1 ENGAGE. COLLABORATE. CHANGE. : Last mile connectivity of government schemes: Aniket Deogar, Founder and CEO- Haqdarshak

World Bank’s 2012 report on India’s Poverty Profile exclaims that 21% population of India lives below poverty line, i.e. 1 in every 5 persons in India is poor. The numbers in 2020 would be rather grimmer. Poverty presents itself with other issues of hunger, debt-trap, poor health status, minimal or no education for children, no decent employment opportunities and thus the vicious cycle of poverty continues for the next generation of the family.

Multitude of government schemes are there to support the poor in the country, but seldom do they trickle down to the real beneficiaries. A social justice bench of Supreme Court comprising justices Madan B Lokur and U U Lalit called out the government in a 2015 verdict- “Government of India has wonderful laws, ideas and schemes but the things are different on the ground”. What are these ground realities that make these well-designed welfare schemes in each state, implemented by different departments, difficult to access? Why do the entitled benefits elude the common citizen?

A general lack of awareness is one of the main reasons, where there is no effective mechanism to disseminate the information to the prospective beneficiaries, irrespective of the literacy rates. The other times, leakage of the money among the intermediaries, lack of understanding of the schemes in their entirety, confusions on eligibility, lack of guidance on processes and required documents; are the roadblocks aggravating the situation. In Uttar Pradesh, during the period 2013-2017, there was more than US $1.3 billion of unspent fund for schemes meant for minorities’ welfare. In Karnataka, US $735 million was earmarked for welfare schemes for workers, out of which only 2.44% was used, due to lack of awareness of such programs.

The Government in order to improve implementation of the schemes, launched the CSC (Common Services Centre) project, which forms a strategic component of the National eGovernance Plan (NeGP), started in September 2006. In order to support CSCs at the grassroots & spread awareness about e-governance in villages, based on the assessment of CSC scheme, the Government launched the CSC 2.0 scheme in 2015 to expand the outreach. The Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) in January 2018 launched an outreach activity in some of the CSCs across the country. The Outreach activity included an exhibition van which enabled hands on experience about various public services available through these CSCs. While other interesting elements of the exhibition were nukkad natak, films and VLE (Village level entrepreneur) assistance, thus helping in educating people about convenience and transparency of services available through CSCs. However, given the population of India, plethora of schemes, complexities involved, CSCs have not been able to cater to the population at the scale required.  Also, majority of the services provided through the CSCs had been available for free when government departments provided them, but they now require payment of a fee.

Haqdarshak, a social enterprise aims to plug this information gap and act as a corridor between the government schemes and real beneficiaries. The organization is working to make welfare schemes more accessible to citizens by creating a multi-state, multi-lingual, cloud-based, mobile technology platform that helps citizens discover, apply for, and benefit from, various government and private schemes that they qualify for. It trains rural men and women who it calls Haqdarshaks to use the app. These Haqdarshaks then go door-to-door and collect information about citizens to feed in the app. The app then shows the schemes citizens are eligible for. In this process, the Haqdarshak charges a small service fee from the citizen, which he/she retains. The Haqdarshaks also help the citizens apply for the scheme. The organization has won awards on various platforms like Nasscom Foundation, MyGov-Deity, Sankalp Global Innovation Forum, TIE Bangalore, and Harvard South Asia Institute-IIT Delhi. Spread across 10 states, its 70 plus member team continuously strives to empower citizens get easy access to credible and current information.

Haqdarshak is leveraging its current scheme discovery and application support infrastructure to support the Indian government’s COVID-19 relief measures which are aimed at daily wage earners, farmers, women, construction workers and SMEs. These are the target groups which are bearing the brunt of the ongoing lockdown in India. As one of the most immediate measures, Haqdarshak put together an info-graphics package with easy to understand details about the relief packages that the Indian government announced. It is translated into local languages so that the end beneficiary could consume this information. Further, it has also launched a multilingual helpline in 11 languages which provides information about relief measures, both government and private and how to access these. The team is already witnessing a lot of success stories emerge out of this set up.

Haqdarshak was founded by Aniket Deogar. Aniket is originally from Shimla, and has studied commerce at SRCC, Delhi. From very early on he was associated with Udaan, a group of mentally challenged children of Shimla, with an objective of creating and promoting rehabilitation and educational and vocational activities for children with special needs. Additionally, he was also part of the Teach for India fellowship and has worked with organisations like Gyan Prakash Foundation, Indus Action and Centre for Teacher Accreditation which helped him further shape his goal in the social sector. Aniket has also been an Acumen Fellow (2018) and is the Co-Founder of Hands for You Foundation. In 2019, he was recognized by Forbes- 30 under 30- Asia in Social Entrepreneurs category.

Aniket considers that the biggest challenge in inclusive governance today is ensuring the last mile communication especially to the economically and socially deprived. He saw a huge gap when he started Haqdarshak and felt that the same needs to be changed.

To ensure implementation on ground, Haqdarshak focuses on having an ideal mix of technology and human intervention. He describes that Haqdarshak is fundamentally built on 2 things- use of local language and last mile connectivity. Haqdarshak operates by having multiple touch points on the ground and has worked with Tata Trust to make an open source platform in 50 different languages which has 3,000+ schemes. The organization thus ensures a bottom-up approach instead a top-down approach. Haqdarshak provides citizens end-to-end application support for welfare schemes, using pertinent and up to date scheme information on the platform. This ensures that rejection rates are lower.

Citing some current examples, Aniket narrates that they are working with UNDP in tribal Maharashtra helping villagers access the basic schemes. In urban India, they are working with construction workers who are marginalized, to provide them access to relevant government schemes.

Talking about the upcoming trends that Aniket foresees and advocates for the upcoming decade, Aniket feels that enabling human-assisted technology is the way forward. “We cannot totally eliminate human intervention, it is going to be critical. There are lot of interventions being built with the intention that there will be only technology, but I don’t think if you want to push inclusive governance, technology without human intervention can work,” says the entrepreneur. Another trend he exclaims is the use of local language in the social sector. In social sector, many a times, the digital content is in English, which refutes the purpose of the intervention and hence use of local language is extremely critical.

Haqdarshak’s motto is “Every Citizen Matters”. Haqdarshak is currently building an app for the more privileged ones in urban areas, who can actually help their drivers and maids by informing them about different schemes and can leverage lot of government infrastructure to help others. That is how, Aniket appeals, that people can help marginalized people access the government schemes. Government, private sector or any NGO cannot create one single platform that can reach 1.3 billion people in the country. What we need is, to make different people come together, thus Haqdarshak collaborates and envisions to collaborate with more NGOs, corporates, government departments, foundations etc.

Aniket sums up with a very interesting insight on collaboration in social sector and means to achieve the same. He mentions that some users are glued to Tiktok for example, we can use the platform to spread awareness. We don’t need to create 2 crore platforms, 2 crore people are already using Tiktok. As per Aniket, openness has to be there and innovation lies in collaboration. Innovation is needed, enough technology, content and people are out there to move things. The intention and collaboration are the innovation that is actually required.

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