[Editorial Analysis] Digital Equity: the need of the hour

Mains Paper 3: Science and Tech
Prelims level: Digital Space
Mains level: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, nano-technology, bio-technology

Context:

• Google has decided to invest 10 billion dollars in the Indian digital space.

Digitalisation paradox in India:

• Though penetration of smartphones is increasing, India’s internet speed is slow or varied across the landscape. Mobile phone penetration in India is set to rise to 85-90% by 2020 from the current levels of 65-75%, according to a report issued by Omidyar Network. But at the same time the report has suggested that only half of the smartphone owners in India are going to subscribe to network data service by 2020.

• India leads the web censorship with maximum number of internet shutdowns yet it recognises the internet as a human right. According to the Freedom house ratings, Between January 2012 and February 2020, there were over 382 government-imposed internet shutdowns across India, resulting in the highest number of internet blocks in the world so far.

• In spite of increasing internet users, app downloads and social media users India’s digital preparedness is unsatisfactory. As per the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, as on 31 December 2019, only 3.19 crore people were enrolled in PMDISHA while the target was to reach 6 crores by March 2019.

Opportunities in Digital Space for India:

• Digital Payments: With only 22 percent of recipients of migrant remittances have access to banks within one km, meaningful digitalisation should make electronic cash transfers as a priority. This would largely empower informal migrant workers.

• Digitalising Agriculture: It can create a value addition of $33 billion annually in Indian agriculture, through measures such as: Developing Precision farming that uses predictive data analytics and basic artificial intelligence, aiding farmers’ access to credit at lower costs and innovating technologies to forecast commodity prices.

• Data governance policies: India is a data rich country, with 650 million internet users but it lacks a forward-looking inclusive data governance policy. With its vast experience in data governance rules abroad Google can offer data governance guidance to Indian lawmakers.

• Secure Digital Space: India’s cyberspace is faced with the problem of “infodemic” with wide circulation of Fake news and wrong information. Although, Google is credited for launching Fact Check information and removal of 8,20,000 misleading videos by
YouTube it can further deeper investments in both human and machine intelligence to strengthen algorithm that could spread misinformation.

• New Dimensions: With the advent of the Fourth Industrial revolution and a growing ecommerce sector, Digital space is expected to create tremendous opportunities for
various technology players across verticals and in key applications such as smart cities, smart utilities, smart healthcare, smart transportation and more in India.

Digital Divide:

• The term describes the discrepancy between people who have access to and the resources to use new information and communication tools, such as the Internet, and people who do not have the resources and access to the technology.

Determinants of Digital Divide in India:

As India is a multicultural, multi-language and multi-religion country with complex socioeconomic conditions, there are six main difficulties in serving rural communities, each one of which has appeared to be insoluble: poverty, unemployment, age and education.
• Gender divide: Only 21 percent of women are mobile internet users, while the percentage of men that uses mobile internet is 2 times that of women.

• Rural-Urban Divide: India’s two-third population lives in rural areas yet only a quarter of the population has access to internet. According to statistics, more than 75 per cent of the broadband connections in the country are in the top 30 cities.

• Regional disparities: Some States are not able to adopt even one technology but others have adopted very efficiently.

• Another important reason of digital divide in India is knowledge divide. The knowledge divide is directly related with digital divide.

• Internet use is primarily associated with a large section of the English-knowing urban population.

• The growing population, insufficient funds, affordability, and delays in implementation of government policies and programmes have been some of the challenges that have led to unequal development in the society, which is responsible for digital divide.

Barriers to Bridging the Digital Divide:

• Infrastructural barriers: India still lacks a strong telecommunication infrastructure with sufficient reliable bandwidth for Internet connection.
• Literacy and skill barriers: The lack of skill in using computer and communication technology also prevents people from accessing digital information as education in information literacy has to play an important role in keeping the society from dividing into a population of information haves and have not.

• Economic barriers: Poor access to computer and communication technology also causes a digital divide. In India, the ability to purchase or rent the tool for access to digital information is less among the masses.

• Content barriers: Steps should be taken by the government to ensure that all citizens are able to receive diverse content appropriate to their lives as well as to produce their own content for their communities and for the Internet.

• Language barriers: Having a multicultural and multilingual population, today a large percentage of information content on the Internet is in English, which is a barrier for the people whose primary language is not English.

Policy and Programmes for Addressing the Challenges in Bridging the Digital Divide:

• India is taking significant steps towards obtaining proficiency in information and technology as the country is increasingly getting divided between people who have access to technology and those who do not.

• The Indian government has passed Information Technology Act, 2000 to make to ecommerce and e-governance a successful in India along with national e-governance plan.

• Steps are being taken to mobilize Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF). USOF ensures that there is universal non-discriminatory access to quality ICT services at economically efficient prices to people in rural and remote areas.

• The government allowed Mobile number portability (MNP) which allows mobile phone users to keep their mobile phone numbers when changing from one mobile network operator to another.

• National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN): it was a project aimed to ensure broadband connectivity to over two lakh (200,000) gram panchayats of India by 2016.

• Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyaan(PMGDISHA) is the scheme to make six crore persons in rural areas, across States/UTs, digitally literate, reaching to around 40% of rural households by covering one member from every eligible household.

State Government Services:

• Sourkaryan and E–Seva: Project of the government of Andhra Pradesh is now operational in the port city of Visakhapatnam, it provides the facility for a citizen to pay property
taxes online and also view details of plans and projects of the government and local bodies.

• The Bhoomi Project of Karnataka state covers 6.7 million farmers and holds millions of records of land ownership. The project has earned the goodwill of many people and also international funding agencies.

• 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.

• Every village has a computer centre or “soochnalayas” at prominent marketplaces or major roads where people can easily log in and complain or request information on crops, forest fields, water resources, etc. of the district.

Efforts to promote Training:

• Role of community information centres: The central and state governments of India, especially the Ministry of Information
Technology, have taken a step known as rural electronic libraries.

• The project has been started in Sikkim and North Eastern states of India to provide IT facility in each and every block.

• Each Community Information Centre will have one server computer system and five client configuration computer systems linked in a local area network and connected to a V–SAT for Internet access.

• Microsoft’s community technology skills programme: it was launched in 2004 in India and 2005 in Chennai, and it focuses on providing access to technology and employment.

• Their new programme ‘Youth Spark’ is going to focus on holistic education and developing entrepreneurship skills.

• National Science Digital Library (NSDL): The National Science Digital Library Project was considered by the government to provide cheaper access to science and technology books to students. NSDL is a facility planned to provide focused content to undergraduate and higher–level students.

Digital Mobile Library:

• The government of India, in collaboration with the Centre for Advanced Computing (C–DAC) based in Pune started this to bridge the digital divide in a larger way.

• It aims to make about one million digital books available to the common citizens as the Internet enabled digital library will promote literacy.

• It will make use of a mobile van with satellite Internet connections. The van will be fitted with printers, scanners, cutters and binding machines for providing books in bound form to the users.

Unnati Project:

• Unnati is a project of the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) which tries to bridge the digital divide in schools by giving the rural students with poor economic and social background access to computer education.

• The project provides for supply of five computers for each school. The HPCL will draft the services of the National Institute of Technology (NIT) for providing training to the students and even the teachers in computer operation.

Role of academic and research institutions:

• IIT Kharagpur designed a project to “bridge the communication gap between the sightless and the sighted.” The project has assisted the blind people so that they can surf the Internet, read text in Indian languages and even take up normal office work.

• A software IIT Webel has been developed to translate Braille into plain English. Telemedicine system must be expanded and designed to be more user-friendly and economical. Awareness among people about telemedicine and tele health and their advantages is required.

• The Azim Premji Foundation has been involved with globalisation of elementary education by creating effective and accessible models to improve the quality of learning in school.

• Tata Council of Community Initiatives: they are playing an important role in promoting adult education in the country. The council has extended several innovative computers– based literacy programs to improve India’s adult education with the help of multimedia presentations.

Way forward:

• A strong determination among people, good policymakers and political support is also required to bridge the digital divide. The country needs to improve the infrastructure of public libraries and link them with community information centres.

• Government should play an enabling factor by developing more progressive data accessibility laws to enhance the country’s digital space.

• The government must invest in skill-building and education at all levels to translate these changes into productive work.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the India and Japan defence relations, consider the following statements:

1. India and Japan have signed an Agreement between the two countries concerning Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services between the Armed Forces of India and the Self-Defense Forces of Japan.

2. This agreement establishes the enabling framework for closer cooperation between the Armed Forces of India and Japan in reciprocal provision of supplies and services.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: C

Mains Questions:

Q.1) Highlights the opportunities in Digital Space for India. Also highlights the barriers and challenges towards bridging the Digital Divide.

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