Centres under Digital India registered barely 170,000 for vaccination in May

Published on May 14, 2021 06:18 PM IST

The numbers are low considering the CSCs provide access to digital services to 400,000-500,000 people on a daily basis, an official familiar with the matter said. Moreover, just a little over 500 million people in the country have access to smartphones

Representational Image. (File photo)
Representational Image. (File photo)
ByDeeksha Bhardwaj

A little over 170,000 citizens booked Covid-19 vaccine appointments from May 1-10 through Common Service Centres (CSCs), set up under the Digital India scheme to provide last mile access of internet services to people in rural and remote areas without smartphones. According to the official data accessed by HT, 90% of these are at the panchayat level.

The numbers are low considering the CSCs provide access to digital services to 400,000-500,000 people on a daily basis, an official familiar with the matter said. Moreover, just a little over 500 million people in the country have access to smartphones.

“The numbers are low because appointments slots are not available and, in many cases, centres are shut due to a lockdown in the state,” the official mentioned above said. “Barely 60,000 centres are functional at the moment.”

According to the data, the highest number of appointments were made in Maharashtra, 23,699, followed by 18,244 in Bihar, 16,781 in Uttar Pradesh, 15,837 in Odisha, 14,666 in West Bengal and 10,722 in Rajasthan.

There are 400,000 operational CSCs across the country, of which 250,000 are present at the panchayat level. In March alone in Uttar Pradesh, CSCs across the state collected over 1,000 crore in form of electricity payments alone. Last year, during the lockdown, over 10,000 crore was withdrawn from the CSCs across the country.

Also Read | Jharkhand CM launches free vaccination drive for people aged 18-44 yrs

National Health Authority chief RS Sharma said that CoWIN, the government’s portal for vaccination registration, has been integrated with the CSCs to allow them to register people. “Most of these centres are located in rural areas and are helping provide services in terms of registration and appointment for vaccination,” he said.

However, the trends on CoWIN also show a sharp decline in the number of registrations. From 13,283,056 on April 28, registrations dropped to 3,125,700 on May 12. The government has faced criticism from several sections for being unable to provide equitable access to vaccination, with 12 Opposition parties writing to the Prime Minister on April 12 to ensure vaccination for everyone.

According to development economist and IIT professor Reetika Khera, most of the vaccine slots are being taken up by urban people. “Even in urban areas, slots are hard to get,” Khera said. “De facto, online registration has become a way to ‘manage’ vaccine shortage, by funneling them to the vocal urban tech-savvy population. Even if we quadruple the number of bookings per the CSC data, since one phone number can be used to register four people, barely 800,000 will have got a slot.”

She added that Chhattisgarh was one of the few states trying to bypass the digital divide and enable access to vaccination for all. “According to national sample survey data 2017, internet facilities can be accessed by only 17% rural areas and 42% in urban areas. This creates a divide that by default puts a large part of the population at a disadvantage,” Khera said.

Human rights activist Usha Ramanathan said that CoWIN and Aarogya Setu are privileging vaccination. “If the purpose of the whole exercise is that everyone gets access to vaccination, then this shouldn’t be the system. It seems it wasn’t about vaccination at all but asking people to come report to them.”

She said that the disconnect between reporting to the system and not getting access to the service is something we have seen over the last few years. “For people who don’t have phones, it’s not just CSCs, four people can register from one phone number. This idea of nominating a person and conduct through a mobile phone has become the norm. It’s become a very strange space where one must have a smartphone, one must know how to use it and then you may be able to find time for a vaccination slot. This, in a country where a majority doesn’t understand how to use mobile phones, does not work.”

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