Data to Wisdom

Continuing the thread of discussions on numeracy, here are some thoughts on how we can use numeric data to act with wisdom.

Public Distribution System

Dr. R. Balasubramanyam, working with Lok Ayukta of Karnataka, investigated the corruption and mal-administration in the Public Distribution System.

Ration Cards are issued per family. The state has about 1 crore families; but, 1.49 crore rations cards are issued – Antyodaya: 11.28 Lakhs; Below Poverty Line (BPL): 98.41 Lakhs; and Above Poverty Line (APL): 39.96 Lakhs. We can see images of duplicate cards in records which any child can identify – but not the government departments even after detailed reports by an IT Company providing the services. The secretary concerned from the government department blames the IT Company for causing loss to the exchequer, but acts not to correct. When the data speaks loud, it is easy to correct the situation rather than find a scapegoat and still allow the state spend money illegally. You may read Balu’s Musings to get a detailed picture of reality.

More data and mere contradictions.

NREGA (The Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005) promises 10 days work per month at Rs. 120 a day to every rural unemployed adult. This has created earning potential of Rs. 14,400 per person per year. If we consider 2 adults per family, the family income could be 28,800 per year. NREGA website shows an expenditure of about Rs. 45 crores per day under the scheme in Karnataka. BPL families are the ones with less than Rs. 10,000 per year in rural India. If 98.41 lakh out of 1 crore families earn so less, where is the amount of Rs. 45 crores per day spent in Karnataka on the scheme sinking?

BBBMP Elections

During the elections in March 2010, EC and BBMP sites published the voter lists, allowing the voters to gather their personal details. Downloading the 6,000 pdf files and extracting voter data, we got some insights to the state of the election roll.

44% voter turn-out was reported after the BBMP elections. President of one political party blamed that the educated urban middle class showed apathy. The CM suggested that voting could be made compulsory. The general comments about voter apathy were misplaced without logical basis and a confidence that the voter lists would pass scrutiny for integrity and completeness.

Numbers Speak

It is projected that the population of Bangalore is 80,00,000. Considering that 70% of the population can be above 18 years of age, we could not have more than 56,00,000 voters in the list. In addition, the list had only those who were 18 as of Jan 2009. In Outlook survey after the last Loksabha elections, 43% of the sample non-voters said that their names were not in the list. If we guess that about 10% names are missing from the voters list, we could then have about 50,00,000 voters in the list.

About 31,00,000 people voted in BBMP elections, which would make realistic turnout a little above 60%. Voter turnout of 44% was calculated based on 69,77,000 voters in the list.

The voter list is bloated with duplicate entries and names of some dead people. There are some well known people with up to 4 entries in the list, though the duplicate entries are not engineered by them. The data in the voter records are highly erroneous, making sense out of data set and arriving at information very difficult. Data quality, data completeness and data de-duplication is another topic worth a separate discussion.

If the CM would like to punish the people who do not vote, for the person with 4 entries in the list, he will have to find 3 ghosts to hang upside down on tamarind tree for not voting in elections. There are large numbers of such duplicate entries. Irresponsible statements followed by inactions; because actions are not possible unless the numbers can become useful knowledge.

Track irresponsible statements by people in power and party officials. They confuse people and make us loose trust in the system.

Community Leaders

Supreme Court banned use of plastic pouches to pack Pan Masala and Gutka with effect from March 2011. This action was taken as a response to the petition filed by the Indian Asthma Care Society to restrain gutka manufacturers from using plastic packaging material. Manufacturers were disheartened by this judgment, as it will raise the cost of Gutka and Pan Masala.

Areca nut is an important ingredient in Gutka and Pan Masala. A leader of a certain community is an areca farmer and thought the ban was unjust. He wrote that lakhs of families belonging to his community would suffer a great deal and crores of families depending on areca trade would go bankrupt and be on the street. The community is reported to have a population of one to three lakhs – which would mean 25,000 to 75,000 families in the community. (National census reported average 4.5 members per family.) Where do we find lakhs of families?

Numbers can speak. If we exaggerate numbers to just make a case, the argument loses credibility.

Data to Wisdom

Systems Thinking discusses the progress from data to wisdom.

Data simply exists in some form, usable or not. It does not have meaning by itself.

Information is data that got its meaning because of context and relational connection. This “meaning” can be useful, but not necessarily.

Knowledge is collection of information, intended to be useful.

Understanding is an interpolative and probabilistic process. It is cognitive and analytical, with which we can synthesize new knowledge from the previous knowledge.

Wisdom is an extrapolative, non-deterministic, and non-probabilistic process. Wisdom applies moral and ethical codes. It goes far beyond understanding itself. It is the essence of philosophical probing. With wisdom we also discern between right and wrong, good and bad.


About pgbhat

A retired Naval Officer and an educationist. Has experience with software industry. A guest faculty at different institutes and a corporate trainer with software development companies.
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