India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide

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    In Context

    • Recently, the NGO Oxfam India released ‘India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide’.

    Report highlights

    • Data from CMIE:
      • The report analyses the primary data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) household survey held from Jan 2018 to Dec 2021.
    • Indian Women internet users:
      • Indian women are 15 percent less likely to own a mobile phone and 33 percent less likely to use mobile internet services than men.
      • Women constitute only one-third of internet users in India.
      • India’s position globally:
        • In Asia-Pacific, India fares the worst with the widest gender gap of 40.4 percent, says the study. 
    • Rural-urban digital divide:
      • The report also points to the rural-urban digital divide. 
        • Despite registering a significant (digital) growth rate of 13 percent in a year, only 31 percent of the rural population uses the Internet compared to 67 percent of their urban counterparts, says the report.
      • Caste-wise divide:
        • In rural India, the tendency to use formal financial services is lowest for ST households, followed by SC households and OBC households.
        • The likelihood of access to a computer is more for the General and OBC groups than for the SC and ST populations. 
        • The difference between the general category and ST is as high as seven to eight percent between 2018 and 2021.
      • Religion-wise:
        • Among all religions, Sikhs have the highest likelihood of having a computer followed by Christians, Hindus and lastly Muslims.
    • Data of states:
      • Among states, Maharashtra has the highest internet penetration, followed by Goa and Kerala, while Bihar has the lowest, followed by Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the report said.
    • Access to computer & internet for education:
      • As per the National Service Scheme [NSS (2017-18)], only about 9 percent of the students who were enrolled in any course had access to a computer with internet and 25 percent of enrolled students had access to the internet through any kind of devices.
      • The chances of having a computer are higher with higher levels of education as well as income. 
    • Effect of pandemic & digital payments:
      • The digital push driven by the pandemic resulted in India experiencing the largest number of real-time digital transactions in 2021 at 48.6 billion.
      • However, the likelihood of a digital payment by the richest 60 percent is four times more than the poorest 40 percent in India.
    • Citing other indices:
      • According to UN’s e-participation index (2022), which is a composite measure of three important dimensions of e-government, namely provision of online services, telecommunication connectivity and human capacity, India ranks 105 out of 193 nations.

    More about the digital divide

    • Meaning:
      • The digital divide is a term that refers to the gap between demographics and regions that have access to modern information and communications technology (ICT), and those that don’t or have restricted access. 
      • This technology can include the telephone, television, personal computers and internet connectivity.
      • Even among populations with some access to technology, the digital divide can be evident in the form of lower-performance computers, lower-speed wireless connections, lower-priced internet use connections such as dial-up and limited access to subscription-based content.
    • Bridging the divide:
      • Proponents for bridging the digital divide include those who argue it would improve digital literacy, digital skills democracy, social mobility, economic equality and economic growth.
    • Loopholes causing the divide:
    • Online safety: 
      • According to a survey, more than half of young women have experienced violence online, including sexual harassment, threatening messages and having private images shared without consent. 
        • The vast majority believe the problem is getting worse.
      • Women’s rights defenders and female journalists were targeted for abuse more than most.
    • Inadequate artificial intelligence:
      • The third threat comes from badly designed artificial intelligence systems that repeat and exacerbate discrimination. 

    Solutions & way ahead

    • Addressing the divide:
      • Addressing the digital divide requires special, urgent and focused efforts of the government.
      • A large investment needs to be made, year after year, in digital infrastructure. 
      • The establishment of a Broadband Infrastructure Fund with a large corpus from private, multilateral and government sources, including spectrum auction revenues, is a must. 
    • Creation of an entity:
      • An empowered entity needs to be set up which is accountable for quality and timeliness to design and construct digital highways, their rural branches, and ensure their optimum utilisation by sharing the infrastructure
    • Online safety of women:
      • Social media sites can use their “algorithm power” to proactively tackle the issue of safety.
      • Governments need to strengthen laws that hold online abusers to account, and the public to speak up whenever they witness abuse online.
    • Skills:
      • Digital skills, required today both for life and for livelihoods, must be imparted on a war footing by transforming government digital literacy programmes into skilling missions, expanding outreach, including through the private sector.
    • Delivery of services:
      • The last mile delivery of services has to be made a reality and connectivity, devices and handholding assistance of trained persons at village service centres, schools and clinics is imperative.

    Government initiatives to bridge the digital divide

    • Digital India Initiative:
      • Aim:
        • To transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
      • Vision Areas:
        • Digital Infrastructure as a Core Utility to Every Citizen
        • Governance & Services on Demand 
        • Digital Empowerment of Citizens
      • Achievements:
        • India today is home to more than 75 crore smartphones, 133 crore Aadhaar cards, more than 80 crore internet users, has 4G and is now accelerating towards 5G. 
        • Above all, it has among the lowest data tariffs in the world.
    • Digital Payments 
      • India has emerged as the fastest-growing ecosystem for fintech innovations. 
      • India’s digital payments revolution is being appreciated globally. 
      • This was made possible due to innovative digital payment products like UPI and Aadhaar-Enabled Payment Systems (AEPS). When banks and ATMs were shut during Covid-19, AEPS-based micro-ATM at CSCs and post offices provided doorstep delivery of cash.
    • The Jan-Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) trinity:
      • It has ensured that the poorest receive every penny of their entitled benefits.
      • Financial benefits worth nearly Rs 23 lakh crore have been transferred using DBT technology in the last eight years. 
    • Bharat Net:
      • To provide high-speed broadband to all the villages, optical fibre has been laid in 1.83 lakh gram panchayats under Bharat Net.
    • Education:
      • PM e-VIDYA: Launched to enable multi-mode access to education.
      • One class-One Channel: Dedicated TV channel per grade for each of the classes 1 to 12.
      • E-PG Pathshala: An initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development to provide e-content for studies.

    Sources: TH