Follow On

The budget led by FM Arun Jaitley mentioned it and PM Modi’s Independence Day speech articulated it loud and clear – Digital India is an agenda that differentiates this Government from its predecessor, which failed to deliver the National Optical Fiber Network to every part of India and left many of India’s 600,000 villages and 250,000 Panchayats wanting in terms of broadband connectivity.

If this Government takes the agenda forward and does not leave any of the constituent parts gasping for funds, the opportunities are huge for the country in general and for willing participants in the IT sector as well! There is much to be done, from the creation of smart cities to the comprehensive availability of broadband, from connectivity in education, healthcare, agriculture and manufacturing to a National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) that NASSCOM Foundation has already taken up with the Department of Electronics & IT (DEITy). What is important to understand is that like any elephant, Digital India has many parts and each has to be addressed to make the big vision a reality.

Prime Minister Modi in his inimitable style touched all the right chords in his speech, which included in its ambit the opportunities for access to better healthcare , education and information for better livelihood that is at the core of the digital opportunity. A lot will be expected from the National Broadband Mission to lay the digital infrastructure on which many of these national applications can be mounted. In the last couple of years, NASSCOM Foundation with its “Follow the Fiber” approach and the active partnership of technology majors Intel Google and Microsoft has shown that village wide digital literacy is possible with successful outcomes in three villages in different parts of the country and more on the way!

There are two key enablers that make the Digital Literacy Mission an achievable one. The Common Service Centers (CSCs) set up in over 100,000 locations by the Government may have reported only partial success, but enriching them with a curriculum and methodology to give every interested citizen the skills to access and disseminate information can be the first building block. With the planned doubling of the CSCs and the opportunity to layer on skills programs in a host of sectors where qualification packs are already being created in the framework outlined by the NSDC, the same digital infrastructure can also be used to impart job skills.

The second enabler is the availability of a few hundred crores from the CSR funds that will be made available as companies scramble to meet the “2% of profits” guideline embedded in the new Companies Act. Participating in a collaborative mission in both urban and rural parts of India and setting up independent NDLM Centers or enabling schools, libraries, post offices, CSCs or village panchayats to be digitally enabled is a charter that all IT companies would be well served in taking up as part of their CSR portfolio. With companies like Cognizant, Cyient, Zensar and others already lining up to contribute and NASSCOM Foundation playing the lead, there is a lot we can do to make Digital India happen!

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