A rising tide, John F Kennedy famously said, lifts all boats. With a population of more than 1.3 billion people and covering the seventh largest land area of all the countries in the world, India will need more boats than most. One way to deliver economic justice to those living below the poverty line is through welfare schemes. India has such schemes but they number in the thousands, are too district-focussed and are fiendishly complicated especially for the rural poor.
Haqdarshak, an Indian tech platform, has stepped up to help. The platform connects citizens with their eligible welfare schemes. Haqdarshak hopes to reach 100 million Indian citizens in 2030. To get a better grasp of Haqdarshak’s work Justice Hub spoke to Asha Krishnan, a co-founder, while she was in the Netherlands for the World Justice Forum highlighting the relationship between justice and sustainable development.
The interview is published here as part of our #MyJustice series:
Justice Hub: What does Haqdarshak mean?
Asha Krishnan: “Haq” means rights Urdu and “darshak” means guide. So a guide for your rights is what Haqdarshak stands for.
Justice Hub: What does Haqdarshak do?
Asha Krishnan: Our mission is to improve or transform the access to welfare schemes for the bottom of the pyramid. The government of India spends a lot of money on these schemes. Roughly 250 billion dollars per year. There is enough evidence and enough data to say that this doesn’t really reach the people that they’re intended for. Many of the budgets don’t get utilized and that’s largely because there’s a gap in the information that government puts out and it really doesn’t reach the people it’s intended to and procedures are cumbersome. Also, the people that you’re trying to reach are largely rural and illiterate and not so mobile. These are challenges. Haqdarshak is trying to bridge that gap.
Justice Hub: Can you give us an example?
Asha Krishnan: For example, a household in rural India where they might not have access to clean energy like LPG gas for cooking. They may not have access to education and they need financial access to education. The women might not have money to spend on their pregnancy or take care of their health needs or to access financial inclusion via banks and saving schemes. We have states in India. Each of these states has roughly 30 departments and each of them has their welfare schemes. So you could be having about six hundred to seven hundred support schemes for a particular person.
Justice Hub: Sounds very confusing.
Asha Krishnan: It is very confusing. Even for the bureaucrats who work in the machinery – it’s very difficult for them to know which scheme is active and what is the eligibility. It is not easy to track so many schemes.
Justice Hub: What about illiteracy and how far away people are from the centres of power.
Asha Krishnan: Distance-wise they’re very far away because you know many of the schemes get implemented at only the district level and not the Gram panchayat level (village level) so that’s physically a distance. Illiteracy is there as well, especially in the segment that these schemes are trying to address. The socio-economic disadvantages are already there in the community.
Justice Hub: Can technology make a difference?
The promise of technology is what got me thinking that there is a better way to do this especially with the widespread usage and adoption of technology in India even in villages. You go to a village and the usage numbers for WhatsApp and YouTube in India are probably the highest in the world.
So I got to thinking: Is there a possibility to bring that information to their doorstep? And because you’re not going to find all community members being able to download and figure it out themselves, is there a community member that you can train to service the community’s needs. That is the genesis of the Haqdarshak idea.
Justice Hub: What is it that you’re training a community member to do?
Asha Krishnan: We have a two-day training process [on the potential of the local economic schemes]. We also have videos and audios that go on the net so because want to be able to train them and retrain them and refresh and have exercises which they – using their mobile phone. We want to do it at scale and keep the cost down. We use tech to do that as well so. While we might have classroom sessions initially, subsequent training is through modules that we push through the internet.
Justice Hub: How do you judge your success with this? How do you see that it’s making it a difference?
Asha Krishnan: One way is through the platform itself. You are able to track the transactions that individuals are actually doing. Every time you fill in a citizen’s information you create an application for the person and that all shows up on the platform. We also have monitoring and evaluation unit within the organization which reaches out to the end beneficiary, the citizen, to know whether they got information about schemes, whether they were serviced by Haqdarshak and so on. While we look at data to understand what’s happening on the field we also have phone calls with citizens to have qualitative inputs on the service.
Justice Hub: India is such a huge place. I wonder whether you have any sense that you’re making a big difference or a small difference?
Asha Krishnan: The numbers in India are both a challenge and an opportunity. Being able to solve this at scale is what motivates me. Because I am coming from the angle of technology, scale is most important. India offers that opportunity and as long as we focus and build that model so that we can scale well then I think it’s really good.
Justice Hub: What what does justice look like for these beneficiaries in the end? How does it feel for them?
Asha Krishnan: Justice I think is about the nature of the society. In India, it is about food, clothing and shelter. The basics. There are women still spending five hours chopping firewood. I don’t think there’s even time to reflect on all these things. But there are a lot of policies and most of these policies and schemes are really aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals. India has a mapping of all the schemes around the first 12 SDGs. It’s in the execution where, as a country, we are not really doing enough.
Justice Hub: What’s your vision for the future of Haqdarshak? What would you like to see happen?
Asha Krishnan: I would really like to see proactive governance coming out of this. When I turned 40 I was living in the UK and the health system told me you need to go for this and that test and the system kind of kept me informed. We can do it. It is not rocket science. You can build a robust information systems infrastructure. In India you can only do it with technology. I don’t think it’s possible do it without technology. I really would like to see that proactive governance working.
The interview was facilitated by HiiL which helps spur justice innovations around the world.