Intending to become a partner in the ambitious Digital India Programme, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella will take low-cost broadband technology to some 5 lakh villages in Bharat.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley will prove to be a major milestone in Bharat’s growth story. That is because of just one single commitment by Microsoft to connect our 5 lakh villages with broadband. Hence this step will catapult our villages from past where they at present live to future – where broadband will take them in such a short time. We must spend some time comprehending what it means to the people who live in rural areas- two third of our population. It will focus on what supporting infrastructure needs to be put in place simultaneously to realise its full potential.
Already 3 billion people – 43 per cent of world population are connected to internet– including 40 per cent in Asia. Desktop, Laptops, Tablets, Smart phones, Smart tvs, ATMs handheld card readers- it is everywhere. We have e-governance, e-retail, e-bookings, e-banking. It is an explosion we are witnessing. Internet is all about applications. We are familiar with email, whats app, Facebook, Skype, and hundreds of applications on the mobile. We do our ticket booking on IRCTC or bus or airline or tourists website, online banking on the site of our bank and look for information on the appropriate government websites- there are thousands of them. But how is all this going to be of any help to a family living in a remote village of less than one hundred families? Hardly is any one of them educated but nobody knows English and may be someone in the village also has a mobile. They cultivate their small plots using bullocks and tend to a few animals for a living and deal with the local shop keeper and moneylender. There a quack nearby. Thus it is understood that each village will be first connected to a power line with 24×7 supply. We expect to connect every village to a school, a hospital, a bank and a market by an all weather road. That is a huge cost considering the size and geography of our country. But can we have all these facilities in house in a remote small village- that is connected to hi-speed broadband? We can and we should. There is for instance the need for developing very good step by step easy to follow teaching material for all classes in all subjects for the whole country and then dub it in all languages and dialects. Like wise training material should also be prepared for all vocational skills in all major dialects. This is a one time effort. Get the best trainers and teachers to put the material together in videos. It can be updated from time to time. This should be offered free online as streaming and on demand on laptops, tablets, mobiles and TV. So learn at your convenience what you must and what you want.
Everyone should be able to book time with a doctor for treatment over telepresence apps to get advice for their medical complaint. May be a visiting healthcare person may collect sample and conduct test and deliver medicine in every village. Perhaps we may train 5 lakh each male and female health workers for the purpose. That is the kind of employment we must create. So telemedicine is a distinct possibility which will to a large extent take care of the day to day medical needs of the villagers. Similarly villagers should be able to connect with the market and consumer. Farmers can contact the arhatias, processing facility, retailers or even the consumers to pickup their produce.
Most exciting possibility is however, that of extending micro finance over the internet. Anybody from anywhere in the world can lend any amount to anybody through the internet – amount as small as may be a hundred or a thousand rupees. We can develop sites that can facilitate this kind of peer to peer lending over the internet. Exchange rates and connected difficulties can also be taken care of.
Borrowers can fill the required short personal information and loan application forms on line and furnish required verification. May be a local banking mitra can be of help in such verification. The agency will place the loan requirement with applicant’s profile on its site Those interested in charity or interest free or low interest lending in small amounts will take their pick. Such an agency is already working, successfully.
This small list is only illustrative. Ever and furiously expanding broadband holds immense possibilities to change our lives- including those of the families living in our small remote villages. These are exciting times even for them once they get connected to the internet. Thanks PM and thanks to Microsoft.
JP Dubey (The writer has long experience in rural credit)