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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Covid-19 and tech solutions: Why some cities coped better during the pandemic

The ongoing pandemic is one such contingency–with social distancing, remote working, large-scale migration – that tested governance and outdated disaster preparedness systems in cities.

Written by Venkatesh Kannaiah | Updated: October 6, 2020 8:40:05 pm
The researchers at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine in the US noted that SARS-CoV-2 is a relatively new pathogen.

The issue with many Indian states and cities facing the Covid-19 challenge is that most of them are not nimble enough to come up with digital tools and platforms to manage such contingencies. The ongoing pandemic is one such contingency–with social distancing, remote working, large-scale migration – that tested governance and outdated disaster preparedness systems in cities.

There are, however, some cities that seemed to have fared better. And those who had a tech partner organisation which could scale up tools and applications without wasting much time in tendering procedures and other bureaucratic hassles seemed to have weathered the storm somewhat. Moreover, such a system also needed to be integrated beforehand with the overall management of the city and built to be scalable nationally. A standalone product or application, built on the go, might face difficulties integrating with the existing tech systems apart from issues of privacy and security.

This is where the DIGIT urban stack, an open platform built by the eGgov Foundation, has come into play. eGov foundation, a non-profit started by Nandan Nilekani and Srikanth Nadhamuni, has been working with more than a thousand towns and cities across the country to enhance the quality of services delivered to citizens using tech platforms.

eGov Foundation’s DIGIT platform can be used by governments, enterprises, and civil society to co-create and deploy locally relevant solutions. One such example is the National COVID e-Pass system eGov built to aid state and local governments to manage the lockdown in an efficient manner while ensuring that essential services and industries operate with minimum hindrance.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, Viraj Tyagi, CEO, eGov Foundation, said the National e-Pass platform was created in less than a week during the pandemic ime and was integrated with Aarogya Setu, government’s COVID-19 contact tracing app. In fact, within 72 hours of the lockdown being implemented in India, the National COVID e-Pass system was created and the system was =deployed in eight states.

Another innovative use of DIGIT platform was the home isolation WhatsApp chatbot assistant built for the state of Punjab for quarantined citizens. It helped monitor patients remotely through a comprehensive tracking system involving health workers and experts for the entire isolation period.

Among its success stories were its operations in Chennai, where the eGov Foundation has built a variety of applications for Chennai Corporation during the pandemic. It helped that they were working with this corporation for more than a decade and many of the city’s digital governance systems were being managed by eGov Foundation.

PR Krishnamoorthy of the eGov Foundation in Chennai says among the tools and platforms built for the Chennai corporation were a registration platform for volunteers and non-profits that saw a decent response. A tracking application was also enabled for the community halls in the city where a section of the migrant workers were housed during the lockdown. Nearly 130 such community halls were engaged by the Chennai corporation to house the migrants who had either been thrown out of their homes by landlords, or were unable to pay the rent, or those who were on a short visit to the city and had no way of going back. The digital application helped track the number of migrants, food, blankets, medicines, and other essentials supplied to them during the lockdown. It helped the corporation keep track of expenses, deliveries, and authorisations.

The Chennai city corporation had also used these applications to keep track of the distribution of Covid-19 kits for citizens and also the e-pass for temple management. Among all their applications, the temple pass was the least used as by then as temple visits had stopped during the lockdown, adds Krishnamoorthy.

Compared to other cities, which struggled with building online tools to manage the Covid-19 response, or had multiple agencies come up with different tools for the same issue, those who had committed tech partners or those who were integrated with platforms like DIGIT of the eGov Foundation ecosystem seemed to have fared much better in their response.

“We started our journey with the Urban Local Bodies of Karnataka in 2003 to understand the problems on the ground and how digital platforms can help make cities better. Over the last 17 years, we have worked with 14 states in more than 1000 urban local bodies,” adds Viraj Tyagi chronicling the eGov Foundation journey.

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