By Somali K Chakrabarti
India is heading towards an internet economy worth USD 200 billion by 2020, that will contribute 5 per cent of the GDP.
– Report by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
Digital India – A Transformational Initiative
The Digital India initiative, envisioned by the Govt of India, aims to transform India into digital empowered society and knowledge economy by leveraging IT as a growth engine to enable change.
With 850 million mobile users and 243 million internet users in 2014, India is all set to ride the wave of digitization and grow into a strong digital economy.
Centered on the 3 Key areas of
- Improving the digital infrastructure
- Providing Services on Demand
- Digital empowerment of citizens
Digital India Initiative, has the potential to positively impact the lives of all citizens of India, irrespective of where they come from.
A digitally enabled India can bridge the gap between urban and rural areas by virtually connecting far flung areas of the country and empowering citizens to avail services with ease from any place within the country.
Infrastructure for Digital India
Broadband forms the backbone of digital infrastructure
At present, broadband coverage is mostly limited to urban areas, while many semi-urban and rural areas remain virtually disjointed. More often than not, you would have found that internet connectivity is an issue when you are travelling to the semi-urban or rural areas of the country.
Increased reach of broadband coverage and last-mile connectivity in such areas is an absolute MUST for the government to realize the vision of #DigitalIndia.
To aid India’s transition to a fully networked economy, the Govt of India has invited the participation of private companies for rolling out the Optic Fiber Network to make broadband available to 250,000 panchayats by December 2016.
Idukki in Kerala has become India’s first district to be linked to the National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN).
With its traction increasing by the day, mobile broadband is a key area which will boost the growth of the internet economy in India. A combination of wired network and advanced wireless technologies like WiMax, 3G and 4G are expected to pace up the broadband growth in India.
India Today + Information Technology = India Tomorrow
Here are some ways in which technology can be used to accelerate the #DigitalIndia vision and transform the lives of citizens:
1. By improving digital literacy in India
While, on one hand, the Govt is working towards creating the required infrastructure for e-enabling India, the other pre-requisite for realizing the vision of #DigitalIndia is to make people digitally literate so that they can benefit from the initiative.
Illiteracy is a major obstacle to digital empowerment.
~ ‘Offline and Falling Behind: Barriers to Internet Adoption’ by McKinsey and Facebook
In villages, many children remain illiterate due to non-availability of schools in the vicinity, or due to the lack of teachers in school.
Illiterate people cannot derive any benefit from information or services available through text messages or other digital means, and so they depend on voice based programs for seeking and receiving advice.
This holds true not only for people in the remote areas, but also for illiterate people in the urban areas too. My domestic help, for example, has little idea about the use of internet.
Conducting e-classes, and making e-books or e-courses available in local languages can help in improving digital literacy, and gear up people for using internet to their advantage.
Supporting the #DigitalIndia vision, companies like Intel and Microsoft will work the government to make 10 Lakh people digitally literate by the end of 2015.
Intel India has launched the Digital Skills Training Application comprising of modules on Digital Literacy, Financial Inclusion, Healthcare and Cleanliness in five Indian languages. The company plans to impart digital literacy training to key resource persons in the first 1000 panchayats covered under NOFN rollout.
2. By promoting rural entrepreneurship through Internet kiosks
Providing training and capital to youths in rural/ semi urban areas to set up internet kiosks in the interiors will promote rural entrepreneurship.
Internet Kiosk with one or more computers, a tablet, Internet connection, with a web cam can be the set up in villages to be used as the hub of rural connectivity for providing education and training, information about agriculture and health care, employment news and market information.
Gyandoot is a project in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh that connects villages throughout the district through numerous cyber-kiosks run by local entrepreneurs. More such projects in are needed in different districts throughout the country to promote the culture of rural entrepreneurship.
3. By improving transparency, ease and efficiency of processes
We all know how tedious it used to be to apply for issuance or renewal of passport, before the process was e-enabled. Agents ruled the roost and there was no clarity on the process or the timeline. The online application and appointment for passport has streamlined the process to a great extent.
E-enabling of processes such as filing tax, issue/renewal of driving licences, maintaining land records, results and shortlisting of candidates for employment schemes will improve the transparency, speed up these processes and save citizens from being bogged down by bureaucracy and corruption.
4. By enabling e-commerce in small towns and rural areas
It is a matter of common knowledge that there is a limitation in the quality and variety of goods available in small towns or rural areas. Many products and brands are simply not available. The delivery of goods to consumer by couriers and postal services is also not very reliable in smaller cities, towns and rural areas.
Setting up E-commerce hubs will enable people in small towns and farmers in rural areas to access markets, shop for better quality products, and get a better prices for their produce without relying on middlemen. E-commerce can facilitate the selling of local goods such as herbal products, gardening supplies, traditional art etc while shopping for stuff such as electronics goods, solar energy panels etc.
5. By reducing risk and uncertainty
Before setting out to sea, Madurai sits before a computer terminal gathering information on the sea – like wave height, turbulence and fish density. So do hundreds of other fishermen in Veerampattinam, a coastal village 15 km off Pondicherry city.
~ Wired to the future, India Today
6. By enabling direct disbursal of money to beneficiaries
Financial inclusion is another key area that can be impacted with the use of technology. Each year a huge number of people migrate from villages to cities to make a living. Any service that allows direct disbursal of money to beneficiaries, will be immensely useful for people who want to remit money to their families living in the native villages.
A mobile wallet which allows consumers to send and transfer money, pay bills and do recharges, and take out cash, can greatly help in financial inclusion of people in the rural areas.
Vodafone’s M-Pesa service for mobile money transfer, rolled out in April 2013, helps in disbursal of money of government schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) directly to the beneficiaries in the circles of West Bengal, Kolkata, Bihar and Jharkhand.
Digitization can lead to a well-rounded development in India, by bringing the remote areas of the country within the fold of the mainstream economy.
It is surely an ambitious plan, to realize the vision of IT +IT =IT ; the benefits are aplenty, and so are the challenges.
Nonetheless, with the hope that the challenges will be overcome, looking forward to the day when we have a virtually integrated #DigitalIndia.
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[i] Digital India – A programme to transform India into digital empowered society and knowledge economy , pib.nic.in/
[ii] An Overview of Digitization Of Rural India And Its Impact On The Rural Economy , Laila Memdani, abhinavjournal.com
[iii] Inclusion by mobile, Business Today