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Data Justice in Digital Social Welfare: A Study of the Rythu Bharosa Scheme

08/22/2021
by   Silvia Masiero, et al.
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While digital social protection systems have been claimed to bring efficacy in user identification and entitlement assignation, their data justice implications have been questioned. In particular, the delivery of subsidies based on biometric identification has been found to magnify exclusions, imply informational asymmetries, and reproduce policy structures that negatively affect recipients. In this paper, we use a data justice lens to study Rythu Bharosa, a social welfare scheme targeting farmers in the Andhra Pradesh state of India. While coverage of the scheme in terms of number of recipients is reportedly high, our fieldwork revealed three forms of data justice to be monitored for intended recipients. A first form is design-related, as mismatches of recipients with their registered biometric credentials and bank account details are associated to denial of subsidies. A second form is informational, as users who do not receive subsidies are often not informed of the reason why it is so, or of the grievance redressal processes available to them. To these dimensions our data add a structural one, centred on the conditionality of subsidy to approval by landowners, which forces tenant farmers to request a type of landowner consent that reproduces existing patterns of class and caste subordination. Identifying such data justice issues, the paper adds to problematisations of digital social welfare systems, contributing a structural dimension to studies of data justice in digital social protection.

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