Bridging the Digital Divide

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Nearly 65 per cent of our population is below the age of 35 years. Just imagine the energy and potential of this talent pool. It can write a new history for our Nation. In fact, for the whole world! We just need to empower our youth with skills so that they can ensure their own development and growth of India. Our IT industry and IT manpower has enhanced the image of the country in the world. Now, it is time, the IT revolution takes place in India.

I see the role of IT as a change agent. It empowers; it connects; it can bind isolated parts of a country; it can create harmony in society; it can join people with governments; it can converge schemes and programmes; it can reduce the gap between demand and supply; it can bring us closer to precious knowledge; and, it can help us monitor what is critical.

So, what is lacking is the necessary skills and systems to empower us. Information Technology can be the growth engine of new India. My vision is India should become ‘Digital India’. We must be a knowledge based society and economy.

Our markets should become knowledge markets where every seller and purchaser knows everything. Our villages will be knowledge villages. Our workers will be knowledge workers. Our farmers will be knowledge farmers. Use of satellite technology can further enhance grassroot information and services.

Good governance has become a very heavy subject today. People don’t know how to get the information and services. The road to grievance redressal is quite unknown. We don’t know the relation between outlay, output and outcome. We don’t know how to track a child for his education or health.

I have always said that e-governance is the most easy, effective and economical governance. E-governance has the potential to become the greatest problem solver for the people. It brings about empowerment, equity and efficiency. It has the ability to deliver the desired goal of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’.

We have been talking of the digital divide. What does it mean? Is it relevant only for seminars and conferences? To my mind, digital divide means what a person can get through IT in a city is not available to the person in a remote village.

For this, the software is as responsible as the hardware. We have marketed hardware a lot. From, phones to laptops. We see strength in that. But real strength lies in software utility. What are we doing about that?

Why can’t the parents get information of their children dropping out from a school? It comes to knowledge after six months. We can make it instant. Similarly, in health sector a pregnant woman can be alerted through SMS about the necessary periodical checkup.

In Gujarat, we have found ways to partly bridge this digital divide. Our 14,000 e-Gram centres provide a basket of services to the rural citizens. Our one-day governance centers give the experience of a VISA office. You deposit the documents in the morning and get the certificates by evening. We are using IT for delivering value in areas like education, healthcare, public distribution system and agriculture.

The ease with which information can be published over Internet allows for more transparent, democratic and participatory processes. Social media has further enhanced this. We have to bring the features and feelings of ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ in governance. Social media can be used effectively to ensure that every citizen is engaged in policy making. That he is duly heard and responded to.

So far, software and Internet had been limited to people. When it reaches to things and activities, the digital divide will truly go away. The IT industry will flourish. Your market will expand. Our country will progress.

Today, security has become an equally important issue. Those who don’t know IT, don’t know its security hazards. But those who know, they know that Cyber Security is an important matter. We are living in a time where wars will be fought in the Cyber Space. Your pocket will be picked through cyber mediums. Your homes may be broken in through the same. We have to work on this.

Our cities, roads, societies and banks can be equipped with cheaper and higher resolution CCTV cameras. This will be yet another way to bridge the digital divide and take IT to the people.

Electronics manufacturing is very important. Already our electronics imports have a big share in the import basket. In a few years from now, it is estimated that their import bill will become bigger than even oil. The hunger for electronics goods is going up. Thus, you can understand the challenge. We must focus on manufacturing.

To conclude, I would like to say that I am personally a great advocate of technology. I know that IT can and will transform our lives. It is an inevitable force in the modern world. The sooner we adopt it, the better. The sooner we deploy it, the better. The sooner we master it, the better.

Excerpted from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech at NASSCOM India Leadership Forum

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