While Smart Cities in India are still a distant dream, there’s been some groundwork in the past five years, such as partial funding allotment, shortlisting cities and more. This year, the Indian government had also promised to create 1 Lakh digital villages across India. What happened to the project, we inquired.
“The government will make 1 lakh villages into Digital Villages over the next five years,” the interim finance minister Piyush Goyal had announced on the floor of the Lower House on February 1, 2019. The minister had announced it as part of the Interim Budget 2019-2020.
Creating 1 Lakh digital villages received a humongous response from startups and others given the fact that 69% of the Indian population still resides in rural areas. The initiative was also supposed to create a huge opportunity for fintech and other startups.
However, come July, the new finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman didn’t even mention the grand vision in the Union Budget speech.
Where Is India’s Digital Village Mission?
As a result, on August 4, Inc42 filed an RTI to the department of economic affairs (DEA), finance ministry to understand the status quo of the project. The questions asked were:
During the Interim Budget 2019, the government had announced to make 1 Lakh Digital Villages in India by 2023. Please share the details pertaining to the budget allocated to this Digital Villages Mission. We asked for the following details
- The funds allocated so far
- Funds spent towards creation of Digital Villages
- What is the yearly target for spending?
- How many tenders have been floated for the programme, if any?
- The scope for startups to participate in the programme
Having got no response within 30 days, we filed First Appeal on September 12. As a result, on Oct 22, the RTI request was transferred to Department of Electronics & Information Technology, Ministry of Rural Development.
And, finally in November, we received a one-line response, “There is no such ‘Digital Village Mission’.”
While many of the Interim Budget announcements such as PM KISAN scheme were adopted by the government, the plan to create 1 Lakh Digital Villages appears to have been scrapped.
Digitising Rural India A Distant Dream
In February 2019, Goyal had stated, “Today, under Make in India, mobile and parts manufacturing companies have increased from 2 to more than 268 providing huge job opportunities. More than 3 lakh Common Service Centres (CSCs) employing about 12 lakh people are digitally delivering several services to the citizens.”
The current minister of commerce and industry went on to say that these CSCs are helping create digital infrastructure in villages, including connectivity, to convert them into Digital Villages.
“The government will make 1 lakh villages into Digital Villages over the next five years,” Goyal said during the interim Budget.
Introducing the Union Budget on July 5 this year, finance minister Sitharaman presented Bharat-Net project as the key enabler digitising India’s rural areas.
She said, “Under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan, over 2 Cr rural Indians have so far been made digitally literate. To bridge the rural-urban digital divide, Bharat-Net is targeting internet connectivity in local bodies in every Panchayat in the country.”
But as clearly revealed by the RTI inquiry much of this is just lip service towards digitising India’s villages with no work on the ground.