Modi Ushering In Knowledge Revolution Unless Officials Scuttle It
The changes in technology were initiated by Rajiv Gandhi and many strides were taken by India in the field of information technology. But never before an organized large project to cover entire country with its links to rural areas was undertaken. The Digital India project launched recently by the Prime Minister is so vast that it covers the country and all professions to bring transformation. It is bound to change the face of the country. A large population is still not aware of this project and there is need to communicate it to all up to grass- roots level in local languages and pictographs so that ordinary people and masses understand these as these are bound to touch and change their lives. Salient features of this project are given below to make it simple enough for every one to understand.
It is a large umbrella which covers many sub-projects and it can be gauged from this fact that it will create 18 lakh jobs by investing 4.5 lakh crore in various tasks and activities. Finally Digital India will create 5 crore jobs when complete. Top businessmen like Chief of Reliance, Wipro, Tata and other corporate who were present at the time of launching have committed to putting in the money and managing their own areas.
Basically, the project and sub-projects will give unlimited access to information to the citizens. For enabling it 2.5 lakh villages will be provided broad-band access, 2.5 lakh schools and universities will have wi-fi connections. National fiber network will be laid in 7 lakh-kilometer. One crore students will be trained to work on business process outsourcing projects and hence BPOs will open up jobs in the hinterland and rural India as the jobs that are done in cities with high cost can be done on cost effective manner in rural side where costs are low. Moreover, vast network being available where there is no access it will give total connectivity to villages.
I will give three examples to explain how it will benefit the common man. First case is that villagers will have to go to government offices time and again and produce identification, land certificate, ration card etc. There will be a locker in the programme where everyone can store these documents including passports. No paper will need to be produced as any document could be checked on the mobile of the user. For various jobs with government it will be possible to do e-business through digital access rather than running after government offices time and again. It will save harassment of the people and everything could be processed electronically.
Second example is “My Governance” project that will enable anyone to participate in government decision making and give suggestions which will be considered by the officials and action taken. It will encourage innovative ideas and participation making country truly democratic. Even grievances and complaints will be processed in this manner without running to the functionaries.
Third example is marketing and agriculture uses. When any crop is sold prices can be checked to the advantage of the farmer. Even advice of experts on farm produce can be sought. Recently I saw a video on the internet when one could see villagers who have a windmill locally made by following the principles of toy of fan type used by children. This windmill without electricity is drawing water from well to irrigate the fields. This inexpensive innovation could be replicated by hundreds of farmers but they, not having the access, cannot see it. When internet connectivity is available they can see it and make it.
It is, however, highly dependent on officials of different departments and BSNL functioning effectively which has to provide large network and efficient working of its apparatus. It is very doubtful if they can do it looking to their existing performance standard and sarkari type working. PM will have to take drastic step to make them efficient otherwise whatever the plans if there is no working tele services it will fail. I would like to shared personal experience when living in remote village. I wanted wi-fi connection and BSNL promised to provide me. I deposited my money but after one and half year they told me that it is not possible as their contractor had run away on non-payment and I was given half the money I deposited. When questioned they told me that other half had been spent on their labour. When the job was not done why charge me? I asked but was told that was their rule. If this goes on how will digital India work?
It is very ambitious and laudable project and first time such a project at massive scale has been launched and it can do a lot of good to elevate our living. But the biggest hurdle will be the bureaucracy and its red tape as even when there is transparency if basic things don’t work it could collapse like house of cards. I am sure necessary safeguards are being taken but the scale of operation is so huge that unless some one like Azim Premji takes charge of things at infrastructure level other thing would not work.
By NK Singh
(The author is former Chairman, International Airports Authority)