Translating Digital India vision for rural development: Uma Ganesh

The vision for Digital India unveiled by the Prime Minister is path breaking and has the potential to create a transformational change in various sections of the society with rural India poised for being the biggest beneficiary of this change. The plan to provide universal phone connectivity and access to broadband in 2.5 lakh villages by 2019 is the clarion call for entrepreneurs and policy planners to take advantage of the opportunity to build new solutions for rural markets.

Mobile telephony is expected to play the lead role in delivering the advantages of information access and digital empowerment to the rural population. India has close to 960 million mobile subscribers as of end March 2015 as per Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and now service providers are turning their attention to rural India for their expansion. Urban mobile subscriber share stands at 58% as compared 42% of rural subscribers. Rural mobile subscriber base is growing twice as faster compared to urban subscriber base. While the national teledensity stands at 79% as of March 2015, rural teledensity is 46.5% thus indicating a yawning gap to be addressed.

The unlocking of the potential for rural transformation on the strength of digital platform calls for innovation and pragmatic approach along with diligent implementation. Setting up manufacturing facility in India to produce large scale low cost devices, the proposal of shared use of mobile devices by families in rural markets, sharing of infrastructure cost by mobile service providers and government offering to subsidise the roll out cost of mobile services are examples of fast forwarding the reach for those in villages.

Just as in the 1990s when the paradigm of broadcasting dramatically changed by opening up of skies and permitting broadcasters and cable operators to reach nook and corner of the country that led to creating a level playing field to the citizens with respect to choice, timeliness and access to news, entertainment and information, in the coming decades digital platform will herald a new era for the country by empowering the rural citizens through a variety of services. While the government is keen to cover large sections of the population for its services through the digital platform in areas such as improved governance, land records, jobs, health, education and agriculture and digitisation of personal and public records for safekeeping, there would be innumerable avenues for budding entrepreneurs as well as existing businesses to service the rural markets as never before.

For example, ArogyaSakhi, a mobile application that helps rural women entrepreneurs deliver preventive health care at rural doorsteps. Women equipped with tablets and mobile healthcare devices like glucometers, blood pressure checking machine visit homes and collect data from the village women. This data can be accessed by doctors at any location who could provide relevant advice to the patients remotely. Several apps have been launched to enable farmers get accurate and timely information related to crops, market prices and analytics to enhance productivity and profitability of farmers.

According to a recent study by Crisil, e-commerce sales currently accounting for less than 1% of the overall retail buisness as on date in India, will get a big boost with the expanded reach into the rural markets. And local e-commerce based on the local needs as well as access to urban markets for rural products are other advantages rural population would begin to enjoy.

The recently launched innovative concept of dedicated Payment Banks supported by digital platform and mobile operators who have millions of customer access points across the country would enable customers load cash onto mobile wallets and send payments across the country, as PayTM and Hermes have demonstrated.
What is encouraging is the fact that in order for digital revolution to take off in rural India, the supportive pillars namely the processes, the banking system, digital literacy and the willingness of people to accept the change in view of the benefit accruing to them—all of which are time consuming to conceptualise and implement, have already been thought through diligently and are being addressed in parallel. In order to realise the full potential of the digital vision articulated, investments envisaged will have to take place within the timeframes outlined, further reforms in the interface between the government and citizens need to be inplemented expeditiously, better alignment between various agencies would have to be ensured and digital literacy would have to gain futher momentum.

The digital divide that exists between urban and rural India could become a thing of the past as we have experienced in the previous decades when it became feasible for the common man to access television, cable and basic telephony through public booths. Thus the next decade could catapult India to a new league of prosperity which will pave the way for elevating the living standards of sizeable number of rural poor and empower them as never before if only we seize the opportunity that digital mission provides.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company

developmentdigital IndiaruralUma Ganesh
Comments (0)
Add Comment