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Why Is India Not Using M-Governance Apps To Its Full Potential?

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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman launched the PM eVidya Programme, an online education platform, in May 2020. This represents yet another step towards embracing ICT for governance in India. However, citizen engagement with ICT-based services has tended to be low.

Shortfall of engagement with Mobile governance (m-governance) can arise from various reasons, including its design, which doesn’t take into account factors that foster user demand — awareness, recognition and acceptance of benefits by potential user. Other key issues influencing m-governance access and usage have been infrastructure challenges, regulatory frameworks and multiplicity of overlapping services.

M-governance utilises mobile technology — SMS, mobile applications, Interactive Voice Response Systems (IVRS), geo-location and others — to improve access to public service delivery and enhance accountability and citizen participation in policy-making and execution. Globally, the ubiquity of mobile phones has been channelled towards enhancing supply and efficacy of government services across policy domains – from opening up telemedicine, to reporting corruption.

In India, government actors have been capitalising on the rapid rise in mobile penetration and internet service provision. India now possesses a tremendous user base of wireless and mobile telecom subscribers, with almost half located of it located in rural areas. The government introduced Mobile Seva, a country-wide initiative, in 2011 to facilitate central, state and local governments by extending a variety of mobile services.

woman using a phone, mobile seva government apps
Experience from other countries suggests that this is not just an Indian phenomenon; in general, e-governance initiatives suffer from short-lived successes, followed by a dearth of scalable and sustainable engagement.

Catering to over 3,500 government departments, Mobile Seva presently offers 944 mobile apps in domains that include healthcare, agriculture, sanitation and education. Collectively, these have seen over 81 million downloads so far. Other m-governance initiatives include: the Aarogya Setu (tracking COVID-19 exposure and vulnerability), eNAM (connecting farmers and traders with agri-markets) and SDMC 311 (South Delhi Municipal Corporation’s flagship service) apps.

Despite these seemingly impressive statistics, m-governance is not a routine feature of government-citizen interaction in India yet. For instance, a closer look at the services offered on the Mobile Seva app store shows that downloads usually range to a few thousand, with active usage likely to be lower.

Why Do Citizens In India Not Take Advantage Of The M-Governance Drive More Often?

Given that usage statistics for m-governance apps are unavailable, app downloads can serve as a proxy indicator for user awareness and uptake. The average number of downloads per app from Mobile Seva is presently around 86,000. The download count for MyGov — the Centre’s flagship participatory governance platform launched in 2014 – exceeds one million. Contrast this with the recent uptake of Aarogya Setu, which already has over 100 million downloads and is a mandated download. These aspects underscore the significance of responsiveness to demand.

Experience from other countries suggests that this is not just an Indian phenomenon; in general, e-governance initiatives suffer from short-lived successes, followed by a dearth of scalable and sustainable engagement. Lack of citizen awareness has been cited as a factor that can diminish the potential of the m-governance programme in India too.

Delving deeper, m-governance uptake can broadly be influenced by ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors, as outlined in the figure below. Push factors create an enabling environment and foster m-governance service provision. These include the level of technological and infrastructure development in a country, the role of governments and telecoms, business models and legal frameworks. For instance, engendering access to mobile phones, internet and electricity facilitates the supply of m-governance services. Hence, these qualify as push factors.

Concurrently, pull factors influence demand and adoption of m-governance services. These are centered on individuals — particularly, citizens and government functionaries — who need to be informed of these services. They should be able to access them easily and cheaply, possess the necessary skills for usage and can perceive advantages. An example is the prevalence of mobile literacy, as it would enable potential users to pull into usage m-services on offer.

Push and Pull Factors of m-Governance. Source: Framework adapted from Carroll (2006) and Almarashdeh & Alsmadi (2017)

Acceptance and mainstreaming of m-governance relies not just on the availability of these services, but also on overcoming pull-side deficiencies that affect user demand and acceptance.

The lack of knowledge and infrequent use of m-governance suggests that in line with global experience, India too has overemphasised activating the push side of the equation. This includes leveraging mobile technology, setting up infrastructure, and making m-governance services available, without understanding or strengthening user demand.

To overcome this, focus should shift to developing services wherein citizens can readily recognise value of using such services, which would then simplify and foster greater engagement with governments. Improving awareness of m-governance initiatives and digital literacy are also crucial.

Thus, while not discounting their significance, the government would benefit from moving beyond its focus on infrastructure and supply-side issues to adopting a more demand and user-centric approach. This will help us move closer to a ‘Digital India’, and prevent m-governance from becoming just another buzzword in the policy-making landscape.

About the author: Udit is a Senior Research Associate at Accountability Initiative. The article was originally published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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