Ground Report | New Delhi: Digital India, Government of India’s flagship programme that aims to transform the country into a digitally empowered society, celebrated its 6th anniversary this month. On this occasion, PM Narendra Modi interacted with the beneficiaries of the scheme. He emphasised the economic importance of going digital and the global recognition digital solutions made in India have received.
Indeed, the rising reliance on the internet due to the pandemic has drawn attention to digitisation in India and the rural-urban gap in internet access. In this context, how much has the Digital India initiative achieved in the past 6 years?
According to Statista, the internet penetration rate in India rose from 27% in 2015 to 50% in 2020. This means that in 2020, close to 50% of India’s 1.37 billion people had access to the internet. India has the 2nd highest number of internet users globally. By 2025, the number of internet users in India is projected to touch the 900 million mark, the IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE 2020 report said.
However, this rate of internet penetration is not uniform across states and or across the rural-urban spectrum.
Rural-urban digital gap
As of 31st March 2021, the number of internet users in rural India is limited to 29.2% of the total rural population in the country. In comparison, the internet penetration rate in urban India is 93%. Lack of proper infrastructure for broadband networks in the countryside due to geographical barriers and lack of business incentive due to lower density of population along with lower literacy levels all affect the rural-urban digital gap.
In the former state of Jammu and Kashmir, only 16.58 people out of every 100 have internet access. This number is 21.64 in Uttar Pradesh and 21.69 in Bihar. This points to state and administration-specific issues. The fact that almost 40% of all mobile subscribers in the country do not access data services hints at economic and service-provder specific barriers to digitisation.
Successes of Digital India
The situation is not all grim, though. The Digital India programme has 3 central vision areas: digital infrastructure for every citizen, governance and services on demand, and digital empowerment of citizens.
Under digital infrastructure development, the government undertook several initiatives. The provision of a unique Aadhar number for identification to each citizen is the most prominent such initiative. Aadhar is the largest biometrics-based identification system in the world. It also serves as a tool for social and financial inclusion. Several initiatives such as Goods and Services Tax Network (GSTN) and Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM) fall under governance and services on demand. While the former serves as an interface for taxpayers and as a common IT infrastructure between the states and centre, the latter is an app that makes online payments hassle-free. A range of services that focus on real-time digital transactions, online registration for and tracking of subsidies,
participatory governance, digital literacy, etc. have been launched to fulfill the vision of the empowerment of citizens.
Moreover, according to RBI estimates, Indians were making over 100 million digital transactions per day in 2020. This number is estimated to rise to 1.5 billion transactions. By 2025, we’re expected to have more users in rural India than in urban areas. The gender divide in terms of access to the internet people is also not high.
6 years down the line, the progress seems quite significant. The rural-urban divide in internet accessibility and disparities amongst states still pose a challenge, though.