Discovering digital wilderness

Monikangkan Barooah

It has been a journey of Piku, the  protagonist, from an IT enthusiast to ride on an IT wave that fulfils the aspirations of young Indians. Piku has started earning using his IT Skills while studying in college. Slowly he made his presence felt in his filed, disseminating IT Solutions. He struggle through the acquaintances while facing day to day difficulties of life. His grandmother used to depend on him to watch her favourite TV serials, as she found it difficult to use the remote. Other than that, he has to struggle through to pay the electricity bills, property tax, daily shopping for household goods, tax returns, and assisting his father to stand on a queue, on a scorching heat to collect pensions, engaging middleman to renew driving licences and so on. Out of all, there are other duties too. The laundryman and the barber used to visit his house with Post-cards to write few lines for them to communicate to their families and the next door neighbour would come for a help to send the money to their children through Money-order. It was the time then, out of all the difficulties, Piku survived with a repo of keeping it touch with the people from young kids to octogenarians. It is in this backdrop; Piku negotiated his IT activates and was a go-getter and a trendy person then.

It has been a hell of a lot of experience for Piku. From digitising the Teacher’s database of the state  government education department to process PAN applications of Income Tax, digitisation of Voters list, Vehicle records of transport department and  to manage the core banking solutions of few banks. As digitisation of government departments and private sector progresses, the life has become much easier. From net banking to accessing the G2C services like, filing income tax, state taxes online and host of other services. With the pace of penetration of internet and digital services, the digital wilderness has grown wider. It took a lot of time for citizens to understand the framework of digital delivery and thereby the digital divide has become wider. There are stories like the bank officials  used to ask queries, while asking net-banking access and at awe, how this guy like to manage the account of our bank on his own; but than good sense prevails and after timely interventions from the bank manager,  and access to the account provided through net-banking. On the other hand while visiting an office, Piku encountered a funny incident, where a computer has been roped and packed with a tagline that “ Virus infected, not to be touched, be safe and avoid contaminations”. Such was the digital wilderness to the mind of the people back then.

In a bid to earn more revenue Piku has shifted to Bangalore for some time. As the northeast especially Assam has graduated in IT Space, he successfully managed his office while working in Bangaluru. For whole lot of services pertaining to his office, was managed through internet. The electricity bill, the statutory payments and filing reports like PF, ESI, attendance of employees, their salary and what not. It was like discharging his day to day office activities of Guwahati from Bangaluru. The innovation and transformation of digital India has changed the working culture of the people at large. By then, Piku has realised things are possible in Assam too, provided the infrastructures are in place.

With the advent of digital north east vision 2022, the issues pertaining to the northeast would be hopefully addressed. About 98% of India’s International boundaries are in Northeast, but it has the little access to the neighbouring countries in terms of accessibility and smooth transaction of trade and commerce. The connectivity bottlenecks have made the region perpetually underdeveloped and hence politically volatile. Connectivity promotes trade, brings people closer, and integrates the economies. In absence of adequate connectivity, enormous opportunities generated by South-east Asian countries may stop at their international borders. For the growth of North Easter region  and for creation of a single market, it is necessary to overcome missing links in transport corridors.  Lack of inter-operability and infrastructure gaps reduces the efficiency and weakens the global competitiveness. Improving connectivity is essential for the region’s prosperity, continued growth and, most importantly, poverty reduction. It is also to be noted that the Tele-density is much lesser in North East against overall Tele-density in India.  Thought the Act east policy has been initiated, the benefits of it has gone to places like Chennai, because of their state-of-the-art business corridors, which in turn facilitates trade and commerce.

Despite such bottlenecks, Government of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, a considerable works has been initiated. The Digital Northeast Vision 2022 as released by IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, has covered areas where scope of improvement are envisaged.  The objectives of Digital North East Vision 2022 are: (a) to provide high speed broadband connectivity and mobile connectivity in all the uncovered villages in the north-eastern region. (b) to create a Cloud-hub at Guwahati with Disaster Recovery Centre for the NER. (c) to expand Common Service Centers to all Gram Panchayats in North East States (d) to provide better access to quality health, educational and agricultural services using Digital Technology (e) to promote local tourism, art and culture, handicraft, handloom (f) to establish Start-ups and innovation hub for the North-east (g) to provide safe and secure cyberspace for digital north east by setting up specialized cyber security labs and by providing skill development through special trainings and IEC (h) eight Thrust Areas have been identified by this Vision document for the empowerment of the people of the north-eastern region. These areas include (i) Digital Infrastructure, (ii) Digital Services, (iii) Digital Empowerment, (iv) Promotion of Electronics Manufacturing, (v) Promotion of IT and ITES (IT enabled services) & BPO Industries, (vi) Promotion of Digital Payments, (vii) Digital Innovation and Start-ups, and (viii) Cyber security. These initiatives, if executed in timely manner would definitely bring major changes to the people of northeast. However, it has been noticed that while executing projects there are lack of co-ordination between the departments of state as well as central governments that often leads to disarray. In view of the above, we strongly recommend to appoint STPI Guwahati, as nodal agency of implementing digital north east vision 2022. We also strongly believes that with the possession countries 98% international border, the STPI Guwahati, has to be specially empowered   to create business opportunities in the neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and China.

By this time Piku has relocated to Guwahati and looking for new areas to work with. However, he has been frustrated of not being able to encash the benefits of IT as an entrepreneur. As he is trying to motivate himself to find new areas, he came across his old grandmother, enjoying her TV serials over Netfix. She is independent by now and used to send WhatsApp messages and sometimes with smiley’s. He saw his father has booked cab in UBER app and gone to his destination. No more daily shopping, it’s done over the net. For any delicacy in the town, his sister used to order over swiggy and food delivered at his doorstep. The barber does not drop to his house anymore, instead he uses phone to talk to his home. And the most important one, he has seen, senior citizens lines of collecting pension by queuing in the scorching heat has been vanished. Now they get their money transferred to the account and a message of deposits at their handsets. He has felt that not just he, everybody around has become a go-getter person, independent of their own, with their e-skills and transforming lives breaching the digital wilderness.

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Monikangkan Barooah, is the General Secretary of North East IT Association

Email : monikangkan.barooah@gmail.com

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