Saturday, Jun 25, 2022 08:00 [IST]

Last Update: Saturday, Jun 25, 2022 02:31 [IST]

All aboard

There is no denying the fact that digitalisation of services has been one of the most significant change agents in the past decade, globally. It is leading socio-economic transformation at grass-root levels, bringing efficiency and accountability, creating new income opportunities, increasing connectivity and driving economic growth. Governments and constituent entities are embracing digitalization to provide user-friendly government services to citizens and simultaneously reduce their cost to offer such services. While these developments show the tremendous potential of digital transformation, the recent pandemic has also accentuated the gaps between the haves and the have-nots. These digital divides have left very large numbers behind in the Covid-induced digital acceleration.

 

The Indian experience of digitalisation has been truly unique with its own set of challenges. Internet penetration has increased in the past few years. The Covid-19 pandemic further strengthened the pace at which people are opting for digital methods in their daily lives. Almost all the e-commerce marketplace platforms noted an uptick in the seller count. The number of sellers on Government eMarketplace (GeM) for Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) recorded a jump from 3,76,000 sellers in 2020 to 1.78 million in 2021. About 28% of MSMEs saw their digital sales double, while another 23% saw an increase of 50%-100% in one year through digital channels.

 

But there is a downside of this so called success story. Digitalisation has largely made the life of a common man easier in India and unlocked new opportunities for him. But the same is not true for the ‘common woman’. The pandemic has further deepened gender inequality. As education compulsorily shifted online in the pandemic, female students suffered a greater brunt with comparably lower access to digital networks than male students, due to varying family attitudes and biases. It has been reported that only 35% of Indian women have internet access. Up to ten million girls are in danger of dropping out of schools, that could result in early marriages or child labour. Education is the only social security for most girls.

 

The Indian economy is also bound in the matrix of extreme poverty along with extreme wealth. While India produced 40 more billionaires in the last year, more than 46 million persons slipped into poverty. Income inequality is increasing rapidly and since the accessibility to digital services is still largely restricted to the privileged classes; digitalisation is entrenching poverty instead of reducing it. As only 3% of India’s poorest 20% households have access to a computer, and 9% have internet connectivity, the difficulties faced by the poor in gaining any benefits emanating from digital infrastructure have only increased multifold. Rural population is still unserved or under-served, creating another layer of digital divide. Due to unreliable electricity, unaffordability, topographical challenges, and the high cost of infrastructure, rural India faces challenges in even securing access to functional internet. The lack of sufficient content in the local language is another barrier for a very large population that is not well-versed in English. The lack of access to the internet also translates to low digital literacy in India. As per a study, only 20% of Indians have the technical know-how to fully use digital services. In 2016, digital literacy was as low as just 10%, impeding the implementation of welfare schemes in the country.

 

While the internet holds the key to unlocking the next phase of the economy, many people might not get a  chance to participate in it if they are not properly trained and inducted. Social stigmas need to be eradicated around the use of internet to onboard the female population.

 

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi