India is at the forefront of the use of digital technology to transform the way in which citizens interact with states. This paper provides a picture of the perceived impact of digitization reforms in Rajasthan, based on a survey of beneficiaries of several benefit programs. We find that, on balance, the reforms appear to have improved perceptions of service delivery despite some difficulties during the digitization process and the possibility—which we cannot fully assess with our data—that there could have been some degree of exclusion. The proportion of people preferring the new systems, at 40–60 percent, far exceeded the proportion who expressed a preference for the old system (5–12 percent). In the case of food and cooking gas subsidy reforms, the reason for the preference is relatively clear—they considered that the new systems gave them greater control over their entitlements and reduced the ability of others to claim their benefits or divert them. The main problems arise from biometric authentication. Shifting pensions from postal delivery to bank deposits is overwhelmingly supported, partly because of better regularity. Reforms in Rajasthan also had two cross-cutting goals: financial inclusion and women’s empowerment. Our survey confirms that virtually all respondents have bank accounts, often two or more per family, as do all heads of household who are officially mandated to be women. Two thirds of these women had not owned bank accounts before the reforms. Mobiles emerge, however, as a male preserve. This suggests a further frontier for policies and programs to shift India towards a digital society—ensuring that all people have the capacity to access and to use digital technology.
The data and replication files for this paper are available here (zip file).
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