुद्दों और समाज के विभिन्न पहलुओं पर उनके प्रभाव के बारे में जागरूकता बढ़ाने हेतु आयोजित किया जाता है। इसके अंतर्गत जनसंख्या से संबंधित अनेकों मुद्दों; जैसे परिवार नियोजन, जनस्वास्थ्य, लैंगिक समानता और सतत विकास, पर चर्चा होती है। हालाँकि इस बार विश्व के सबसे अधिक आबादी वाले देश के तौर पर भारत का ये पहला जनसँख्या दिवस है।

142 करोड़ की जनसँख्या को पार कर चुके भारत की जनसँख्या विस्तार गति में पिछले कुछ दशकों में कमी तो आई है, परन्तु अगले कुछ दशकों तक जनसँख्या के बढ़ने की ही उम्मीद है। वर्ष 2018-19 के आर्थिक सर्वेक्षण के अनुसार जनसँख्या विस्तार के चलते 2041 तक भारत की कामकाजी उम्र की आबादी (20-59 वर्ष) कुल आबादी का 59% होने की उम्मीद है। यह भारत को एक स्वर्णिम जनसांख्यिकीय लाभांश प्रदान करेगी। परन्तु बढ़ती जनसँख्या अपने साथ कुछ समस्याएं भी लाएगी, जिसे समय रहते समझना होगा।

जनसँख्या विस्तार के परिणामस्वरूप समाज में प्रत्येक व्यक्ति को जीवनयापन हेतु बुनियादी सुविधाएं उपलब्ध कराना एक बड़ी चुनौती होगी। यह समस्या इसलिए भी गंभीर है क्यूंकि बिजली, पानी, पर्याप्त आहार और शिक्षा जैसी मूलभूत सुविधाओं के आभाव से न केवल किसी व्यक्ति या समूह को हानि होगी बल्कि इससे सम्पूर्ण देश की प्रगति की रफ़्तार धीमी पड़ सकती है। समाज के आखरी व्यक्ति के उत्थान और अंत्योदय के मार्ग पर प्रतिबद्ध रहने के लिए जरूरी है कि समय रहते ही इस समस्या का आंकलन कर सरकार द्वारा भविष्य के लिए विकास सम्बन्धी प्राथमिकताएं निर्धारित की जाएं।

2019-21 के राष्ट्रीय परिवार स्वास्थ्य सर्वेक्षण बुनियादी सुविधाओं तक भारतीय जनसँख्या की पहुंच का आंकलन करने हेतु एक महत्वपूर्ण संसाधन है। यह सर्वेक्षण जन स्वास्थ्य, विकास, पोषण और मातृ एवं शिशु स्वास्थ्य जैसे अनेकों सूचकों पर उच्च गुणवत्ता वाला डेटा उपलब्ध कराता है। हार्वर्ड यूनिवर्सिटी के इंडिया पॉलिसी इनसाइट्स (आई.पी.आई.) द्वारा विकसित इंटरैक्टिव ट्रैकर एक नवीन पद्धति का उपयोग कर इसी डेटा को जिला स्तर पर विज़ुअलाइज़ करता है। आई.पी.आई. ट्रैकर साफ़ दर्शाता है की बिजली, पानी और स्वच्छता के क्षेत्र में बीते वर्षों में एक मजबूत बढ़त दर्ज़ हुई है।

सदी की शुरुआत में जहाँ देश के मात्र 60% घरों में बिजली पहुँचती थी, आज वही बढ़कर 97% हो गयी है। 2019 -21 सर्वेक्षण डेटा के मुताबिक कुल 26 जिलों में 100% आबादी बिजली कनेक्शन से जुड़े घरों में रहती है और वहीं 312 जिलों में यह आंकड़ा 99% के पार है। बिजली तक भारतीयों की पहुंच बढ़ाने हेतु एक बड़ा कदम 2005 में राजीव गाँधी ग्रामीण विद्युतीकरण योजना (आरजीजीवीवाई) के तौर पर लिया गया। वर्ष 2014 में आरजीजीवीवाई को सम्मिलित कर दीन दयाल उपाध्याय ग्राम ज्योति मिशन की शुरुआत हुई जिसके अंतर्गत अप्रैल 2018 में ही सम्पूर्ण ग्रामीण विद्युतीकरण का लक्ष्य हासिल किया गया।

बिजली आपूर्ति की तरह ही बेहतर पेयजल भी आज देश के घर घर तक पहुंच पा रहा है। 2019-21 राष्ट्रीय परिवार स्वास्थ्य सर्वेक्षण के अनुसार भारत में 96 % आबादी बेहतर पेयजल स्त्रोत से जुड़े घरों में रहती है। कुल 567 जिलों में यह आंकड़ा 90% से ज्यादा है। इसी तरह, बेहतर शौच सुविधाओं के मामले में भी भारत ने एक लम्बी छलांग लगाई है। 2019-21 में बेहतर शौच सुविधाओं का उपयोग करने वाली जनसंख्या का आंकड़ा 48.2% (2015-16) से बढ़कर 72% प्रतिशत हो गया है। इस अंतराल में कुल 96% जिलों ने बेहतर शौच सुविधाओं के मामले में औसतन 25 प्रतिशत का सुधार दर्ज़ किया। इसके पीछे स्वच्छ भारत मिशन के तहत बने 11 करोड़ घरेलु शौचालय, स्वच्छता केंद्रित जागरूकता अभियान और भारी जन भागीदारी का एक बड़ा योगदान है ।

ऐसी ही अनेकों सुधार की कहानियों के बीच कुछ ऐसी सुविधाएं भी हैं जो आज भी काफ़ी भारतियों की पहुंच से बाहर है। देश में 10 साल से ज्यादा स्कूली शिक्षा पाने वाली महिलाओं की राष्ट्रिय औसत महज 41% है।115 जिलों में तो ये संख्या 25 % से भी कम है। उज्ज्वला योजना में दिए गए 9.6 करोड़ गैस कनेक्शन के बावजूद भी, राष्ट्रीय परिवार स्वस्थ सर्वेक्षण द्वारा महज 58% घरों में ही खाना पकने के लिए स्वच्छ ईंधन मौजूद पाया गया। स्वच्छ ईंधन की नामौजूदगी या अवहनीयता से न केवल प्रदुषण होता है बल्कि इस्तेमाल करने वालों की सेहत पर भी बहुत बुरा प्रभाव पड़ता है।

आज भारत में अधिकतर छोटे बच्चों को सम्पूर्ण टीकाकरण तो उपलब्ध है परन्तु 6 से 23 महीनो के बच्चों को पर्याप्त आहार पहुंचने के मामले में हम काफी पीछे है। इस सूचक पर हमारी राष्ट्रीय औसत एक निराशाजनक 11% है। शायद इसी या अन्य कारणों से देश में 5 वर्ष से ज्यादा उम्र के 32% बच्चों का वजन जरूरी वजन से कम है और 35% बच्चे अवरुद्ध भी हैं। बढ़ती जनसँख्या के साथ यही प्रतिशतें और ज्यादा लोगों की दशा का वर्णन करेगी। अतः वर्त्तमान की समस्याओं को बढ़ती जनसँख्या के नज़रिये से देखना आज अति आवश्यक है।

देश को जनसांख्यिकीय लाभांश का फायदा मिलना काफ़ी हद तक सभी नागरिकों तक बुनियादी सुविधाएं पहुंचने पर निर्भर करता है। इस लेख में जरूरी सेवाओं की सतह को महज खरोंचा भर गया है। अभी घर, पोषण, स्वस्थ सेवा, रोजगार, शिक्षा, आर्थिक विकास जैसे अनेकों विषय बाकी है। आज जरूरत है की सरकार द्वारा बुनियादी संकेतकों पर अच्छा प्रदर्शन नहीं करने वाले जिलों की पहचान की जाए और उन तक जरूरतानुसार संसाधन पहुंचाए जाएं।

शुभम मुदगिल और रोहित कुमार, द क्वांटम हब (टी.क्यू.एच) नमक एक पब्लिक पालिसी फर्म में एसोसिएट और फॉउन्डिंग पार्टनर हैं।

इंडिया पॉलिसी इनसाइट्स पर अधिक जानकारी के लिए देखें

Tobacco consumption: A global health and environmental hazard

Tobacco consumption: A global health and environmental hazard

Apart from campaigns to curb consumption, tobacco farmers must be provided with alternative livelihoods.

Authors: Mayank Mishra and Swathi Rao
This is an unabridged version of the article published in the Hindu Business Line on May 31, 2023.

India, a country recognized globally as a “best practices” country in tobacco control according to the framework implemented by the World Health Organization (WHO), faces significant challenges in curbing tobacco consumption. Following the observance of World Tobacco Day, , it is crucial to emphasise the importance of monitoring and evaluation of anti-tobacco programs and why this is relevant for India and the global community.

Tobacco is a well-known health hazard, causing 8 million deaths globally each year. Over 80% of the world’s tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries. Tobacco consumption is undoubtedly one of the most pressing public health challenges of our time. Beyond the immediate health risks, tobacco also pollutes the air, exposes non-smokers to second-hand and third-hand smoke, contaminates water sources, and harms marine life. Even electronic smoking devices contribute to environmental damage due to toxic materials.

Recognising tobacco’s severe impact on public health and the environment, nations worldwide have committed to The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); to strengthen the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). The FCTC aims to reduce tobacco consumption, protect non-smokers, and mitigate environmental damage. Controlling tobacco consumption is crucial not only as an SDG target but also for achieving other SDG targets linked to health, poverty, food security, education, among others.

The latest data from the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) suggests that tobacco usage remains a significant public health concern, with 7% of all deaths in people aged 30 and over attributed to tobacco consumption. Tobacco use is also a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, and diabetes, which are responsible for 63% of all deaths in India. According to the Policy Tracker for Districts developed by The India Policy Insights initiative (IPI), at Harvard University, tobacco consumption rates vary greatly across districts, with prevalence ranging from 6.8% to 80.6% among men and 0.1% to 70.6% among women. The prevalence of tobacco use differs throughout the nation, with the eastern and northeastern regions displaying the highest rates of consumption.

Prevailing sociocultural norms also gender the consumption patterns in India. On average in the country, nearly 9% women and 38% men aged 15 and above consumed tobacco. The neighbouring districts of Kolasib and Mamit in Mizoram had the highest tobacco consumption rates for women (70.6%) and men (80.6%), respectively. It is worth noting that smokeless tobacco products, linked to various health issues, including several types of cancers, higher risks of premature delivery and stillbirth during pregnancy, nicotine poisoning in children, and an increased risk of death from heart disease and stroke, are deemed more acceptable for women’s consumption. According to WHO’s Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS, 2016-17), consumption of smokeless tobacco was the highest in Tripura.

More recently, a study of India’s progress on SDGs and subsequent SDG tracker published by IPI, showing 2021 performance data for all Indian districts, raised serious concerns regarding the consumption of tobacco among men. Approximately 83% of all districts in India are not on track to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use among men aged 15 years and older to 5% by 2030. For women, however, the data is more reassuring, as a majority (69%) of districts have either already achieved or are on track (17.4%) to achieving the SDG target. This disparity underscores the importance of closely monitoring the progress of anti-tobacco initiatives and tailoring interventions to address the specific needs and challenges faced by different population groups.

Tobacco use increases the risk of developing non-communicable diseases like chronic respiratory diseases, cancer, and diabetes. It is alarming that the prevalence of moderate to high blood pressure and diabetes, among men and women, has risen in most districts across the country. Controlling tobacco consumption becomes even more crucial in this backdrop, given its significant role in reducing the risk and burden of non-communicable diseases.

To strengthen anti-tobacco efforts, the Government of India launched the National Tobacco Control Programme (NTCP) in 2007-08, focusing on training, information campaigns, school programs, monitoring laws, and setting up cessation facilities. However, according to reports from WHO , there is a concerning decline in India’s score on monitoring performance data. Therefore, prioritising regular evaluation of policies is crucial to ensure effective monitoring and improve data collection on tobacco consumption. Robust monitoring mechanisms, such as leveraging tools like the IPI’s District and SDG Trackers, can enhance the government’s data monitoring capacity and provide valuable insights for informed decision-making.

On World Tobacco Day, the significance of monitoring and evaluation in anti-tobacco programs cannot be overstated. Equally important is the consideration of tobacco farmers and their communities during the shift away from tobacco cultivation. The implementation of “just transition” strategies, prioritising the well-being and economic stability of tobacco farmers, plays a pivotal role. This can encompass providing financial support, organising skill development programs, and ensuring access to resources for transitioning to alternative crops or industries.

Swathi Rao and Mayank Mishra are, respectively, Analyst and Manager at The Quantum Hub

The IPI Policy Tracker for Districts can be accessed here
The IPI SDG Tracker can be accessed here

Laying the foundation for a future-ready digital India

Laying the foundation for a future-ready digital India

The proposed ‘Digital India Bill’ holds out the promise of not only upgrading the current legal regime but also redefining the contours of how technology is regulated.

Authors: Rohit Kumar and Kaushik Thanugonda
Published: June 27, 2023 in The Hindu

The Ministry of Electronics and IT has been actively organising consultations on the proposed “Digital India Bill” to build conceptual alignment on a new law that will replace India’s 23-year-old Information Technology (IT) Act.

The goal is to upgrade the current legal regime to tackle emerging challenges such as user harm, competition and misinformation in the digital space. The Union Minister of State for Electronics and Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, said that the first draft of the Bill should be out by the end of June. This is a much-anticipated piece of legislation that is likely to redefine the contours of how technology is regulated, not just in India but also globally. Changes being proposed include a categorisation of digital intermediaries into distinct classes such as e-commerce players, social media companies, and search engines to place different responsibilities and liabilities on each kind.

Why the present regime is untenable

The current IT Act defines an “intermediary” to include any entity between a user and the Internet, and the IT Rules sub-classify intermediaries into three main categories: “Social Media Intermediaries” (SMIs), “Significant Social Media Intermediaries” (SSMIs) and the recently notified, “Online Gaming Intermediaries”. SMIs are platforms that facilitate communication and sharing of information between users, and SMIs that have a very large user base (above a specified threshold) are designated as SSMIs. However, the definition of SMIs is so broad that it can encompass a variety of services such as video communications, matrimonial websites, email and even online comment sections on websites.

The rules also lay down stringent obligations for most intermediaries, such as a 72-hour timeline for responding to law enforcement asks and resolving ‘content take down’ requests. Unfortunately, ISPs, websites, e-commerce platforms, and cloud services are all treated similarly.

Consider platforms such as Microsoft Teams or customer management solutions such as Zoho. By virtue of being licensed, these intermediaries have a closed user base and present a lower risk of harm from information going viral. Treating these intermediaries like conventional social media platforms not only adds to their cost of doing business but also exposes them to greater liability without meaningfully reducing risks presented by the Internet.

Globally, not much to build on

So far, only a handful of countries have taken a clear position on the issue of proportionate regulation of intermediaries, so there is not too much to lean on. The European Union’s Digital Services Act is probably one of the most developed frameworks for us to consider. It introduces some exemptions and creates three tiers of intermediaries — hosting services, online platforms and “very large online platforms”, with increasing legal obligations. Australia has created an eight-fold classification system, with separate industry-drafted codes governing categories such as social media platforms and search engines. Intermediaries are required to conduct risk assessments, based on the potential for exposure to harmful content such as child sexual abuse material (CSAM) or terrorism.

Focus areas for India

While a granular, product-specific classification could improve accountability and safety online, such an approach may not be future-proof. As technology evolves, the specific categories we define today may not work in the future. What we need, therefore, is a classification framework that creates a few defined categories, requires intermediaries to undertake risk assessments and uses that information to bucket them into relevant categories. As far as possible, the goal should also be to minimise obligations on intermediaries and ensure that regulatory asks are proportionate to ability and size.

One way to do this would be to exempt micro and small enterprises, and caching and conduit services (the ‘pipes’ of the Internet) from any major obligations, and clearly distinguish communication services (where end-users interact with each other) from other forms of intermediaries (such as search engines and online-marketplaces). Given the lower risks, the obligations placed on intermediaries that are not communication services should be lesser, but they could still be required to appoint a grievance officer, cooperate with law enforcement, identify advertising, and take down problematic content within reasonable timelines.

Intermediaries that offer communication services could be asked to undertake risk assessments based on the number of their active users, risk of harm and potential for virality of harmful content. The largest communication services (platforms such as Twitter) could then be required to adhere to special obligations such as appointing India-based officers and setting up in-house grievance appellate mechanisms with independent external stakeholders to increase confidence in the grievance process. Alternative approaches to curbing virality, such as circuit breakers to slow down content, could also be considered.

For the proposed approach to be effective, metrics for risk assessment and appropriate thresholds would have to be defined and reviewed on a periodic basis in consultation with industry. Overall, such a framework could help establish accountability and online safety, while reducing legal obligations for a large number of intermediaries. In doing so, it could help create a regulatory environment that helps achieve the government’s policy goal of creating a safer Internet ecosystem, while also allowing businesses to thrive.

Rohit Kumar is Founding Partner and Kaushik Thanugonda is Senior Analyst at The Quantum Hub (TQH).

The need for PC-level data in India’s public policy and governance

The need for PC-level data in India’s public policy and governance

The availability of PC-level data can help elected representatives identify unmet needs in their constituencies and subsequently work with the administration and civil society to bridge the gap.

Authors: Mayank Mishra and Swathi Rao
Published: April 26, 2023 in Times of India

Earlier this year, a Lok Sabha MP sought data from the Ministry of Labour and Employment on the number of agricultural labourers registered as beneficiaries under a particular scheme. Specifically, the MP sought data for her parliamentary constituency (PC). However, this PC-level data, she was told, is neither available nor collected for the scheme.

The PC, a geographical unit of administration, is representative of the needs and aspirations of its people. Therefore, for parliamentarians to effectively address the needs of their constituents, it is imperative to understand and prioritise PC level issues for policy focus and intervention.

Historically, the district has been the smallest administrative unit for which data pertaining to government schemes and campaigns has been collected; however there has been a dearth of data at the PC level. While district-level data is necessary, the boundaries of districts and PCs rarely, if ever, coincide. Although 391 of the 543 PCs share their names with districts, their population and demographics are different. For example, Udaipur PC which is homonymous with Udaipur district, intersects parts of Udaipur, Pratapgarh, and Dungarpur districts. This is further complicated by the constantly evolving geometry and number of districts; Rajasthan, for example, recently announced the creation of 19 new districts. The incongruous nature of PCs and districts could eventually prevent elected representatives such as MPs from gauging the well-being and progress of their constituency.

Evaluating the health of a PC using NFHS data

The UK, for instance, has created interactive dashboards across several indicators – like broadband coverage, household profiles, universal credit rollout, health conditions, etc. for parliamentary constituencies. Although the Government of India has also made significant strides in collecting and disseminating data across sectors, especially with its platform, not all data that is available to the public is user-friendly; and the data that is available, is mapped to administrative boundaries. However, more recently, a UK-like data tracker has been developed at Harvard for Indian PCs, using publicly available data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS).

The NFHS, first conducted in 1992-93, is a periodic survey that provides information on several health, nutrition and population indicators such as fertility, family planning, maternal and child health, nutrition, clean fuel usage, etc., at the district, state and national level. The survey covers approximately 610,000 households across the 707 districts in the country. Since 1992-93, five surveys have been conducted, with the most recent one in 2019-21.

Given the sample size, scale and periodicity of the NFHS surveys and the indicators covered under it, NFHS data is a treasure-trove for policymakers, researchers, media, and other stakeholders in the public policy and research ecosystem. Furthermore, the availability of health, nutrition and population indicators at the PC-level in an interactive and user-friendly format could be transformative for policymakers. It would provide them with the tools to assess the impact of schemes in their constituency and identify unmet needs.

To elucidate this further, let us look at school attendance rates among girls. The NFHS measures this as a percentage of girls aged 6 and above who ever attended school. Over the years, many governments at the centre and states have envisioned and implemented several schemes to improve female school attendance. In 2009, the Government of India also codified the right to free and compulsory elementary education. PC-level data shows that these schemes have resulted in a significant improvement in girls’ school attendance over the years, with several PCs recording over 90% attendance. However, despite the tremendous progress registered, some PCs in the country still reported attendance rates below 50%, while some others saw a decline from the NFHS-4 levels. The availability of PC-level data can help elected representatives identify unmet needs in their constituencies and subsequently work with the administration and civil society to bridge the gap.

Linking Data to Governance

To improve coordination between district administration and elected representatives, the Ministry of Rural Development created the District Coordination and Monitoring Committees (DDMC) in 2016, chaired by MPs from the districts, to oversee the implementation and monitoring of central schemes. Access to and ready availability of PC level data could be crucial for these committees for their deliberations and decision-making.

States like Andhra Pradesh, in an attempt to reduce inefficiencies, have taken streamlining a step further by reorganising districts to match PCs; AP now has 26 districts and 25 PCs. While this is a move in the right direction, reorganising districts may not be a feasible solution in all contexts and therefore, ensuring the availability of PC-level data would better align MPs with the needs of their constituents.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in 2019, announced the government’s intention to move towards evidence based policy making in 2022. The launch of the National Data and Analytics Platform in 2022 is an acknowledgement of this intent and marks a milestone in democratising data. Having got the ball rolling, the government now has the opportunity to incentivise the collection mapping of data to the parliamentary and assembly constituency levels and disseminate it in more user-friendly and interactive formats. The availability of such data will not only aid elected representatives in allocating resources better, but also elevate the policy discourse in the country by making it more participative.

Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General wrote on the role of good data in ending malnutrition in Africa, “Without good data, we’re flying blind. If you can’t see it, you can’t solve it.”

Polio virus resurfaces in ‘polio-free’ countries: Is India ready?

Polio virus resurfaces in ‘polio-free’ countries: Is India ready?

Authors: Shubham Mudgil and Mayank Mishra
Published: January 10, 2023 in Hindustan Times

The polio virus unexpectedly resurfaced in 2022 in many “polio-free” countries, like the US, UK, and Israel. A country is called “polio-free” when no case of wild polio transmission is detected for 3 consecutive years in the presence of high-quality surveillance systems. This is a cause for concern because 68 countries witnessed moderate-to-severe disruptions in polio vaccine campaigns due to COVID-19, with some countries completely halting their polio inoculation programmes, according to a 2020 WHO report. India, which was declared “polio-free” in 2014, should share the concern because different regions within India show wide disparity in polio vaccination coverage.

What are the places that lag in this coverage? Unit-level data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) conducted in
2019-21, which was fully published in May 2022, allows us to check this at the district-level. However, since political representatives represent parliamentary or state assembly constituencies, it might be useful to study polio vaccination coverage in those regions. Estimates for parliamentary constituencies (PC) generated by the Geographic Insights Lab at Harvard University using NFHS data allow us to do that.

Click here to read the Data Story

Shubham Mudgil is Associate, Public Policy and Mayank Mishra is Manager, Public Policy at The Quantum Hub.