[Kurukshetra December Summary] Bridging the Digital Divide – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

Implementing e-governance to empower the population and promote economic growth is a big challenge in large and diversified country like India. The integration of technology-enabled communication and data driven governance along with internet and mobile technology has laid the foundation of efficient governance. e-Governance improves transparency of all operational processes. While e-governance can make governance more accountable and efficient, addressing digital divide and inequality remain a big concern.

Digital Divide

Digital Divide is caused by different levels of access, use, and application efficiency of digital resources. The benefits of internet technology aren’t evenly spread, and gaps between the haves and have not’s are rising. More connected and more competent people have benefited disproportionately from the digital technologies. Globally, three billion people lack Internet connectivity, with the majority living in emerging and least-developed countries. Just 15% of people worldwide can afford to use broadband internet (World Bank 2016). Because of poor infrastructure, Internet connections can be slow and expensive, putting it out of reach for many people. In addition to financial, gender and racial disparities, rural-urban and disability divides are widening. A lot of people, especially women, say they don’t use the internet because they don’t have the right skills.

Gender Digital Divide UPSC

To close the digital divide, technological, infrastructure, and social-economic solutions that address accessibility, affordability, and digital literacy are required. Existing technology can be used to create high-quality, dependable, and secure internet connections, allowing for unlimited involvement in the digital economy. The digital world has expanded and flourished mostly as a result of technological advancement; current pillars of the information society include e-learning, e-libraries, e-health, and e-governance.

Achieving an Affordable, Inclusive Internet for All

There is a need to build communications and IT infrastructure to bridge the digital divide and give economical, all-inclusive access to all. The crucial internet access infrastructure has been the focus of policies during the last ten years. While there is still much work to be done, there have been many notable successes. Currently, a mobile internet signal may be found within range of 70% of the worlds population (Internet Society 2016). To help establish an inclusive and inexpensive internet that increase prospects for innovation, empowerment, and development, policymakers urgently need to broaden their horizons.

The following parameters are significant in the way of achieving an affordable, inclusive internet for all.

Importance of Infrastructure: Governments and the business sector must collaborate to encourage network sharing and the installation of fiber optic cables to construct other types of infrastructure, such as roads and power lines. To facilitate access, promote innovation, and advance development, Governments and regulators must create rules that stimulate competition and boost network investment.

Pricing: Lack of affordability can have a disproportionately negative impact on women because they typically earn less money and have less influence over their purchasing. Policymakers must ensure inexpensive and widespread access to internet at a fair price. A facilitative regulatory environment can enable finance and expedite infrastructure development. Specific packages, referred to as “zero-rated content,” permit unlimited access to certain content or services. While some contend that zero-rated content can increase internet accessibility, others (including the Indian Telecommunications Regulator and TRAI) have expressed concerns about the potential impact on competition.

Digital Inclusion and Building Human Capacity: Language is a barrier to access. English makes up more than half of web content. Poor knowledge of English reduces propensity to own computer or use the internet(Quast 2016). People are less likely to go online if there is no helpful content available in a language they can understand.

Measuring Access: For Policymakers to make informed decisions to bridge digital divide, they must have access to information about the existing level of disparities. For this, National Statistical Organisations should systematically gather data on Internet access by gender. To create uniform measures, governments should allocate more funds and collaborate with the relevant parties. e-Government Development Index (EGDI) serves as a benchmarking and development tool for countries to learn from each other, identify area of strength and challenges in e-government and shape their policy and strategies in this area. (India was ranked 105 out of 193 in 2022 as per the United Nations e-government Survey).

Government Initiatives to Bridge Digital Divide

The Government is India is implementing ‘Digital India‘ programme to transform India into a knowledge-based society and economy. The programme was launched with to ensure digital access, digital inclusion and empowerment, and bridging the digital divide. The initiative has reduced the distance between the citizens and the Government. Some initiatives under Digital India include:

Common Services Centres (CSCs): Through Village Level Entrepreneurs, CSCs provide digital government and commercial services to rural communities. The CSCs provide more than 400 digital services. 5.31 lakh CSCs are currently operational nationwide (in urban and rural areas), 4.20 lakh of which are at the Gram Panchayat level.

Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance (UMANG): It provides access to government services to the citizens via mobile. Over 1,570 Government services can be accessed.

e-District Mission Mode Project (MMP): The e-District project has been implemented at district and sub-district levels of all States/UTs. It has benefitted citizens by delivering various e-Services such as Certificates (Birth, Caste, Death, Income, and Local Resident), Pension (Old Age, Disability and Widow), Electoral, Consumer Court, Revenue Court, Land Record and services of various departments such as Commercial Tax, Agriculture, Labour, Employment Training and Skill Development etc. Presently 4,671 e-services have been launched in 709 districts across India.

DigiLocker: It is facilitating the paperless availability of public documents. DG locker has more than 11.7 crore users. More than 532 crore documents are made available through Digilocker from 2167 issuer organisations.

Unified Payment Interface (UPI): It is the leading digital payment platform. It is integrated with 330 banks and facilitated over 586 crore monthly transaction worth over RS 10 lakh crore has been facilitated for the month of June 2022.

Read More: UPI and Digital Payments in India – Explained, pointwise

CO-WIN:  It is an open platform for the management of registration, appointment scheduling & managing vaccination certificates for COVID-19. More than 203 crore vaccination doses and 110 crore registrations have been facilitated by CO-WIN.

MyGov: It is a citizen engagement platform that has been developed to facilitate participatory governance. More than 2.48 crore users are actively using MyGov.

Meri Pehchaan: National Single Sign-on platform called Meri Pehchaan has been launched in July 2022 to facilitate/provide citizens ease of access to government portals.

MyScheme: This platform has been launched in July 2022 to facilitate citizens to avail of eligibility-based services.

Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT): 315 Schemes across 53 Ministries are offering Aadhaar- enabled direct benefit transfers to citizens. So far INR 24.3 lakh crore has been disbursed through the DBT platform.

Read More: Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT): Advantages and Way Forward – Explained, pointwise

Diksha: It is a national-level educational platform that helps students and teachers to participate, contribute and leverage a common platform to achieve learning goals at scale for the country. As of July 2022, 7,633 courses are available and more than 15 crore enrolments have been done.

e-Kranti: e-Kranti  Electronic delivery of services envisages the provisioning of various e-Governance services in the country. The goal of e-Kranti is to revolutionize e-Government services by growing the portfolio of Mission Mode Projects (MMPs) in e-Government under various government departments, implementing Government Process Reengineering (GPR), automating workflows, introducing cutting-edge technologies including Cloud and mobile platforms, and emphasising the integration of services.

The government has made the following moves in the direction of data governance for the nation’s socioeconomic development:

Open Government Data: It is a platform for open government data has been created in order to facilitate data exchange and encourage innovation with regard to non-personal data. Over 5.65 lakh datasets are released over more than 12,800 catalogs. The platform has made 93.5 lakh downloads possible.

API Setu: It  has been created to make data interchange across systems easier. More than 2100 APls and 1000+ user organizations are available on the platform.

National Data Governance Framework Policy: The National Data Governance Framework Policy has been proposed by MeitY with the intention of realizing the full potential of India’s vision for its digital government, enhancing the effectiveness of data-led governance & public service delivery, and fostering data- based research and innovation. The proposed policy is still being refined. In May 2022, MeitY made the Draft National Data Governance Framework Policy available for public comments.

According to a PIB press release, Digital India has also helped deliver substantial services directly to the beneficiary in a transparent and corruption-free manner. India has become one of the pre-eminent nations of the world to use technology to transform the lives of citizens.

Way Forward

First, E-governance in regional languages is important for multilingual countries like India. Governments and other stakeholders must support the ability of stakeholders especially women to produce locally relevant content.

Second, Education and digital literacy programs are essential to equip tomorrow’s software developers and local content creators with the abilities they need to contribute to and profit from the information society as creators rather than just consumers.

Third, Governments and businesses should collaborate on R&D, especially to solve the broadband connectivity gap, to have a big societal impact when adopting new technologies.

Conclusion

e-Governance must reform all levels of government, but local governments should receive special attention because they are the closest to the people and serve as the primary point of contact for many. Better internet connectivity should be accompanied by improved digital infrastructure, particularly in rural areas. To transform the world and attain the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, a paradigm shift in how societies run themselves will be required. It will entail rethinking how a government handles a country’s public affairs and responds to its inhabitants’ needs, as well as how it interacts with civil society and the corporate sector. While e-government focuses on developing online services, the future will focus on how digital government may improve governance by leveraging societal innovation and resilience to advance the SDGs.

Syllabus: GS II, Important aspects of governance, transparency and accountability, e-governance applications, models, successes, limitations, and potential.

Source: Kurukshetra December 2022

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