Online reservations only for the heavily visited monument will prevent Aam Indians from entering. Digital cannot be a dogma

A big, bad change is afoot at India’s biggest tourist attraction, with ASI planning to close the Taj Mahal ticket offices, leaving visitors with no way to enter except online reservations. But did the wizards who came up with this plan to reduce the crowd think about how many citizens it would hurt? The monument’s website says that of the 7-8 million visitors it attracts each year, only around 0.8 million come from abroad. Indians from all parts and classes of the country make up the numbers. Many have little experience with online booking. Many can also arrive by public transport, with little certainty of getting to a fixed time slot. They deserve to enjoy Incredible India as much as internet savvy people.

It is well established that individuals pay the price for overdigitization, for example by constantly and compulsively checking social media. For utilities, the case is similar. In well-calibrated quantities, digitization is good for governance. But when it becomes an end in itself, the poorest citizens suffer. A disturbing example is how the app launched to reduce MGNREGA corruption by taking geotagged, photographed and real-time attendance penalizes workers who find the smartphones too expensive or the network too unstable. The same ordeal was reported with an app launched for anganwadi staff. Forget any gain, affected citizens find themselves painfully worse off than before.

Another example: India could not have fully vaccinated 68% of its population against Covid by relying solely on CoWIN. Sure, the portal was a godsend to many Indians, but others were much more comfortable with walk-ins. India just isn’t rich/developed/digital enough yet to kill analog options. Public service delivery should not be shaped by technocratic dogma. Keep the Taj ticket offices open.



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This article appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of the Times of India.



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