Article also Published in Free Press Journal Indore Edition on 23 August 2020.

  1. Country is witnessing a digital revolution for the past few years. Kantar, the world’s leading data, insights and consulting company, has recently released its ICUBE 2019 report on digital adoption and usage trends in India. As per Kantar report the total internet users in the country was pegged at 574 million logging a growth rate of 24%. These figures are likely to grow to 639 million by 2020. But the impact of COVID 19 pandemic which has severely restricted our accessibility to even daily needs may enhance the penetration levels to 750 million mark. If we were to look at the rural – urban sector distribution, the story is even more interesting. While the penetration in the urban landscape has matured with a growth rate of 11 %, it is the rural sector which is emerging as the driver of growth in the digital world of India. The rural users by 2020 as per forecast is likely to touch the 304 million mark – almost matching the urban digital landscape. Who are going to be the drivers of this change? The report says children and homemakers are going to be the new users. What are the primary reasons? Local language, voice and video platforms available on the smartphones are the factors that are majorly contributing to this revolution. Aptly termed by the report as video-voice- vernacular revolution. The sector of IT that will flourish and likely to witness rapid growth will be IOT (Internet of Things) and communication technologies (5G, 6G etc.). However, it is not the growth that is important. Aimless growth of digital technology without being properly harnessed for social reforms and rural development may be counterproductive. The need today is to leverage it for growth of the rural agrarian economy. The agrarian sector which happens to be the main source of rural development has been consistently losing ground to other sectors in the GDP share over the past seven decades.  The share of agriculture sector in GDP was approximately 51 % in 1951, has reduced to less than 15%.
GDP Share in Percentage Terms at Current Value

2. If we superimpose the rural – urban population profile over the economic data, the picture becomes even more interesting, complex and challenging. The table below depicts the rural- urban population distribution as per 2011 census. A point to note here would be the movement of migrant workers from metros to rural India following the COVID pandemic is likely to further skew the balance between population and economic indicators. We can infer clearly from the two data sets that while the rural population has remained high in India, despite the negative growth, the numbers in real terms are still overwhelming; amounting to over 84 crores in 2011 which as per safe estimates would have swelled to 90 crores by now. But their primary means of sustenance i.e. agriculture sector has been only going down; from 52% in 1951 to 15 %. Therefore, need to restore the lost glory of the rural sector is not only essential from the social perspective but also from the economic consideration.

Table: Rural – Urban Population Distribution as Per 2011 Census

 2001 Nos / %2011Difference
India102.9 / 21.5121.0/17.618.1 / –3.9
Rural74.3 / 18.183.3/12.29.0 / –5.9
Urban28.6 / 31.537.7/31.89.1 / –+0.3

3. The above situation demands an urgent attention to focus on the rural sector by harnessing the power of digital technology. The wheel has taken a 180 degree turn. Agriculture sector which was the highest contributor in GDP has become the lowest. This is adversely affecting the social wellbeing of the rural population. It is time to correct our socio – economic balance and that can only happen if we focus on the rural sector. Luckily the government has identified this as priority sector and we should see some forward movement. We should also be conscious of the fact that the COVID will pose obstacles in economic resurgence but IT has the potential to drive rural empowerment. How do we ensure that digital revolution in the rural sector is harnessed towards growth of rural economy and transformation of the rural society? This is the big question. Unless we empower the rural society positively through the use of digital world we are unlikely to see inclusive growth in the country.  

4. In order to find an approach for ensuring meaningful rural development, Akhil Bhartiya Poorva Sainik Seva Parishad organized a Webinar on the eve of Independence Day in the evening at 1730 hrs. In the Webinar Professor Deepak Varma an eminent Social Scientist from Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar University, Mhow has suggested a bottoms up approach. He recommends that we should utilize digital technology to provide what the rural sector of the country wants and not what we can give them. It has to be need driven. He further recommends hand holding between the academia, NGOs working in this field and the government administration to empower the rural population especially the youth to focus such technologies to address their needs. Similarly, the second speaker, Ms Vasanthi Hari Prakash, a renowned media personality from Banglore with experience of having worked in almost all forms of media platforms like radio, TV and the Print, recommended modifying the digital platforms in a manner that they can be easily leveraged by the people in remote areas especially women. She further suggested extensive use of the vernacular and voice portal platforms so that digital technology can be easily leveraged by even the less literate or even the illiterate population. She particularly highlighted proliferation of CGNet Swara type of program being run by Shubhansu Choudhary in Chattisgarh, Gaon Connection program by UP government and community radio program focusing on the local needs to leverage digital technology across the country in a big way.  Such programs have the potential to slowly but steadily transform the rural landscape, usher in societal reforms catalyze an inclusive rural growth and become the voice of the voiceless people of rural India.

5. To conclude it is once again reiterated that aimless proliferation of digital technology is not going to pay dividends. It has to focus on the local needs and the technology suitably modified to spearhead a meaningful development of the rural sector. A lot is being done, but a lot needs to be done the right way, targeting the right needs and ensuring effective outcomes from such programs. If not, these technologies will only end being misused or being utilized for very shallow needs such as entertainment etc.


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