Context: According to ‘India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide’ released by the NGO recently, Indian women are 15 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone and 33 per cent less likely to use mobile internet services than men.
Highlights of the report:
- The report analyses the primary data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) household survey held from Jan 2018 to Dec 2021.
- Indian Women internet users: Indian women are 15 percent less likely to own a mobile phone and 33 percent less likely to use mobile internet services than men.
- Women constitute only one-third of internet users in India.
- India’s position globally: In Asia-Pacific, India fares the worst with the widest gender gap of 40.4 percent, says the study.
- Rural-urban digital divide: Despite registering a significant (digital) growth rate of 13 percent in a year, only 31 percent of the rural population uses the Internet compared to 67 percent of their urban counterparts, says the report.
- Caste-wise divide: In rural India, the tendency to use formal financial services is lowest for ST households, followed by SC households and OBC households.
- The likelihood of access to a computer is more for the General and OBC groups than for the SC and ST populations.
- The difference between the general category and ST is as high as seven to eight percent between 2018 and 2021.
- Religion-wise: Among all religions, Sikhs have the highest likelihood of having a computer followed by Christians, Hindus and lastly Muslims.
- Access to computer and internet for education: As per the National Service Scheme [NSS (2017-18)], only about 9 percent of the students who were enrolled in any course had access to a computer with internet and 25 percent of enrolled students had access to the internet through any kind of devices.
- The chances of having a computer are higher with higher levels of education as well as income.
- Among states, Maharashtra has the highest internet penetration, followed by Goa and Kerala, while Bihar has the lowest, followed by Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the report said
- Effect of pandemic and digital payments: The digital push driven by the pandemic resulted in India experiencing the largest number of real-time digital transactions in 2021 at 48.6 billion.
- However, the likelihood of a digital payment by the richest 60 percent is four times more than the poorest 40 percent in India.
- According to UN’s e-participation index (2022), which is a composite measure of three important dimensions of e-government, namely provision of online services, telecommunication connectivity and human capacity, India ranks 105 out of 193 nations.
About Digital divide:
- Digital divide is a term that refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology, and those that don’t or have restricted access. This technology can include the telephone, television, personal computers and the Internet.
- Digital inequality is evident between communities living in urban areas and those living in rural settlements; between socioeconomic groups; between less economically developed countries and more economically developed countries; between the educated and uneducated population.
Significance of Digital Divide:
- Political: In the age of social media, political empowerment and mobilization are difficult without digital connectivity.
- Health and Governance: Transparency and accountability are dependent on digital connectivity. The digital divide affects e-governance initiatives negatively.
- Social: Internet penetration is associated with greater social progress of a nation. Thus, digital divide in a way hinders the social progress of a country.
- Rural India is suffering from information poverty due to the digital divide. It only strengthens the vicious cycle of poverty, deprivation, and backwardness.
- Economic: The digital divide causes economic inequality between those who can afford the technology and those who don’t.
- Educational: The digital divide is also impacting the capacity of children to learn and develop. Without Internet access, students cannot build the required tech skills.
Challenges associated with Digital divide in India:
- Population: It is a challenge for a developing country to serve a population of 1.30 billion uniformly.
- Every policy and project that is initiated should be implemented at a large scale keeping the future perspectives in mind.
- Geographical Diversity: Rural India is still deprived of the facilities of urban India because of its geographical location.
- It is poorly connected in terms of roads and infrastructural facilities.
- Illiteracy and Poverty: A large part of population is fighting for its daily basic needs. They do not bother about high speed devices and digitization. They are more worried about food and shelter.
- A large portion is illiterate and cannot operate digital devices. According to census 2011, literary rate in India is 74.04%.
- Lack of Infrastructure: Being a densely populated country, India needs well established infrastructure to deliver e-services. But still there are some rural disconnected regions which are not connected to Internet.
- Gender Divide: In India, there is huge discrimination among male and female.
- Only 65.46% of Indian women are literate and it is shocking that only 29 percent of Indian internet users are female. This creates a huge gender divide.
- Corruption: Corruption is a termite for government. At each tier of government structure, politicians and stakeholders try to draw illegal benefits for themselves.
- Most of the budget that is decided at higher level cannot reach the general public and a large part of it is lost due to mediators.
- Lack of Participation: It is observed that often the rural people are not very much attracted towards the web-based E-Governance services for various reasons.
- Many-a-times they are afraid of the technologies and at times they are even ignorant about the availability of technologies which can help in dealing with their problems.
Government of India Initiatives to bridge the digital divide
Digital India Initiative: To transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
- Vision Areas: Digital Infrastructure as a Core Utility to Every Citizen
- Governance and Services on Demand
- Digital Empowerment of Citizens
- Achievements: India today is home to more than 75 crore smartphones, 133 crore Aadhaar cards, more than 80 crore internet users, has 4G and is now accelerating towards 5G.
- India has emerged as the fastest-growing ecosystem for fintech innovations.
- India’s digital payments revolution is being appreciated globally.
- This was made possible due to innovative digital payment products like UPI and Aadhaar-Enabled Payment Systems (AEPS). When banks and ATMs were shut during Covid-19, AEPS-based micro-ATM at CSCs and post offices provided doorstep delivery of cash.
The Jan-Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) trinity:
- It has ensured that the poorest receive every penny of their entitled benefits.
- Financial benefits worth nearly Rs 23 lakh crore have been transferred using DBT technology in the last eight years.
- To provide high-speed broadband to all the villages, optical fibre has been laid in 1.83 lakh gram panchayats under Bharat Net.
- PM e-VIDYA: Launched to enable multi-mode access to education.
- One class-One Channel: Dedicated TV channel per grade for each of the classes 1 to 12.
- E-PG Pathshala: An initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to provide e-content for studies.
Optical Fibre Network (NOF-N), a project aimed to ensure broadband connectivity to over two lakh (200,000) gram panchayats of India by 2016.
Digital Mobile Library: In order to bridge the digital divide in a larger way the government of India, in collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Computing (C–DAC) based in Pune.
Unnati, is a project of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) which strives to bridge the digital divide in schools by giving the rural students with poor economic and social background access to computer education.
Initiatives of State Government:
- Sourkaryan and E–Seva: Project of the government of Andhra Pradesh to provides the facility for a citizen to pay property taxes online.
- The Gyandoot Project: It is the first ever project in India for a rural information network in the Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh which has the highest percentage of tribes and dense forest.
- The project was designed to extend the benefits of information technology to people in rural areas by directly linking the government and villagers through information kiosks.
- Seva Sindhu: The Karnataka government launched a digital platform “Seva Sindhu” to address the issues of the common citizens in order to strengthen the ecosystem for government services.
- Addressing the divide: Addressing the digital divide requires special, urgent and focused efforts of the government.
- A large investment needs to be made, year after year, in digital infrastructure.
- The establishment of a Broadband Infrastructure Fund with a large corpus from private, multilateral and government sources, including spectrum auction revenues, is a must.
- Digital Empowerment Foundation has a digital literacy and mentorship initiative that targets 100 tribal girls across five states to link them with 25 urban women known for their leadership skills or roles. The girls are provided with a smartphone and connectivity.
- The urban women connect with their mentees weekly via video calls to make them digitally literate. Many of these girls have now become entrepreneurs.
- India can set up a digitally integrated ecosystem in rural areas with a community wireless network and an information resource centre.
- This ecosystem can enable digital interventions to improve the quality of education. And in times like this pandemic, these centres can provide digital classrooms and online education.
- It will help in reaching out to students, irrespective of lockdown, curfew or any natural calamity. This outreach will not only serve as a learning platform but also as essential information-sharing and awareness generation.
- Internet infrastructural support and access to information continue to be crucial in supporting our underserved populations in these critical times.
- Panchayats have to be responsible to deliver information and services across 29 state subjects, were promised fibre optic lines under government’s programme.
- It is that policies as well as crises and emergency response should have a digital inclusion plank to mitigate the fallouts for vulnerable populations and ensure the availability of adequate safety nets.
Digital divide is an emerging reality in India and heavy cost to access new technology will set the stage for digital divide i.e., digital discrimination. Digital illiteracy is on a constant rise in India. Until plethora of emerging issues due to digital gaps are not addressed timely, affordable and sustainable internet society will appear as sheer chimera.
Source: Indian Express