However, the success of digitization crucially depends on its adoption by the majority of the population living in far-flung rural areas. Without that, the result might be islands of the unempowered communities at the bottom of the digital pyramid with immense skill gaps risking a digitally divided India.
Majority of Indians are likely to be comfortably hidden securely in the digital world, enjoying the convenience of myriad services at their fingertips, all made possible by the internet. But outside our electronic cocoons are vast areas of rural India that lie disconnected. And the path to their empowerment lies in digitization. Digital connectivity is a basic amenity today. This is certainly the thought behind the government’s Digital India programme that aims to expand the digital infrastructure to connect the entire country and provide a digital platform for banking, governance, healthcare and educational services.
Nine pillars of growth areas which are focused under Digital India and there benefit to rural India:
- Broadband Highways –The main initiative under Digital India is the ‘National Optic Fibre Network’. Started in 2011, it was an ambitious program to increase the connectivity of 2.5Lakh Gram Panchayats through broadband. It would be pursued with renewed vigour, planning and monitoring.
- Universal Access to Mobile Connectivity – Mobile penetration is almost 100% in rural India after the initiation of Digital India.
- Public Internet Access Programme –It connects India to the world and newer and innovative ideas. It is a National Rural Internet Mission. High speed connectivity and internet.
- E-Governance – Improving governance via technology. This is to improve the government to citizen interface for various service deliveries electronically.
- E-Kranti –Deliver services electronically and thus in a faster and timely manner. This helps in education, healthcare, planning, security, financial inclusion, justice, farmers, etc.
- Information for all – This will bring in transparency and accountability by easy open access to documents and information to the citizens of the country. This ensures that the rural masses are well informed.
- Electronics manufacturing –This will encourage manufacturing of electronics in India and cut back electronics import and will facilitate job creation too. This will help in achieving goals of ‘Make in India’ initiative additionally.
- IT for jobs –Employment opportunities are going to be enlarged moreover as training aspect will be centered on under ‘Skill India’ program. Focus is going to be a lot on IT training. Now rural masses will also be highly skilled.
- Early Harvest program –This encompasses a variety of programs thereunder which are to be implemented within a short timeline. They addresses development in number of sectors like education (school as well as university level), weather forecast, telecom, social problems like lost and found children, etc.
Besides all these, people can also avail services like online registration, payment of fees and appointment, online diagnostic reports, checking on the availability of blood online, etc. in the nearby hospitals under the e-Hospital initiative of Digital India. One can also store their crucial documents like Voter ID Card, Pan Card, BPL Card, Driving License, education certificates, etc. in the cloud under the Digi Locker service provided by Digital India initiative.
All indications are that rural India will wholeheartedly welcome these digital inclusion efforts. Rural Indians have been getting online in increasing numbers, and are expected to catch up with urban India by 2020, once 48% of the net online population are going to be from rural India (up from 36% in 2016). And if Digital India delivers on its promise, rural India will probably soon outnumber urban India online for a more real representation of the country. Previously underserved rural areas will have the benefit of remote access to a range of digital services, including healthcare, education and banking. Recently everyone came to know that services can be provided and accessed digitally even where no physical banks or branches exist.
Despite targeted efforts by Indian policymakers, there are still snags within the reach of Indian financial system where digitization is expected to play an enabling role. If this can be a reality, then digital India programme will not address issues like this and will only magnify the digital inequality within the country.
We are taking steps in the right direction, but the momentum needs to be sustained. The key to India’s success lies in moving towards rural India, and especially rural women. There is much work to be done, and technology can help provide the inclusion that has been missing for too long, so we can the leverage the potential of billion-plus population by empowering, educating and providing skills to them. That’s what Digital India is doing currently.