India’s digital dream has been revealed to be a mirage for an astonishing 950 million people in a study by ASSOCHAM-Deloitte. The study revealed that despite low internet tariffs, increasing governmental focus on digitisation and e-commerce and falling smartphone prices, 950 million people are still on the wrong side of the digital divide. They do not have access to the internet and may face growing pains that demonetization and the future of digital economy are bound to bring.
The central government, led by the tech-savvy PM Narendra Modi, has laid great emphasis on a ‘Digital India‘. The study named ‘Strategic national measures to combat cybercrime’ has pointed out this gaping hole in India’s dragnet on its online citizens. There is no doubt that internet penetration in India is on the rise, but the number of ‘unconnected’ people is enormous and appalling. Only 52.3% of Indians have access to the internet (the global average is 50%) and it will take time, money and other resources to bridge this divide. ASSOCHAM or The Associated Chambers of Commerce of India stated,”Existing government infrastructure assets should be further leveraged for the provision of digital services at remote locations. Start-ups should be involved to create and customise apps to local needs to increase adoption of digital technology.”, as reported here. This will also put pressure on the dream of ‘Skill India’ that has been propounded by the PM.
A list of steps that can solve this issue can be laid out here. One, utilising existing government infrastructure and assets to providedigital services to remote locations and villages. Two,initiatives to improve digital literacy by providing trainingin schools, colleges, universities and even panchayats to provide maximum outreach. Three, developing and cultivating partnerships with global technology leaders besides using the workforce trained under Skill India to impart training to the underserved. Four, making people realise the importance of a digital economy and its usefulness. This will jolt a lot of people awake.Five, integrating Skill India and Digital India to have a two-pronged approach to solving the pressing issues with digital literacy being the ultimate goal. Six,bringing mobile platforms, apps and internet-enabled programs to improve the accessibility of training programs which in itself is the first step to help people achieve technical competence. Lastly, ensuring private partnership to bring about a digital reform.
The ambitious demonetisation drive and the government’s subsequent relentless promotion of a digital and cashless economy will take a hit with this statistic. Mahatma Gandhi had onceremarked,”India lives in its villages.” Although this might not be the case here, it certainly goes on to show how woefullyunderprepared we are and how big and diverse the country really is. If the government wants to make the future of the country a digitised one, some steps in this direction are necessary. That will ensure that the old saying changes into something more modern and appropriate like “India grows in its villages.”