Digital literacy, land rights, and agricultural productivity in Bihar

Project Active from to State and State Effectiveness

E-governance is the integration of information and communications technology (ICT) into the management of public programmes. It has altered the landscape for rights protection and service delivery. However, the success of some e-governance initiatives hinges on citizen engagement, which depends on digital literacy, knowledge of rights, and self-efficacy in claiming rights.

In Bihar tens of millions of below-poverty-line (BPL) smallholder farmers must weigh the promise of agricultural investments against the threat of dispossession, because of pervasive land insecurity. Here the state government has recently begun to build up an ambitious set of e-governance platforms. This study investigates how and to what extent digital literacy training and the formation of local land rights advocacy organisations for BPL farmers improve land e-governance. And ultimately, their effect on agricultural productivity and livelihood.

To explore these issues, this study evaluates e-Adhikaar, a programme designed and implemented by the development organisation Deshkal Society. Field organisers form community-based organisations (CBOs) within each programme community and train CBO members on digital literacy skills, with a focus on navigating Bihar’s land tenure e-governance systems. For example, CBO members are taught to access digital records, register complaints, and file applications. CBO members are then expected to inform, assist, and train other BPL community residents on these digital literacy skills. Digital literacy surrounding e-governance platforms is expected to improve BPL farmers’ tenure security.

To study the effects of the programme, the study employs a mixed-methods impact evaluation centred on a randomised field experiment. 90 villages from across Bihar’s Gaya and Purnia districts will be randomly assigned to either a treatment group receiving the e-Adhikaar programme or a control group that does not receive an intervention. Supplementary qualitative fieldwork fills the gaps in the quantitative design.

This study will improve understanding of the causes and effects of digital literacy in the context of e-governance. Specifically, testing the impact of an original delivery mode will generate insights on a potentially cost-effective mode of improving digital literacy. Beyond e-Adhikaar, this research contributes more broadly to researchers’ attempts to better understand the barriers to effective governance and the ways in which civic-led initiatives can complement government reforms to improve land governance and agricultural productivity for the poor.