Published in: 
Sunday, March 2, 2003

All of us, we are privileged to live in a day and age of technological innovation. Modern technology enabled us to do many things, which would have been considered impossible a century ago Modern health care in the form of vaccines, antibiotics and aseptic surgery went a long way in increasing the average life span. The communications revolution coupled with modern air transport made the term “globalization” a reality. Networking, wired world, connectivity and e-governance are the latest jargon freely used by the new age gurus. In many ways modern technology ranging from the simple telephone to the internet brought about a fundamental change in the way we live.

There was a time when you had to pay a bribe to get a railway reservation. But after computerization of the reservation system, this problem has been solved to a large extent and the citizen is able to get hassle free service. The same thing is true with telephones – there were times when you had to pay a hefty premium to obtain a simple telephone connection, but deregulation and the communications revolution has changed it into a buyers market and one can get a new telephone installed in a day! Or take the case of the e-seva centers in the city, where one can pay most of the utility bills at a single point there by saving time and energy. Banking is another sector, where there were tremendous improvements due to computerization both in standards of service and access to the common man. We will be kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge the fact that technology did succeed in bringing about many positive changes to our lives. But the question that ought to be asked is whether technology is the panacea for all our ills?

The state government takes enormous pride in stating that they have up to date information on anything that happens in the state at their fingertips. From the status of bore wells to implementation of schemes to the pass percentages of students in each of the districts for each class – in fact the administration revels in bombarding us with colourful statistics and power point presentations of the most mundane of data! The administration in fact revels in conducting vide conference reviews of every small thing no matter where it happens in the state and tries to control them from the capital.

What’s happening in reality is that under the guise of modern technology and internet, more and more functions are becoming centralized. One would have thought that modern technology would encourage decentralization and empowerment of people, but unfortunately exactly the opposite is happening.

Connecting every class-room in the state is not going to help the child in the absence of a good teacher and a sound curriculum. The latest file tracking system is not going to improve the administrative machinery in the absence of proper accountability and transparency. In the same vein tele-medicine or the latest in tertiary care is no substitute for first class primary health care system.

Technology can make a lot of things feasible and possible. But it is up to us to make the best possible use of it and make it an enabling tool to empower people instead of using it as a tool for centralization.

Let us look at the benefits that accrued to Indian society through technology in the last 50 years. Certainly the benefits of modern health care in the form of vaccines, antibiotics and aseptic surgery went a long way in increasing the average life span. But in the absence of an effective public health delivery system coupled with access to safe drinking water and sanitation, the latest innovations in medical care are not going to be improve the plight of the common man.