Transparency, exclusion and mediation: how digital and biometric technologies are transforming social protection in Tamil Nadu, India

Submitted by pmassetti on
Body (31.03.2021) What are the effects of biometric and digital technologies on social protection for the poor in India? Drawing on ethnographic research from rural Tamil Nadu, this paper presents evidence of how new technologies are experienced by beneficiaries of the Public Distribution System (PDS), and analyses the impacts of technology innovations on transparency, exclusion and mediation. The authors focus on the implementation of ‘smartcards,’ new digitised and Aadhaar-enabled ration cards, introduced in ration shops across Tamil Nadu in 2017. They first document how digitised smartcards and mobile text messages transform transparency for beneficiaries by introducing new opacities and information gaps. They then demonstrate how a lack of transparency (re)produces forms of exclusion that remain a challenge under the automated PDS. Finally, the paper highlights how novel forms of kin and non-kin mediation play a mitigating role in accessing PDS, and constitute a vital part of the infrastructure underpinning social welfare delivery.

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Digital Economy Topical Cluster