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'Language only One Problem': FSMI Launches Add-on in 22 Languages for CoWIN Portal

'This is an issue of digital divide and language is only one component of the entire issue. It is about accessibility to a smartphone, high-bandwidth connectivity and also the know-how that permits you to just be on it (CoWIN) when slots are open...'
Cowin App

With the COVID-19 vaccination portal CoWIN proving difficult to navigate for a fair number of people, the Free Software Movement of India (FSMI) had come up with a tool for web browsers to translate it into eight regional languages.

Those who use Mozilla Firefox can now download an add-on to translate the CoWIN portal into Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Urdu, Hindi, Marathi or Odia. The FSMI is looking to integrate 22 regional languages. "Bengali is complete and we're getting it done in all official languages and in some more languages – Santhali is included," said Kiran Chandra, general secretary, FSMI.

The group said that the add-on was developed in five days by teams from across the country, adding that Santhali and languages from the north-east would also be added.

"The govt has made it mandatory to register in the (English-only) #CoWIN portal in order to get vaccinated, making it completely inaccessible to the majority of people in the country," FSMI said on Twitter.

"This is an issue of digital divide and language is only one component of the entire issue. It is about accessibility to a smartphone, high-bandwidth connectivity and also the know-how that permits you to just be on it when slots are open. What we are trying to solve is one small component – language as a barrier," said Chandra.

"You keep on saying the situation is dynamic but policymakers must have their ears on the ground. You keep on saying digital India, digital India but the situation is actually different in rural areas. How will an illiterate labourer, from Jharkhand get registered in Rajasthan? Tell us how you will address this digital divide,” a special bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, L.N. Rao and S.Ravindrabhat asked the government represented by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on Monday, a PTI report said.

Chandra said there were still issues of "connectivity and availability of smartphones" and said that in rural areas people "will still be unable to log on to it (CoWIN) from a browser. When health is part of the Concurrent List making a centralised portal does not make sense," he added. Chandra mentioned that if the aim was "mass vaccination" then it could have been done through ASHA workers who have been monitoring COVID-19 cases for a while now.

"This portal doesn't attempt to solve the problem of the data of people being vaccinated, it rather allows the privileged first access," he said, taking the example of people who drove down to rural areas from the cities after having booked vaccination slots. "The portal alienates people with no access to technology," he said.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has issued guidelines for the use of CoWIN Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) by third-party Application Service Providers (ASPs). The guidelines stated that those who want to use the API should only collect as much data as is necessary and specify the purpose for collecting data.

"The sole purpose is the health ID, an Aadhaar for medical and health purposes," Chandra concluded by saying.

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