Towards realising Digital India
Digital India is one of the most ambitious plans of Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiated on July 5, 2015, aimed to nurture a digital India thereby making every household and every individual digitally empowered. The digital India initiative comprises of three core components: the creation of digital infrastructure, delivering the services digitally, and universal digital literacy. The second component, “service deliveries” largely depends on rest of two: providing digital infrastructure and digital literacy. Undoubtedly, the Government of India is considering numerous measures towards upgrading the digital infrastructure which may be necessary but not sufficient to realise the dream of digital revolution. The challenge for the government lies in spreading digital literacy to a near universal level in its population.
Such a challenge is visible with the evidence obtained in the National Sample Survey Organisation’s 71st round survey on “Social Consumption: Education” under the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India. The survey provides the information related accessibility of computer and internet. According to the survey that was conducted during the January to June 2014, only 6 percent rural and 29 percent urban household possesses computer facility. In the household where at least one member of age 14 years and above was present was asked about the access to use internet facility (not necessarily having the facility possessed by the household). It was found that only 27 percent of Indian households (16 percent rural and 49 percent urban) had access to internet facility in the survey year, 2014. Information was also gathered regarding the ability to operate the computer.
Evidence suggests that only 14.2 percent Indians (7.8 percent in rural and 28.1 percent in urban) were able to use word processing/typing. There were only 13.5 percent Indians (7.3 percent in rural and 27.1 percent in urban) with the ability to use the internet for searching information. With regard to using the internet for sending the email, 12.4 percent Indian (6.5 percent in rural and 25.4 percent in urban) answered in affirmative.
Moreover, the ability to operate a computer is largely concentrated in the population less than 30 years of age. Since the Government intends to offer public services in a digital interface, the current state of digital engagement will keep a large share of its population excluded. The above-stated fact is disappointing on one hand and makes the digital dream elusive on the other. The two third strength of rural India will be at a great disadvantage unless serious measures are adopted towards universalisation of digital literacy.
An alternative threat looming is with regard to widening the development divide on account of digital divide owing to the differences observed across regions. Given the disappointing statistics stated above, one wonders as to whether the digital dream of India will remain a dream ultimately. An attempt at universalising digital adaptability lies in addressing the young and its positive externality within the household will make others digitally empowered. It is the younger generation who can be digitally educated through formal schooling system. Therefore, any assessment of the digital spread and adaptability should be made at a household level wherein the older generation can always be counted as digitally empowered owing to the proximate gain from the young adults within the household. It is, therefore, suggestive for the government to universalise the digital education effectively with the universalisation of elementary education. Language remains another handicap in this endeavour as the digital space is English dominant and a large majority is not conversant with English. Since most of the digital activities are available in the English language, the government either has to universalise English language or make available this technology in the local languages.
(Udaya S Mishra is a Professor at Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum. Views expressed are strictly personal)