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Harnessing digital knowledge to empower rural India

10 December 2012

Bushra Ahmed/OneWorld South Asia

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At a conference held by ASSOCHAM, people met up to discuss the Government’s vision of empowering rural India through the spread of digital technology to 2.5 lakh Panchayats soon.

Even though India is known for its software and IT exports to all parts of the world, there still seems to a lag when it comes to India exploiting technology for the benefit of development as much as other countries.At a conference held today  by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) this was exactly the matter of discussion.

The 9th Regional National Summit on Digital Society held its annual conference at New Delhi with the theme of ‘Empowering Inclusive Knowledge Society’ The conference had strong attendance from the government, with the Chief Guest for the conference being Kapil Sibal, Minister for Communications and IT. Also present were various heads of organisations and civil society; everyone wanting to know how to do their bit for taking their IT step forward in India. The first session, in many ways laid down the foundation for all the sessions later, with the speakers talking about the Government’s vision of creating a roadmap of ‘useful connectivity’ for rural communities throughout India by connecting 2.5 lakh Panchayats all over India. This plan, is is seen as a major opportunity for effective Public-Private Partnerships to work together to ensure equal growth by inclusive digital growth.

Kapil Sibal, in his vision talked of the need for India to first become self-reliant in all aspects of technology markets: whether it is software or hardware. Sibal, heralded Akaash, India’s first indigenously created, low cost tablet as a path-breaking achievement, which must be carried forward by India starting to produce hardware like computer chips to cut down costs further. The cutting costs part, for Sibal was one of the key aspects to ensure deeper percolation of technology into the rural pockets of India.

He also referred to the need for a ‘robust content creator industry’ to ensure digital education where education models were geared towards access and inclusion. The Minister stated rights and transparency as one of the most important consequence of digital education, with all public services being on the net and accessible by all. The Minister ended his invigorating talk with the promise of ensuring realisation of the dream of IT-inclusion through effective PPPs.

The event ensured the voice of the private sector was heard by inviting people from various organisation to talk on the dais and share their experiences. For corporates, the plan of action was to help the Government in their percolation by being ‘education partners’. As Ashutosh Chadha, Senior Director, Intel Technology India Pvt. Ltd. put it, ‘E-literacy is not just about computers, but about learning how technology can empower you.’ Chadha talked about how in various ways, bridging the digital divide is about ensuring every person knows the benefits of technology.

Like many other organisations in the field, Intel too works with the ‘Follow the fibre’ strategy, which means following the Government, and ‘leveraging the optical network’ laid down by it. The digital inclusion project is a major part of the current Government’s plans. The Government is currently investing 20,000 crores into the National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) ensuring that the network lines are laid to allow private players to then use their expertise in e-literacy projects.

J. Satyanarayana, Secretary (IT). Department of Electronics and IT, called for a systems integration and a partnership between various partners to properly harness the ‘power of technology’ for the benefit of rural India.The conference aims at setting the next phase of the Telecom and IT growth by empowering rural India through digital inclusion. The conference, through its participants, hopes to create a dedicated and focussed network of private and public partners towards the Government’s common visions of creating an inclusive knowledge society and using technology to ensure equal opportunity and growth.

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