The Pegasus exposé led to disrupted proceedings of Parliament, with the Rajya Sabha being adjourned three times in one day and similar disruptions in the Lok Sabha as well. 

In the first week of the monsoon session, multiple questions were raised in both houses of Parliament on issues related to technology policy beyond those that involve the Pegasus spyware. This is a compilation of important questions for which the answers have been tabled in Parliament, bringing out new information on policy decisions regarding Co-WIN, Aadhaar, National Digital Health Mission, the government’s e-learning initiatives, detected phishing attempts, IT rules, and AgriStack.

Expenditure on PM eVidya (July 19)

BJP Lok Sabha MPs from Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan – Devji M. Patel, Sudhakar Tukaram Shrangare, Naranbhai Kachhadiya, Ranjeetsingh Hindurao Naik Nimbalkar, Parbatbhai Savabhai Patel asked:

(a) whether the Government has launched PM eVIDYA programme to provide for proper education during covid pandemic period and if so, the details thereof;
(b) the total budget allocated for expansion of all the resources of e-learning under this programme like One Nation One Digital Platform, One class-One channel campaign along with the amount of funds spent so far;
(c) the details of the programme for connecting all the rural schools in the country including Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat
(d) whether majority of rural population has no access to technology
(e) if so, the steps taken by the Government to take education to those not having digital devices?

AnswerMinister of Education Dharmendra Pradhan confirmed that the project had been launched and said that:

b) Over Rs 14.74 Crore (₹14,75,74,274) had been spent on the PM eVidya programme in the last year i.e 2020-21.

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c) Initiatives to expand learning during the pandemic included-

Rajasthan
Project SMILE (Social Media Interface for Learning Engagement), ShalaDarpan Student Tracking modules, E-Kaksha, Digital Monitoring and WhatsApp based quizzes.

Maharashtra

Audio and video based education through radio and TV channels including Doordarshan, took place along with initiatives like ‘Gali Gali Sim-Sim’ a multi-platform initiative combining television, radio, and educational outreach, TV programme ‘Tili Mili’, community blackboards, and more.

Gujarat

Along with training for teaching through Microsoft Teams for over 2 lakh teachers, Pradhan said that a Gujarat Students’ Holistic Adaptive Learning App (G-Shala) had been used as a web and mobile application. He said that over 6 lakh students and 2 lakh teachers were registered on it.

(d) to (e) Pradhan referred to curriculum formulated by NCERT for school education and repeated the names of several schemes as steps being taken.

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Data collection and collation under AgriStack (July 20)

Lok Sabha MPs Kanimozhi Karunanidhi of the DMK and Brijendra Singh of the BJP asked the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare the following:

(a) whether the implementation of ‘AgriStack’, a project to promote technology-based interventions in the agriculture sector, has commenced, if so, the details thereof;
(b) whether the Government has entered into agreements with private companies for establishing ‘Agristack’, if so, the details thereof;
(c) the criteria under which private firms were selected for collaboration on the Agristack project; and
(d) the details of the mechanisms available with the Government to protect the personal and non-personal data of farmers from being exploited/misused by the private companies in the absence of data protection laws?

Answer The Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare replied that the work for the creation of AgriStack had commenced, mentioning that the government was in the process of finalising the India Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) framework that it would use for it.

For questions (b) to (d), most notably, the minister said that under the project, a federated database was being created “based on data which is already available in the public domain pertaining to several schemes of GoI and linking them with land records data”.

Further, specifically in response to question (d), he said that, “As of now, the federated farmers’ database is being built by taking the publicly available data as existing in various data silos in Government and no private data of the farmers is shared with any private organisation.” He added that the agriculture ministry was in consultation with the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to bring out a data policy for the agricultural sector.

New figures on Aadhaar-Ration card linkages (July 20)

BJP Lok Sabha MP Nitesh Ganga Deb asked the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (MoCAFPD) about:

(a) whether all States in the country have completed linking up Aadhaar card with beneficiaries ration card till date;

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(b) if not, the name of these States and the reasons thereof;

(c) whether the Union Government has any plan to force these States to complete the linking up Aadhaar card with beneficiary ration card at a stipulated time to ensure easy availability of rations to migrant labourers who are far away from their native places; and

(d) if so, the details thereof?

Answer In her reply, Minister of State for the MoCAFPD Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti said that 92.8% (21.92 crore) ration cards had been linked with Aadhaar cards. About the remaining 8 percent, she said that the seeding process is happening slowly “due to multiple process in Aadhaar generation and their delivery to beneficiaries besides other reasons including technical for seeding with ration cards database”.

These states are –

  1. Jharkhand (97.5% seeding)
  2. Mizoram (97% seeding)
  3. Ladakh (94.7% seeding)
  4. Nagaland (86% seeding)
  5. West Bengal (79.8% seeding)
  6. Arunachal Pradesh (59.7% seeding)
  7. Assam (18% seeding)
  8. Meghalaya (16.5%seeding)

For questions (c) to (d), she said that the timeline for completing all linkages presently given to the States and UTs was September 30, 2021.

No individual vaccinated without Co-WIN: MoHFW (July 2o)

Congress Rajya Sabha MP Shamsher Singh Dullo had asked the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) about:

(a) the proportion of individuals vaccinated in the country without having registered on CoWIN portal, out of total vaccinated individuals
(b) the proportion of persons vaccinated who do not possess any photo ID documents out of total persons vaccinated, State-wise/UT-wise
(c) the measures that have been taken to enable those without access to digital technology to get vaccinated; and
(d) the measures that have been taken to enable those without photo ID documents to get vaccinated?

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Answer Minister of State for the MoHFW Dr. Bharati Pravin Pawar replied to the question saying that:

  • No individual was vaccinated without having registered on Co-WIN.

“CoWIN portal is single source of truth for vaccination status.” – MoS for MoHFW

  • As of July 16, 2021, a total of 3.48 lakh doses (0.09% of the total doses administered) had been administered to persons without Identity Cards with a State/UT-wise break up.

    Source: Loksabha.nic.in

  • According to the breakup,
    1) Ladakh had the highest proportion of doses administered without any ID card at 3% of its total doses administered, or 7,592.
    2) Arunachal Pradesh was second at 1.55% or 11,682
    3) Sikkim was the third highest at 1.09% or 6,153.
    Other states with high number of individuals were Assam at 53,779 (0.63%) and Jammu and Kashmir at 39,099 (0.72%).
  • For questions c and d she referred to different parts of the SOP has been issued for vaccination of people by the MoHFW.

Phishing attacks identified by CERT-In (July 22)

DMK Rajya Sabha MP P. Wilson asked the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY):

(a) whether Government has taken steps to tackle the menace of various organised online social engineering frauds and attacks, if so, the details thereof including the number of such cases reported during each of the last three years, State/UT-wise including Tamil Nadu;

(b) whether Government has developed and encouraged the expertise in this field which could detect these type of online frauds by providing necessary support to these types of investigations and if so, the details thereof; and

(c) details of the action taken by Government in this regard and the measures being taken by Government to strengthen cyber security frauds?

AnswerMinister of State for MeitY Rajeev Chandrashekhar referred the MP to State and UT-wise National Crime Records Bureau data from 2017 to 2019 and that a total number of 454 (2018), 472 (2019), 280 (2020) and 138 (2021, upto June) phishing incidents were observed by CERT-In.

for questions (b) to (c) he referred to various pre-existing measures of the ministry taken to support reporting, investigation, and “enhance cyber-security posture in the country”.

40 streaming platforms, 1,800 news publishers submitted data under IT Rules (July 23)

BJP Members of Parliament Arjunlal Meena and PP Chaudhary asked MeitY in the Lok Sabha about

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(a) the details of the total number of Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms and digital news media platforms which have complied to the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021; and

(b) the details of the self-regulating bodies which have been formed along with the members of each of these self-regulating bodies?

Answer: Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur said that more than 40 OTT platforms and 1800 digital news publishers have given requisite information to the Ministry under the Rules. He mentioned that the Ministry has carried out outreach and webinars with the publishers for effective implementation of the Rules.
(b) Thakur said that the Ministry has received communication from several associations and representatives of digital news publishers and OTT platforms regarding constitution of self-regulating bodies under the Rules.

Over 11 lakh Health IDs issued under National Digital Health Mission (July 23)

Congress Lok Sabha MP Pradyut Bordoloi asked the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) about:

(a) the details of budget earmarked for implementation of the National Health Data Management policy;
(b) the details of budget earmarked under the National Digital Health Mission;
(c) the budget earmarked for the pilot project of generating Health ID in Union Territories; and
(d) the details of implementation and assessment of pilot project of Health ID in Union Territories?

Answer: Minister of State for the MoHFW Dr. Bharati Pravin Pawar replied saying that:

(a): Health Data Management (HDM) Policy is one of the documents used for implementation of National Digital Health Mission (NDHM). Therefore, there is no separate provision of budget for implementation of the National Health Data Management policy.
(b) & (c): The total budget earmarked for the year 2020-21 for National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) for creation of Unique Health ID was Rs 30 crore.
(d): Health IDs are being created in the 6 UTs where NDHM pilot phase is being implemented. As on 19th July 2021, 11,68,226 Health IDs have been created across these 6 UTs. The UT-wise breakup is given below:

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UT                                                  No. of Health IDs created
Andaman & Nicobar Islands          2,14,297
Lakshadweep                                     51,745
Ladakh                                                76,968
Dadra & Nagar Haveli
and Daman & Diu                            1,39,449
Puducherry                                       4,91,903
Chandigarh                                      1,93,864
Total                                                11,68,226

Private sector entities sign MoU for AgriStack (July 23)

TMC MP Derek O’ Brien asked a question on:

(a) whether Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Microsoft Corporation, Star Agribazaar, Patanjali Organic Research Institute for agricultural management and services, Amazon Internet Services and Esri India for building various ‘AgriStacks’, a collection of technology – based interventions in agriculture;

(b) if so, details thereof;
(c) the details of basis on which these private companies were selected for the project;

(d) whether MoUs were signed before the consultation process began and if so, reasons therefor; and

(e) whether proposed farmers’ database will be based on the digitized land records and if so, the details thereof?;

Answer: For (a) and (b), the Minister of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar reiterated that no data policy had been made for the agricultural sector but shared more details about the MoU’s signed with the private organisations.

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a. Microsoft India Pvt. Ltd. – for consolidating agri ecosystem across the value chain (farm to fork) to empower the farmer using Data Analytics. In this regard, 100 villages have been selected and a pilot is being carried out by Microsoft.

b. ESRI India Technologies Limited – for establishment & launch of “Nation Agriculture Geo Hub”.

c. Amazon Web Services India – for digital services across the agri value chain and creating an innovation ecosystem around digital agriculture.

d. Star Agribazaar Technology Private limited – for collaborating with Department of Agriculture for a pilot project in 3 states to promote digital agriculture.
e. Patanjali Organic Research Institute private Limited – for farm management and farmers service in 03 districts.

News media outlets’ compliance with IT rules (July 26)

Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge asked the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the Rajya Sabha:

(a) whether Government has sent any notice to take down objectionable content from digital media outlets under the new digital media ethics

(b) if so, the details of such orders, for each digital media outlet, with the reason for the content being objectionable

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(c) the number of such orders have been complied with

(d) what action can be taken against such media companies, in case of refusal to take down any content after receiving such a notice

(e) whether any such action has been taken so far?

Answer: Minister of Information and Broadcasting Anurag Thakur briefly mentioned the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021 whose part three provides for the Code of Ethics to be followed by publishers of news & current affairs on digital media and publishers of online curated content (OTT Platforms).

Most notably, he said that no notice/orders for the takedown of content have been issued to any digital publisher for violation of the Code of Ethics.

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