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Ideas for policy: Covid-19 and India

Policy approaches for protection of workers, welfare and data rights

It is trite to say this in late April 2020 - almost four months into the Covid19 pandemic - but the crisis has altered our world fundamentally. We will, as we recover from the health crisis and the loss of loved ones, inherit a crumbling economy and a global slowdown. There is no dearth of scenarios exploring what will likely happen, but we know a few things to be likely, if not certain – likely. In the short-term, government spending will remain focused on health as efforts are made to develop vaccines and test treatment lines, resources required to jumpstart economic activities and consumption may be limited, and social distancing and shutdowns will slow down economic growth.

We are deeply concerned about the social implications of the pandemic, as also its intimate link with individual rights and liberties, and the current state of digital technologies today. We are living in a time of deep digitisation of work, the state, and our personal lives, built on the extraction and commodification of our personal data. The architectures for this digital transition have been laid down over time, but the current crisis will change justice, innovation and freedom and their interface with digital technologies forever. It is critical to examine this moment and the friction between public welfare, and individual rights and liberties, alongside inquiring into the responsibility of the state and the potential of technology. The decisions we make now will reframe the world for a long time, and it is critical to ask the right questions and build thoughtful and mindful responses to it.

To unpack the consequences of the pandemic, and also explore the policy toolkit available to us, at Aapti we ask ourselves three big questions:

  1. In a world that is seeing increasing informalisation of work with more participation on the platform economy, in what way must we shape labour and industrial relations to empower, support and enable workers in the platform economy to seek better lives?
  2. How do we ensure citizen rights and constitutionalism in an era of the digital state?
  3. Is there a new social contract for data?

Using these questions as an anchor, we explore implications and potential policy and civil engagement opportunities of the pandemic. For the purposes of this document, we focus on our areas of work - the futures of workers, governance and citizenship, and the data economy. We place the lens of technology, and look at the specific implications of the pandemic for spaces already mediated by technology (platform and tech work) or those that are likely to transition toward increasing digitisation or are on pathways to it (state-citizen relationships). We also examine the changing data economy - already a reality even before the pandemic - but one whose principles, boundaries and moral laws are being renegotiated as we speak.

To find the full report, click here.

Cite as: A Covid-19 Policy Ideas for India, Aapti Institute, April 2020.

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