[Model Answer QP2021 GS2] Has digital illiteracy, particularly in rural areas, couple with lack of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility hindered socio-economic development? Examine with justification.

Introduction
Digital literacy refers to the set of skills, knowledge, and attitudes that are required to use digital devices safely and effectively.

Digital illiteracy and lack of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) accessibility, particularly in rural areas, have posed significant challenges to socio-economic development in India.

1. Access to Government Services: According to a study by the Observer Research Foundation in 2019, the lack of digital literacy has been a significant roadblock in the effective utilization of e-governance services in rural India. Example 2, despite having over 200,000 Common Service Centres (CSCs) across India to deliver various electronic services to rural and remote locations, their use has been hampered by digital illiteracy. Example 3, despite the government’s push for digital healthcare platforms like e-Sanjeevani, many in rural areas are unable to utilize these due to a lack of digital literacy.

2. Financial Inclusion: As per a 2017 survey by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), while about 88% of rural households have bank accounts, only around 25% use ATM services, reflecting the low digital literacy levels impacting financial inclusion.

3. Education and Skill Development: According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2020, in rural areas, only 8.1% of households had a computer, and just 18.9% had an internet connection. This lack of access to technology, combined with low digital literacy, prevented many students from effectively participating in online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. Employment Opportunities: As per a 2020 report by the International Labour Organization, 66% of Indian businesses reported a shortage of employees with necessary digital skills. The lack of digital literacy in rural areas could exclude these populations from such job opportunities.

5. Digital Divide: According to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), as of September 2020, rural internet penetration was only around 30%, compared to nearly 98% in urban areas. This illustrates the stark digital divide impacting ICT accessibility in rural regions.

6. Information Dissemination: The “Kisan Suvidha” app, launched to disseminate farming-related information, had only around 5 million downloads as of 2019, a tiny fraction considering India’s large farming community. This indicates how digital illiteracy can impede the effective distribution of vital information.

Government Initiatives and Progress report on Digital Literacy

National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM): Also known as the “DISHA” or Digital Saksharta Abhiyan, this program was initiated in 2014 with the objective of imparting IT training to 52.5 lakh persons, including Anganwadi and ASHA workers and authorized ration dealers in all the states/UTs across the country. As of March 2019, the program had trained around 59 lakh people, surpassing its target.

Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA): Launched in 2017, this initiative aims to make six crore adults in rural areas digitally literate. The scheme intends to provide digital literacy to one person per eligible household. As of July 2020, around 3 crore candidates had been registered, with 2.5 crore candidates trained and about 2 crore candidates certified under PMGDISHA.

BharatNet project: An ambitious project aimed at providing high-speed broadband connectivity to all 250,000 gram panchayats (village councils) in the country. As of January 2021, more than 150,000 gram panchayats have been connected with high-speed internet under the project.

Swayam: It’s an online education platform that provides free access to high-quality educational content for everyone, anywhere, anytime. By 2020, the platform had around 1 crore (10 million) learners.

eBasta program: This initiative focuses on making school books accessible in digital form as e-books, which can be read and used on tablets and laptops.
Conclusion
Digital literacy must be perceived as a fundamental right in the digital age and prioritized accordingly in policy design and implementation. As India progresses in its digital journey, it must ensure that no citizen is left behind. The nation must strive to uphold this essence and shape a digitally inclusive future for all its citizens.

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