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On CoWIN, Supreme Court flags digital divide

The court quoted from a National Statistics Office survey of 2018 which said that around four per cent of the rural households and 23% of the urban households possessed a computer

Taking a dig at the Centre’s argument that the poor and marginalised can lean on friends to register online for vaccination, the Supreme Court has said even the digitally literate are finding it hard to get vaccine slots on CoWIN.

“A vaccination policy exclusively relying on a digital portal for vaccinating a significant population of this country between the ages of 18-44 would be unable to meet its target of universal immunisation owing to such a digital divide. It is the marginalised sections of the society who would bear the brunt of this accessibility barrier. This could have serious implications on the fundamental right to equality and the right to health of persons within the above age group,” a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said in an order released on Wednesday.

The court quoted from a National Statistics Office survey of 2018 which said that around four per cent of the rural households and 23% of the urban households possessed a computer. A Telecom Regulatory Authority of India report shows the wireless tele density in rural areas is 57.13% as compared to 155.49% in urban areas as on March 31, 2019. The report stated that: “this reflects the rural-urban divide in terms of telecom services’ penetration”.

The Bench asked whether the Centre had thought of conducting a “disability audit” for the CoWIN website and other IT application like Aarogya Setu to ensure that they are accessible to persons with disabilities.

“It has been brought to our notice that the CoWIN platform is not accessible to persons with visual disabilities. The website suffers from certain accessibility barriers,” the court noted.

These roadblocks include non-availability of audio captcha; the seven filters, which inter alia, include age group, name of vaccine and whether the vaccine is paid or free, are not designed accessibly; keyboard support for navigating the website is absent.

“Adequate time should be given to disabled users to schedule their appointment without the possibility of being automatically logged off,” the court suggested.

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