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PM Modi’s Digital India will fail without mass IT awareness programmes

A major hurdle towards implementing the Digital India mission is the digital divide in the country. Even though mobile penetration in India is high, Internet connectivity is one of the lowest in the world.

analysis Updated: Aug 23, 2017 23:56 IST
India,Digital India,Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (second left), John T. Chambers, Executive Chairman of Cisco, Paul E. Jacobs, Executive Chairman of Qualcomm and Google CEO Sundar Pichai (right) during the Digital India dinner in San Jose (PTI)

Launched on July 1, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India (DI) initiative generated a great deal of euphoria. With emphasis on e-governance, project’s objective was to create an empowered society and knowledge economy. The projected expenditure was Rs 1, 13,000 crore. Its highlights included providing high-speed Internet services to citizens, providing broadband services in all villages, implementing tele-medicine and mobile healthcare services, electronic education delivery and making governance more participative.

While the Digital India initiative is great on paper, its execution has been far behind schedule.

There are many reasons for the PM’s digital juggernaut rolling so slowly. The major hurdle towards implementing the DI mission is the wide digital divide that exists in the country. Even though mobile penetration in India is high, Internet connectivity is one of the lowest in the world. Without connectivity, the effectiveness of digital services is hugely compromised. Lack of language and digital literacy in using technology to access and use information is another problem. Although inexpensive smartphones are available, most people — especially in rural and semi-rural areas — have no idea how to use them. The root cause of such barriers is our under-resourced education system and abysmally low IT awareness among user communities.

Nations around the world are recognising the transformational impact of bringing more of their population online. India needs to do this with urgency and speed. Most of India is still not connected – even if they are, the network infrastructure is so poor that speed is a major concern. Even in metros, we have to put up with abysmal speed even on 4G networks. This must change, and fast.

For effective implementation of the Digital India mission the laying of the National Optical Fibre Network has to be speeded up on a war-footing. At the moment, this is taking place at a snail’s speed. The Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL) and its implementing agencies are slow in technology adaptation. They need to pull up their socks to deliver on PM Modi’s vision of Digital India.

Another important reason for the slow implementation of Digital India is lack of understanding of new technologies such as cloud, mobility and IoT. Digital India content is highly vulnerable and needs to be secured against cyber attacks. But cyber security is not being given the attention it deserves.

To speedily translate the prime minister’s vision of Digital India into reality, we need to have a multipronged strategy and work on multidiscipline areas to bridge the digital divide that exists in India at present. The simplest way of doing this is through mass IT awareness programmes. Improving IT skills — both at user end as well as implementation end —needs to be a major priority.

We also need to cut down on bureaucracy in the implementation of the National Optical Fibre Network– this is the first and most important step to connect the country on high-speed broadband. Finally, there is no option but to think of cloud-based solutions to disseminate digital services.

Pradipto Chakrabarty is regional director of CompTIA, a non-profit trade association

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Aug 23, 2017 12:06 IST