1.Decoding inequality in a digital world Technological changes in education and health are worsening inequities

GS 3: Inclusive Growth


  • Virginia Eubanks’ widely acclaimed book, Automating Inequality, alerted us to the ways that automated decision-making tools exacerbated inequalities, especially by raising the barrier for people to receive services they are entitled to.
  • The novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the use of digital technologies in India, even for essential services such as health and education, where access to them might be poor.
  • Economic inequality has increased: people whose jobs and salaries are protected, face no economic fallout. The bulk of the Indian population, is suffering a huge economic setback.
  • Several surveys conducted over the past 12 months suggest widespread job losses and income shocks among those who did not lose jobs.
  • The major channels of economic and social mobility i.e. Health and Education have got a setback thus increased unaccessibilty leading to more inequality.

The switch in learning

  • Data from various national level sample surveys reveals that switch to online education for the most vulnerable has not been seamless.
  • According to National Sample Survey data from 2017, only 6% rural households and 25% urban households have a computer. Access to Internet facilities is not universal either: 17% in rural areas and 42% in urban areas.
  • Smartphones with data has improved access over the past four years, yet a significant number of the most vulnerable are struggling.
  • Surveys by the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), the Azim Premji Foundation, ASER and Oxfam suggest that between 27% and 60% could not access online classes for a range of reasons: lack of devices, shared devices, inability to buy “data packs”, etc.
  • There is a lack of learning environment at home for many households live in small dweelings, additionally girls also face the burden of domestic chores.
  • Peer learning suffered due to closure of schools and universities.

Need a bed? Have an app

  • Health care faces the similar challenges. India’s abysmally low public spending on health (barely 1% of GDP).
  • As a result, the share of ‘out of pocket’ (OOP) health expenditure  in India was over 60% in 2018. Even in a highly privatised health system such as the United States, OOP was merely 10% .
  • The private health sector in India is poorly regulated in practice. As a result the poor at a disadvantage in accessing good health care.
  • Right now, the focus is on the shortage of essentials: drugs, hospital beds, oxygen, vaccines. In several instances, developing an app is being seen as a solution for allocation of various health services. But this is not a panacea more needs to be done.
  • Patients are being charged heftily by private health services, and a black market has developed for scarce services (such as oxygen). The solution to such corrupt practices would be to clamp down on the handful who indulge in them.
  • Platform- and app-based solutions can exclude the poor entirely, or squeeze their access to scarce health services further.
  • In other spheres (e.g., vaccination) too, digital technologies are creating extra hurdles. The use of CoWIN to book a slot makes it that much harder for those without phones, computers and the Internet. Non availability of website in local languages is also a barrier to many.

Online sharks

  • The digital health ID project faces the challenge of breach of data and thus ending up private entities while we lack proper data privacy law.We need decentralised database for better access and protection of data.
  • Interoperability can be achieved by decentralising digital storage  as France and Taiwan have done. Yet, the Indian government is intent on creating a centralised database.


  • Health expenditure on basic health services (ward staff, nurses, doctors, laboratory technicians, medicines, beds, oxygen, ventilators) needs to be increased, apps such as Aarogya Setu, Aadhaar and digital health IDs can improve little.
  • Laws against medical malpractices needed to be enforced strictly, digital solutions may obfuscate and distract us from the real problem. We need political, not technocratic, solutions.
  • We need to learn from past experience of Aadhar which caused welfare exclusion of many. Thus pandemic should not repeat the same.

2. On the edge

  • There must be international pressure on Israel to treat Palestinians with dignity

GS 2: International Relations


  • The ongoing violence in Jerusalem is a culmination of the tensions building up since the start of Ramzan in mid-April.  Israeli police set up barricades at the Damascus Gate, a main entrance to the occupied Old City, preventing Palestinians from gathering there, it led to clashes.
  • Israeli Supreme Court’s order on the eviction of Palestinian families in an Arab neighbourhood of Jerusalem, led to escalated tensions.
  • Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif compound (Noble Sanctuary), which houses the Al-Aqsa mosque, to disperse the protesters, injuring hundreds of Palestinians.
  • A Jewish settlement agency has issued eviction notices to Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, claiming that their houses sit on land purchased by Jewish agencies in the late 19th century (when historic Palestine was a part of the Ottoman Empire).
  • Arab families have been living in Sheikh Jarrah for generations. The Israeli Supreme Court postponed the hearing for now.
  • Despite the volatile situation, the Israeli authorities gave permission to the annual Jerusalem Day Flag March, leading to even more violence.

The Conflict between Israel and Palestine

  • Jerusalem has been at the heart of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel, which captured the western part of the city in the 1948 first Arab-Israel war and the eastern half in the 1967 Six-Day War, claims sovereignty over the whole city whereas the Palestinians also lay claim over it.
  • Most countries have not recognised Israel’s claim over the city and are of the view that its status should be resolved as part of a final Israel-Palestine settlement.
  • Israel’s tactic till now has been to hold on to the status quo through force. A peace process is non-existent and the Palestinians are divided and weak.
  • With support from the Trump administration, Israel expanded its settlements and extended repression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories.
  • The move to evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem is seen as an attempt to forcibly expand Jewish settlements in the Arab neighbourhoods of the Old City.
  • Israel’s actions have triggered condemnations from across the world. The international community, which largely overlooked Israel’s violent repression of Palestinians, should pressure Tel Aviv to at least treat the Palestinians with dignity
  • U.S. President Joe Biden has said that America’s commitment to human rights would be at the centre of his foreign policy.


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