With no Internet availability for most Indians, how is Modi govt aiming for a cashless society?

Digital India' is not a dream, yet it remains far away from the reality

This is the era of the digital economy and the government is actively taking steps to connect the country via Internet. From collaborating with the global tech giants like Google and Facebook to providing Internet connectivity at all locations including railway stations, malls and metro stations, the government is trying to turn India into a cashless society. But the important question here is — is India ready?

With 350 million active Internet users, India has the world’s second largest Internet user base and is second only to China. Even so, nearly 950 million Indian citizens today have no access to the Internet. According to a research titled ‘Strategic national measures to combat cybercrime’ by ASSOCHAM-Deloitte, even though Internet penetration in India is increasingly steadily, a large section of the society still remains untouched by the medium that has transformed the world– the Internet.

Despite the best efforts of the government, there are a lot of factors that are actively creating a hindrance in turning India’s digital dream into a reality. To begin with, the underlying infrastructure remains the single and the most important factor that has hampered the growth of Internet connectivity in India. Lack of adequate towers combined with the sluggish speed in the areas of connectivity has only made the matters worse. What is proving to be a bigger barrier is the fact that the Internet is still considered a ‘magic wand’ by a large section of the population. The government needs to provide training in remote pockets of the country to increase digital acceptance and to integrate the nation digitally.

Adding layers to India’s ‘digital drama’ are factors like cyber security and cost of Internet, which still remains substantially high. Lack of Wi-Fi availability at public places and the fear of important information, like personal information and financial credentials, being stolen on the Internet has proved to be a shield restricting people to adapt, accept and integrate the new technology. Hardware restrictions and unavailability of charging points at public places have also added on to the existing problems.

What needs to be done to truly integrate the ‘digital’ factor into the Indian economy seems to be simple but is otherwise. Promoting the ‘cashless society dream’ by providing discounts on card-based transactions is a secondary step. But even before that is implemented, breaking the barrier is necessary. To mend the rift that is separating the ‘users’ from the ‘non-users’, it’s pivotal that the resources, which in this case include the hardware providing the Internet ie. the towers, the cables in the network and the smartphones, be provided in abundance and at a reasonable price, and intensive awareness be created among the citizens. Even before breaking the digital barrier, breaking the mental barrier is important.

From where we stand today, ‘Digital India’ is not a dream, yet it remains far away from the reality.