We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Technology and Poverty line in India

The role of technology in deciding the poverty line in India at least shows some improvement in using infrastructure such as Tablet computers to collect data. I got an opportunity to attend one such function through a new friend I made today through a mutual friend.

The discussion was held under by the socialist movement of India. Government of India is planning to have a country wide census to decide the poverty line and determine the families living before poverty line. Rs. 32 per day is the income criteria decided for poverty in Cities and Rs. 26 is decided for rural poverty. Are you kidding me?

This discussion was about different strategy formations to make concerned representatives of people from various Indian villages aware about their role in this activity and make them understand the flaws in the way definition of poverty is defined.

I do not want to comment out on the ways the definition of poverty is defined. This is a huge propaganda to make another show off by the Indian government without any sincere attempts behind it. However, some striking positives out of this meeting that I noticed were.

1. One union leader stressed on why Government is not considering educational qualification and only insisting on economic qualifications.

2. How Government is going to verify authenticity and not manipulate the data.

3. How people's involvement could be made more such that they could be able to assist better in this survey.

4. How there is a need for people to be aware of the potential harms of manipulation of such schemes and how people should prevent it, by stressing on correct corrections. An interesting suggestion was, "Instead of counting number of poor, count the number of rich, and let them defend their richness and then declare all the rest of them to be poor".

5. Make government aware that food, healthcare, education are basic necessity of anybody and not just poor and the government should try to shed off its responsibility by trying to decide number of poor based on some nonsense norms, than actual facts and then get involved in corruption.

6. Role of technology such as tabloid computers in collecting information.

Well, this discussion made me aware about how different people at low level think and discuss when government introduces new schemes, how they are totally helpless when it comes to implementing the feedback provided by them to government, How Maharashtra government is a total moron and no will at all to implement any schemes with sincerity as compared to rest of the state governments in India, what are the different ways in which people could be made aware.

However, I strongly felt, most of the points which were stated were well known to any person who is well aware of these problems and why they exist. The discussion lacked any effective mechanism by which these things could have got implemented, the suggestions could have reached the government and their would have been a successful channel to propagate these discussions to grassroot people.

Technology has a huge role to play in such discussions. Community radio is a great idea that could help in having such discussions across different sections. However, a better scheme to have is make people aware the incentive behind attending such functions. People are selfish and if you are able to tune up your motivations into correct incentives which hit well with the people's moderate ambitions to make their lives a little better either in terms of economic improvements or materialistic comforts, people would turn in hoard for such must discussions. Well, that is what politicians in India do. They provide economic incentives for people to vote and people react. I wish our activists have a vision to make some logical tacticts like this to attract more crowd and make them dedicated to a cause, by making them realize its importance for them in the long run.

An interesting idea came to my mind in deciding about poverty of a person. Can a person by identified as poor by looking at his picture? For example. A poor person would be thin, he will be underweight, he will have dark skin because of constant labor etc. So there are some points in a person physical characteristics that could decide whether a person is poor or not. Calorie indicator is one such method of measurement for poverty.

So, here is an interesting question. Lets say I provide you with 100 digital photographs and ask you tell me who is poor amongst these? Could you do that solely on the basis of picture? I believe yes to some extent. There are sophisticated image processing algorithms, which could decide different parameters by taking a look at the person, for example, height of the person, ratio of various stats etc,. This is a hugely complicated problem, however I believe with more and more fine grained parameter control, such an automated process could be done to some extent.

Its a huge irony that in a country like America women activist take protests to get a right to bare their body in public citing reasons that male are allowed to go bare chested, then why not us? While in a totally different part of world like India some women do not have proper clothes to cover and could not find people to support this cause. Huge contrast across different sections of society across world.

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