Digital Village or DigiGaon have become buzzwords these days. There are around 6,50,000 villages in India, with 70% of India’s population living in these villages. Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged on the Independence Day this year to connect all of India’s villages with optic fibre cables within 1,000 days. This will give a boost to the already existing “Digital Village Campaign”. But, what exactly is a digital village?
Digital Village will have one-stop service solution at the Common Service Centres (CSCs – a public-private initiative that offers digital services to villagers) for the villagers, providing them services like internet connectivity, telemedicine, tele-education, skills, financial services, and other Government-to-Citizen (G2C) and Business-to-Consumers (B2C) services, which are easily accessible at an affordable price around the year.
It will also generate employment opportunities for the youth, by promoting the IT/ITeS Industry. Every village will have a ‘Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE)’, who will be the CSC operator. S/he will help villagers to avail the services.
These DigiGaons are projected to be change agents, promoting rural entrepreneurship and building rural capacities and livelihoods through community participation and collective action. And not to mention, it will reduce the digital divide and enable rural citizens to avail all services as are now available to urban people.
First Indian Digital Village
Akodara village near Ahmedabad is a fully digital village. The ICICI Bank adopted this village of 1,200 people in 2015 and made it 100 per cent digital with proper infrastructure facilities. Some of the transformations are:
• Financial inclusion and access to modern banking.
• Use of technology in education: Audio-visual devices, computers, electronic tablets and electronic attendance of students employed in schools throughout the village.
• All normal transactions of the bank made by their mobile phones through net banking.
• The payment for using purified water from the RO plant has also been digitalised.
• Wi-Fi tower for internet connectivity has been installed.
In 2019, the government had announced that it would make 1,00,000 villages Digital Villages over the next five years with the help of CSCs. “The government will make 1 lakh villages into Digital Villages over the next five years,” the interim finance minister Piyush Goyal had announced on February 1, 2019.
However, in July 2019, the new Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, did not even mention it in the Union Budget speech. Puzzled by this, Inc42’s RTI query to the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA), Finance Ministry, got the following response: “In this regard, as far as e-Governance Group under MeitY is concerned, the applicant is informed that there is no such ‘Digital Village Mission’.”
The Long-Term Vision
The features of the three key vision areas of Digital India, as applied to villages, are:
• Digital Infrastructure as a Core Utility to Every Villager
• Availability of high-speed internet as a core utility for delivery of services to villagers
• Cradle to grave digital identity that is unique, lifelong, online and authenticable to every villager
• Mobile phone & bank account enabling villagers participation in digital & financial space
• Easy access to a Common Service Centre
• Shareable private space on a public cloud
• Safe and secure cyberspace
• Services on demand
• Seamlessly integrated services across departments or jurisdictions
• Availability of services in real-time from online & mobile platforms
• All citizen entitlements to be portable and available on the cloud
• Digitally transformed services for improving ease of doing business
• Making financial transactions electronic & cashless
• Leveraging geospatial information systems (GIS) for decision support systems & development
• Digital empowerment of villagers
• Universal digital literacy for villagers
• Universally accessible digital resources
• Availability of digital resources/services in Indian languages
• Collaborative digital platforms for participative governance
• Citizens not required to physically submit government documents/certificates
This refers to broadband and wi-fi connectivity to schools, digital literacy programme, and leveraging massive online open courses (MOOCs). ICT-equipped schools can help students access the internet. Distance and adaptive learning can reduce the need to move to towns or cities for higher education. ICT and internet access can also provide incentives for school attendance and for attracting and retaining good teachers.
This refers to use of technology for better healthcare service delivery, including online medical consultation, medical records, medicine supply, and pan-India exchange for patient information, etc. ICT-enabled m-health initiatives can enable mobile health diagnostic solutions, and provide access to specialist healthcare services.
Epidemiological data can be gathered, which can lead to early warnings and interventions to address health-related challenges such as malnourishment, underweight childbirth and anaemic mother.
This would allow farmers to get real-time price information, order inputs online, and make online cash, loan, and relief payment with mobile banking. Precision agriculture can be practised whereby one observes, measures and analyses the needs of individual fields and crops, boosting production and economic efficiency. It uses a system of IoT sensors, mobile communications, big data and analytics in the cloud.
Financial inclusion shall be strengthened using mobile banking, micro-ATM program and CSCs.
IT for Jobs
This aspect focuses on providing training to the youth in the skills required for availing employment opportunities in the IT/ITeS sector.
With technology equipment and internet becoming cheaper and more readily available, the need and demand for digital technologies are only going to increase. And, with increasing penetration of mobile usage in rural India, it will be easier to implement digital technology solutions even in inaccessible rural areas. Hence, we should stay ahead of this information and digital revolution curve by bringing the latest technologies to the villages and thereby make a massive difference in the lives of the villagers.
(The author is a writer and poet; preview his poetry at https://a.co/fyEOQFa)
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