|Demand of the question
Introduction. Contextual Introduction.
Body. Discuss progress made so far under the BharatNet initiative. Mention various reasons for not achieving targets under the scheme. Discuss various measures to reduce digital divide in India.
Conclusion. Way forward.
India has been appreciated globally for providing IT services. Indian growth saga in past decades was based on services led growth, especially in the IT sector. Despite this, India faces a huge digital divide. In 2014, it had only about 18 people per 100 using the Internet (World Bank Data). To remove this divide, the government had launched the BharatNet project to provide affordable high speed broadband connectivity to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats across India. The objective is to facilitate the delivery of e-governance, e-health, e-education, e-banking, Internet and other services to the rural India
Progress so far under the BharatNet initiative:
- Unable to achieve target of last mile connectivity: Under BharatNet phase 1, only about 7.45% of Gram Panchayats have been provided with last mile connectivity against the target of providing connectivity to 1.5 lakh gram panchayats (GPs). As against a target of laying down 3.11 lakh km of optical fibre cable, only about 92,283 km of cable has been laid down.
- Lack of functional internet connection: The Digital Empowerment Foundation’s research team found that, only 50 (18.6%) of the surveyed 269 gram panchayats had NOFN internet connection up to the Panchayat Bhawan. And only 11.5% of them had functional internet connection. The cables have been laid and the devices have been installed. But internet connectivity was not available.
- Poor internet speed: The BharatNet mission is to provide 100 mbps broadband connectivity to all Gram Panchayats and for increasing broadband penetration in rural areas so as to foster socio-economic development. It was found that Gram Panchayats who have functional internet are working at very slow speed impeding the very aim of the scheme of providing fast connection.
Reason for not achieving targets and desired objectives:
- Poor project implementation: The lack of approved detailed project report has been attributed as the reason for the delay for most of these projects.
- Lack of funds: Dearth of funds have stifled progress of the BharatNet initiative. In the 2018 budget, the government had added another Rs10,000 crore for the second phase of BharatNet. The allocated amount under budget has not been effectively used.
- Absence of implementing agencies: There is no agency made responsible for project implementation. This has led to delays in work progress and no responsibility on any institution to make the initiative successful.
Steps needed to bridge the digital divide:
- Proper execution: To bridge the digital divide, there is a need to accelerate execution of the Bharat net initiative. Timely goals should be achieved with funds allocated in a comprehensive manner. An authority should be created for implementation of BharatNet.
- Public private partnership: Meaningful collaborations with the private sector, technological innovations and following a consistent focused approach towards the larger objective are necessary. There is a need to enhance and develop robust rural digital infrastructure and ecosystem.
- Digital literacy: Focus must also be on enhancing the digital literacy through various platforms especially media. Digital literacy initiatives like Pradhan Mantri Grameen Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) are important in this direction.
- Increase affordability: One of the major barriers in internet penetration is high internet costs. A large group of people cannot access the internet because of the high costs involved. Government can subsidise the tariffs to make the internet
- Address gender gap in internet access: There is a gender gap regarding access to the Internet. The effort must be made to close this gender gap.
Digital literacy is important for good governance and transparency. India has tried to bridge the digital divide gap by enacting some programmes like Digital India, Pradhan Mantri Grameen Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) etc. To make these initiatives successful, a multi-pronged approach is needed.