NEW DELHI: Despite all its ‘Digital India’ push, the Modi government has been unable to make India take the digital route for getting inoculated against Covid-19. More than three-fourth of the total vaccine doses have been administered through onsite/walk-in vaccinations, the Centre has accepted in an affidavit to Supreme Court.
“As on 23.06.2021, out of the 32.22 crore beneficiaries registered on CoWIN, 19.12 crore (nearly 59%) beneficiaries have been registered in the on-site mode,” stated the affidavit submitted last week. “As per the data available on CoWIN as on 23.06.2021, out of the total 29.68 crore vaccine doses recorded on CoWIN, 23.12 crore doses (nearly 78%) have been administered through on-site/walk-in vaccination,” it added.
The figures validate the Supreme Court’s concerns over the Centre’s vaccination policy that was “exclusively relying on a digital portal” until severe criticism and a plethora of complaints forced a course correction on May 23, when on-site or walk-in registration and vaccination was opened for beneficiaries in the 18-44 age group.
The central government had launched phase-wise Covid-19 vaccination drive on January 16 this year through Co-WIN digital platform with prior registration being required for getting the jabs. In a bid to make the online registration on the Co-WIN platform easy, the government has made various changes, such as making the portal available in Hindi and 14 regional languages including Marathi, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Odiya, Gurumukhi, Bengali, Assamese, Tamil and Gujarati and removing the Captcha code. But even after those changes, a majority of people have opted for non-digital mode of registration, as the data from the CoWIN platform till June 23, cited in the affidavit, reveals.
Before the government allowed walk-in vaccination facility, the mandatory online registration was seen to haveaccentuated India’s digital divide, with rich and urban Indians having much more access to the jabs than poor and rural folks. This divide was also seen to be a leading factor — apart from vaccine hesitancy behind slow pace of immunisation before the second wave of the pandemic started wreaking havoc. Lack of internet facility and smartphones in rural areas, apart from the complexities of navigating the CoWIN portal, were said to be preventing people in smaller towns and rural areas from accessing the vaccination facility.
The Supreme Court had also censured the mandatory online registration in a judgment on May 31. Pointing out the gaping digital divide that exists in the country, the court said the target of universal immunisation cannot be achieved by relying on a portal. The marginalised sections of society “would bear the brunt of this accessibility barrier” and this could have “serious implications on the fundamental right to equality and the right to health”, the SC said.
In its affidavit, the Centre submitted that it was aware that lack of access to digital devices or internet may pose barriers to the citizens and hence it had allowed both on-site and digital registration for all age groups. The CoWIN system is inclusive and “there is no question of any person being left out due to any digital divide”, it asserted.
The government further said that on-site registration was not made available only to the beneficiaries in the 18-44 age group between May 1 and May 23 to prevent overcrowding at vaccination centres in view of the need for maintaining social distancing due to a massive surge in cases during the period.