Digital India is one of the flagship program by government of India. Many services like online education, e-health, telemedicine, e-governance and m-governance are being made possible in India to provide quality and time-bound delivery.
For this to be a success, the basic requirement for the Digital India is broadband connectivity all over the country. Bharat Net Project aims to provide broadband in 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayat in the country. Recently, the government launched phase 2 of Bharat Net and phase 1 is expected to be completed by 2017 end. When phase 1 of the project is complete, broadband will be available in 1 lakh villages. This will be a big achievement as a study by Indian Culture for Research and International Economic Relations (ICRIER) says that even a 10% increase in broadband penetration in India would lead to a 3.3% increase in GDP.
Provision of services is the goal
- The total cost of Bharat Net is around Rs 45,000 crore of which about 11,200 crores have been used for the first phase.
- The government has already laid 1.2 lakh of optical fibre network and broadband is already available in 75,000 villages and rest of the 25,000 villages will be connected with broadband by the end of 2017.
- By 2019, another 20 lakh kms of fibres will be laid and another 1.5 lakh Gram Panchayats will be connected. However, still all this is just the infrastructure, the backbone for the benefits to consumers.
Though the fibre is being laid at fast pace, applications are being created to bring services to people, access is given to better infrastructure, the core question is availability of laptops, PCs, smart phones to use the infrastructure.
At present, the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) fund which is basically implementing the project, there is no provision for providing laptops and smart phones. Hence for this, state governments, local governments and NGOs can set up another scheme to provide for terminals.
USOF is an American concept where if a person asks a telecom service provider for a telephone connection (Ex: BSNL, Idea, Airtel etc.), these services provider cannot refuse him on pretext of non-feasibility due to its presence in a remote area. The idea behind USOF is that every citizen in the country gets connected irrespective of the cost and if it is not feasible for the telecom service provider to service him profitably then the telecom service provider should be subsidised to that extent.
Even in the 2nd phase of Bharat Net Project, the government is subsidising 3600 crores to the private operators to do the last mile connectivity as private telecom operators are not capable to give service to the rural customers even at a breakeven point.
Once the consumers have been connected, there will arise need of terminals which are either smartphones or laptops or PCs’. Content especially in local languages which can be understood by rural population is being created through many mobile applications and websites. There will be applications which are useful to them such as telemedicine, remote health diagnosis, banking services, market services and a lot of agricultural information including weather information, irrigation information and pest information. Communication of the same in local language will help to take quick actions. This medium will turn out to be a big cost and time saver where the rural people don’t have to go absolutely out of way to get services by keeping their livelihood at stake and there will be less burden on transport system. The farmers’ access to different mandis through e-portal will allow him to sell his produce at best price.
Blow to corrupt practices
Lot of vested interest are being hit because of digital India. The government is coming to the citizen rather than person having to visit the government offices to get his papers approved. Thus, through digital governance, it is possible to reduce corruption at local as well as state level. This is the reason officials who make the money from the corruption or having vested interests are certainly opposing this arrangement. Thus, last mile delivery in terms of infrastructure and services provided is important.
Now in the second phase, Bharat Net is aiming to get private sector in process. The private sector companies are capable to provide the last mile connectivity where they will buy bulk bandwidth from the Bharat Net and then serve the customers at the last mile in rural areas.
Network in the 2nd phase will be laid by both central PSUs like BSNL, Railtel and Power Grid as well as state governments. The telecom ministry is expected to sign agreements with seven states Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand which will roll out the project on their own with partial funding from the central government. But there still are some apprehensions regarding support by state governments as they do not have previous experience of implementing telephone networks. So initially it looks as a challenge as it may slow down pace of the project due to possible separate process of preparing equipment and even delay in projects due to lack of experience.
However, in reality, it is actually the state government and local government which has to deliver much more than the central government as they are more answerable to the population. The biggest problem in optical cables is the right of way of laying cable because roads have to be dug, sometimes farms or houses have to be crossed or existing infrastructure has to be demolished. If the government gives a prior intimation about such project in a right way, chances of clearances and redressal of any grievances is easier.
Conclusion- Digital beginning
The possibilities brought out by the internet education, health services provision, governance possibilities and grievance redressal has seen quantum jump in the capability between wide generation and the next generation because the new generation. The multiplier effects of these schemes are immense. For instance, when women are educated then automatically their children get educated, family has better health, nutrition. So at the ground level, one initiative in terms of improving connectivity, bringing timely information to the people, teaching them what they need to do, especially in banking services or registry of land records, health records, birth and death certificates land disputes will get settled quickly.
So implementing to Bharat net project is a big step towards achieving digital India. Let us hope it will bring transparency in the system and it will help in increasing India’s GDP
Connecting the dots :
The fibre optical network will change the face of rural economy. Examine in detail.