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Pandemic 2nd Wave: NOT GDP ALONE, STRATEGY VITAL, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 26 May 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 26 May 2021

Pandemic 2nd Wave

NOT GDP ALONE, STRATEGY VITAL

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

The second wave of the pandemic posed a downside risk, severely affecting economic activity in the first quarter of the current fiscal with future expectations of a muted economic impact as compared to the first wave, according to experts. The first wave due to a national lockdown had hurt economic activity in two successive quarters. However, in the second wave the impact has been much severe with growth estimates being affected.  

 

The RBI still maintains that the dent to aggregate demand is expected to be moderate in comparison to a year ago. In a separate report, the SBI stated they are little apprehensive of double digit growth in this fiscal though other agencies have downgraded growth to around 9 per cent.. “Given the rise in cases and restriction in every State, real GDP growth of 10.4% looks a bit ambitious. Regarding the question if the pent-up demand would support economic activity once the restrictions are removed, we believe recovery will depend on the psyche of people to come out and this will not happen till the larger population is vaccinated”, Soumya Kanti Ghosh, SBI group’s  Chief Economic Adviser observed. But the larger population being vaccinated may take another six months, if not more. 

 

Though recently the growth rate has been downgraded to 9.3 per cent by Moody’s Investor Services from 13.7 per cent predicted earlier, there are reasons to believe that the rate in the current fiscal would not be less than 8.5 per cent. However, the problem in assessing growth is focused on the rate of increase of GDP. This narrow perspective of analysing growth obviously does not take into account the rise or fall of the incomes of the poor segments and economically weaker sections, which constitute around 40-45 per cent of the population. In the present situation, not just these groups but also the lower income sections have been greatly affected.

 

One may also refer to a recent study of Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), which found that a total of 73.5 lakh jobs were lost in April with the unemployment rate rising to over 14 per cent by mid-May from 6.5 per cent in March. It pointed out that the lockdownand economic slowdown has devastated small enterprises in rural areas. India had almost 39 crore employed people at the end of December 2020, counting both the organised and unorganised sectors. The number rose to 40.07 crore by January-end but fell to 39.82 crore by February, 39.81 crore by March and 39.08 by April end. A section of the 73.5 lakh people who lost their jobs in April were agricultural workers, who had just finished harvesting.

 

Besides, as per a study of Pew Research Centre, which analysed the situation last year, a massive 32 million people slipped from being in the middle class, in terms of income, to the lower income group. The number of people, living in the country with an income of $2 or less per day, increased by 75 million. Another study of Azim Premji University, observed that 23 crore people have been pushed into poverty from March to October 2020, increasing the number of poor households by a staggering 77 per cent, which may now be anything around 80%.

 

As reports have indicated that apart from loss of jobs, partial lockdowns have very severely affected daily wage earners as also small traders and shopkeepers. The lack of demand, even in urban areas but, due to reduced purchasing capacity of a major section of the population, is another indicator of the economy not being in proper shape. Moreover, the sudden spurt in prices of pulses, edible oils and some other grocery items has put most families in great crisis. Food inflation climbed over 5 per cent -- may have crossed 5.5 per cent by end April -- and overall consumer inflation is above 5.5 per cent.

 

Though industrial output jumped at the fastest pace in at least nine years, clocking 22 per cent jump in March, on the back of a 19 per cent decline a year ago, the reality is that this has had little effect on the masses. The increasing pool of unemployed people has emerged as an enormous problem with no hope of new livelihood opportunities coming up. The pandemic as, is generally agreed, is of stunning proportions leading to a weakened economy crippled by inadequate attention and faulty policies.

 

What needs to be assessed is not the overall growth but the extent of income loss and deteriorating conditions of the lower segments of society. In this connection, there emerges the need for a planned strategy to provide work to the poorer and impoverished sections, both in rural and urban areas. However, the government has yet to come up with any remedial measures to ameliorate the sufferings of the struggling masses.

 

It is the Supreme Court that has understood the problem and directed the Centre and the governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to provide free rations to migrant workers in the National Capital Region without insisting on identity proof and arrange transport for those migrants who want to return home. The bench of Justices Ashok Bhushan and M.R. Shah said these governments must open community kitchens and serve two meals a day to the migrant workers and their families as the petition  estimated 8 crore migrant workers are facing severe hardship due to the second wave of Covid. It is now necessary for the different State governments to take a hint and adhere to the recommendations of the order.     

 

However, this may not be enough as employment opportunities need to be created both in the rural and urban areas and this can be done by making available more funds for MGNREGA, which has reduced in the current fiscal. Also some such programme needs to be thought of in urban and semi-urban areas. Not just the poor workers, who are stranded or have lost their jobs, there are sectors like construction, where work has slowed down, while the problem is severe in hospitality and tourism, aviation, jewellery manufacturing etc.  

 

Finally, if the Covid situation does not improve by June, or latest by July, sufferings would accentuate, even if two meals are made available. For one class of citizens, education has come to a standstill as also treatment of diseases, except Covid-19. Government planners and economists should not just calculate the GDP but evolve a strategy so that the lowest 30 per cent of the population do not die of starvation or under nutrition. When will we hear something from the authorities sitting in glass houses in New Delhi? ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

2nd Wave Crisis: GOVT FIASCO, HEED ADVICE, By Dr, Oishee Mukherjee, 19 May 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 19 May 2021

2nd Wave Crisis

GOVT FIASCO, HEED ADVICE

By Dr, Oishee Mukherjee

 

The ongoing second wave of Covid-19 in the country, best described as a catastrophe, has brought into sharp focus the sheer mismanagement of the crises by the Centre and a collapse of the healthcare system across States. Lack of infrastructure and planning has forced institutions and experts in the field to step in to offer some semblance of order. Criticism aside, the way to move forward has been advocated and it’s critical that decision-makers not only give it a serious thought but act upon it urgently. 

 

For one, the Supreme Court has set up a 12-member National Task Force saying “We expect that the leading experts in the country shall associate with the work of the Task Force both as members and resource persons. This will facilitate a meeting of minds and the formulation of scientific strategies to deal with an unprecedented human crisis.”  The NTF, with experts from across the country is to devise a scientific formula for rational and equitable allocation of oxygen to States, audit utilisation and suggest means to augment production, within a week, among others. It virtually tasked it to draw an ambitious and futuristic national plan for the health sector, from combating the present pandemic to shoring up rural health infrastructure to be submitted in six months.

 

While the Centre should have taken this decision, it was left to the judiciary to intervene at such a critical time,clearly showcasing the Executive’s mishandling. The situation is indeed alarming as there is an all-pervading crises from oxygen cylinders to hospital beds, to ambulances, from medicines to cremation grounds, unashamed profiteering and obviously the lack of vaccines. Hundreds, if not thousands of patients are reported to have died due to lack of oxygen supplies in many States, including tiny Goa, where 75 deaths were reported in its government hospital in four consecutive days alone.

 

The sheer negligence of tackling the crisis has had The Lancet journal brutally criticise the Narendra Modi government  as having “a self-inflicted national catastrophe”. It noted that the success of India overcoming the crisis will depend on PM Modi's administration “owning up to its mistakes…Modi's actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are inexcusable.” In a commentary, the reputed medical journal cited how the government had allowed religious festivals to proceed, along with huge political rallies, conscious for their lack of Covid-19 mitigation measures, despite warnings about the risks of super-spreader events.

 

This apart, in its weekly epidemiological update on the pandemic last week, even the World Health Organisation it noted that a ‘recent risk assessment’ of the situation found that “resurgence and acceleration of Covid-19 transmission in India had several potential contributing factors, including increase in the proportion of cases of SARS-CoV-2 variants with potentially increased transmissibility; several religious and political mass gathering events which increased social mixing and, under use of and reduced adherence to public health and social measures.”

 

The assessment comes amid India’s rising cases to 400,000-odd with overwhelmed hospitals and healthcare workers and no preparedness which led to medical shortages. The Indian Medical Association too has accused the Modi government of inappropriate actions, hiding data and deaths and failing to plan a roadmap to ensure adequate vaccines were available.

 

In an article, titled “An open letter to Modi bhakts in America: Your God has feet of clay and blood on his hands”, by Delhi-based author Vineetha Mokkil, was published on the South Asian American news website American Kahani. It read: “While India gasps for breath, while patients die in hospital after hospital for lack of oxygen, while the sick collapse on the streets and beg for medicines and beds at overcrowded hospital heart of Delhiyour God is lavishing Rs 22,000 crore on building himself a glitzy new palace in the heart of Delhi.”

 

“Consumed by his vanity project, he forgot to instruct his government to procure adequate vaccine supplies — the one thing that could save countless Indian lives as the second wave explodes in the country…Under your God’s watch, India had been brought to her knees. It is a pariah nation now. The Covid hotspot every nation dreads.... He has not consoled the families of the dead or met with them….He chants Jai Shri Ram only to win elections….” Mokkil wrote. Guess, she wanted her audience to rethink about their donations and perhaps even urge to stop funding the current political dispensation as punishment for pushing India’s healthcare system towards a collapse.

 

Apart from the collapse of the healthcare system, vaccination has too been handled poorly. It is in acute short supply and the opening of the 18-45 year age-group is ill-planned. Most States are struggling to make available even the second dose to ensure that  at least 40 to 50 per cent of the population above 45 years get vaccinated. They have been left to put out global tenders, to be able to provide some protection to the younger generation.

 

It may be pertinent  to adhere to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s suggestion to  make the Covid vaccine formula public so that more and more companies can make these.  According to him, the new companies could be asked to give royalty to the two vaccine manufacturers for sharing the formula. Currently only two companies are producing 6-7 crore vaccines in India! Not just Kejriwal but a united Opposition, in a recent letter to Modi, said that its refusal to accept advice had aggravated the Covid situation into an “apocalyptic human tragedy” and appealed to take adequate measures to save the country. Importantly, it sought that the Central Vista project be shelved and the funds be diverted to health care instead.

 

Even the Union Health Ministry has realised that the vaccine shortage shall persist for three more months until production capacity is ramped up and new vaccines arrive. It has, for the first time, released vaccine availability data up to July 2021, showing that India has an assured quantum of 516 million doses,enough to vaccinate just 250 million of the country’s estimated 900 million. Increased production of Covishield and Covaxin, introduction of Russia’sSputnik V and 5 new vaccines will give access to over two billion doses between August and December this year, according to Dr Vinod Paul, chair of national expert group on Covid-19vaccine policy.

 

America’s top public health expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has observed that getting people vaccinated is the only long termsolution to the current Covid-19 crisis in India, and called for scaling up manufacturing of corona virus vaccines, both domestically and globally.

 

But till that happens, the government’s campaign ‘Tika Utsav’,asking all to get vaccinated is so hollow and rather frustrating as long queues and crowds outside vaccination centres reveal. We have covered just 7 per cent of the population compared to over 50 per cent in most countries. The government needs to be realistic and stop the jargons. Act it must, with all sincerity and heed to advice, certainly not unsolicited. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

Communal Politics: SOARING DANGEROUS DIVIDE, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 12 May 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 12 May 2021

Communal Politics

SOARING DANGEROUS DIVIDE

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

The recentlyconcluded Assembly elections have once again confirmed the play of appeasement politics and the polarisation of Hindu-Muslim votes in the battle of the ballot. This round too, the wooing of the minority community, particularly the Muslim votes, comes to the fore in the background of the Hindutva politics of the BJP. Such votes go a long way in building the fortunes of a political party, as has been the case with West Bengal, where minority votes swept the TMC to power for a third term.

 

While there is a crying need to shun such politics, it remains a fact that this community, which constitutes the largest number of minorities in India, have been at the receiving end for years together and specially in thesepast since the BJP came to power at the Centre. There has been a hue and cry against the majoritarianism of the BJP and its apathy and hatred towards Muslims. Thus we saw in Bengal elections that Mamata got a 100 per cent of Muslim votes. The Muslim voter abandoned the CPM and Congress even in their strongholds. And the community came out to vote in higher numbers.

 

The BJP would need to rethink its agenda. It is rather unfortunate that it has tried to inject a version of history that was marinated in hatred of Muslims by depicting them as invaders who had violated that glorious ancient history by diminishing the Hindus. Neither Savarkar nor Golwalkar quite explained why the Muslims alone and not the British deserved this distinction.

 

Since its ascendancy to power, the BJP has been emphasising that the Hindu Rashtra in the making need to be protected against Muslims in particular and other religions also. However, meeting the challenge required that no fine distinction be made between government and country. In the process, all kinds of dissent are being abrogated with the view that the country‘s interests have to be defended at any cost.

 

Thus, ruthlessly the sedition law is being implemented, thereby cleverly dividing people between those who support the party and government – the so-called nationalist patriots – and the treacherous anti-nationalists who are out to divide the country. Charges of a conspiracy to wage war against the State have been lodged mainly against Muslims but also against writers, lawyers, intellectuals and human rights activists. They were deemed anti-nationals for speaking against the establishment.

 

But unfortunately the strategy is not working at the ground levels. Dalits and lower castes are questioning the myth and philosophy of Hindu Rashtra. Moreover, the poor and neglected sections are also questioning what benefit such Rashtra will bring to them. Political analysts feel that the strategy may not work in the long run as common people at grass-root levels are not quite bothered about attempts to divide society on communal lines.

 

One may refer here to a recent bookUndercover: My Journey into the Darkness of Hindutva, by Ashish Khetan,  who stated that Gujarat under Modi “no government institution, no organ of the state was untouched by communal bias…The communalism of state agencies at the Central level has intensified since 2014 and so have bribery and coercion in politics. Money and control of the State apparatus have always had a role in Indian politics but never before 2014, such a defining and determining role. The misuse of CBI and the Enforcement Directorate to harass political opponents was not unknown in Congress times but the BJP has taken this to a different level”.

 

Further Khetan rightly pointed out: “Majoritarian rule untrammelled by law, the veneer of democracy minus the substance of constitutionalism…the constant undermining of minorities, particularly Muslims,; the impunity for Hindu right-wing rioters as opposed to harsh treatment, including unjustified arrests and imprisonment, meted out to those on the opposite ideological ide; the persecution of activists and human rights organizations; the misuse and abuse of institutional and judicial processes to target political opponents and dissidents…is without precedent in India”.

 

All this has led to a society in which one lacks trust in police force, where one cannot always expect judges to act fearlessly, where media is purchased and one’s innocence or guilt can be determined by what religion he belongs to is doomed to aggravate crisis future. Moreover, with the deteriorating relationship with Pakistan as also the prevailing majoritarian attitude in the country, the good relationship between Hindus and Muslims has been eroded over time. 

 

It needs to be pointed out here that a significant section of the Muslim community is backward, specially due to lack of education and awareness as also high levels of conservatism. The political leaders as also those at the helm of the community have not taken the initiative to impart education properly so that they could compete in state and national levels. The whole approach of the community, specially of women members, has been embedded in deep conservatism, arising out of superstition attitudes.    

 

The undermining of Indian Muslims, under the Citizenship Amendment Act has not only been criticised in the country with 2000 academics and scholars signing a statement in this regard but also been condemned globally. The actions in Kashmir as also the CAA have provoked the UN Human Rights office to describe these laws as “fundamentally discriminatory” and UN Secretary General expressed concerns as it could render people stateless. Even the UN Commission on International Religious Freedom classified India as a “country of particular concern”, its lowest rating.

 

However, politicians have to accept the fact that Muslims are part of Indian culture and cannot be pushed back. On the other hand, they have to be given educational facilities and made aware of social realities such as the need to abolish polygamy, giving them all types of rights and allow women freedom and access to education. This work has to be undertaken by the government and integrate the community into mainstream Indian culture. Unless this is done, disintegration of society may have adverse consequences.

 

The present attitude of the government at the Centre is harmful for the country and is leading it towards social disintegration. The judiciary must ensure that Constitutional values are defended and upheld. The mixing of religion with politics is ever increasing purely for partisan interests and diving the community. The state of affairs can only improve if the ruling dispensation has a broader and humane outlook towards men and matters and is not just interested in grabbing and/or retaining power by putting one community against the other.  Have we not deviated greatly from Gandhi’s views on religion and community and ways and means to bond them together and that too during his 150th birth anniversary?  ---INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Inevitable Blame Game: CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE, By DrS.Saraswathi, 6 May 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 6 May 2021

Inevitable  Blame  Game

CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE

By DrS.Saraswathi

(Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi)

 

When  COVID-19 is at its peak, the nationis also in the midst of a worst blame game never witnessed before.

 

The Delhi High Court and Madras High Court, hearing separate cases on 29th April, questioned the Centre’s actions during the second wave of the pandemic. The Centre was blamed  for short supply of oxygen to Delhi, and lack of planned and informed action in Tamil Nadu by the courts. On 1May,the Delhi High Courtwarned the concerned officials of the central government of contempt proceedings for failure to supply the allocated  490 metric tonnes of  oxygen per day. “Water has gone above the head. Enough is enough…We cannot shut our eyes to people dying in Delhi ”, the court bluntly said and instructed the Centre to arrange for tankers also.

 

From the angle of politics, Congress leaderRahul Gandhi alleged that the Centrehad completely failed to understand and tackle the pandemicright from the beginningdespite repeated warnings   and accused the government of controlling the truth by manipulating the data --a clear political attack.

 

The Chief Justice oftheMadras High Court even questioned the Centre what it was doing for the past 12 to 14 months without anticipating the second wave of COVID-19 and getting prepared to  face it.The hectic measurestaken whenthe wave is at its peak,were belittled as “adhocism”.

 

The Election Commission of India has beensingled out as the main culprit forthe outbreak of second wave of COVID-19in Tamil Nadu and Puducherryby the Madras High Court by its     failure to enforce pandemic protocols during election campaigns. It blamed the ECI invery strong terms that the Commission “should be put on murder charges”.

 

It is reported in the press that the court remarked that, “You (ECI) are the onlyinstitution responsible for the situation that we are in today. You havebeen singularly lacking any kind of exercise of authority”, referring particularly to lack of action against political parties holding rallies despite court orders. TheCommission replied that itwasthe responsibilityof State Disaster Management Authority  under the Disaster Management Act, 2005, and not of the ECI to enforceCOVID-19 instructions.

 

The remark of the high court is indeed very harsh and difficult to digest particularly in the context of the manner and style of electioneering going on in the country. The responsibilityof partiesand leaders is no less than that of any official authority. Those having ambitions to govern the State also have to set example for others.

 

The Madras High Court, however,put the blame by oral observation and did not include this in its final order. The Commission didnot fail to point out that the second wave of the pandemic hit the State two weeks after polling.

 

The CEC appealed to the Supreme Court against the scathing remarkson the performance of the poll body as “uncalled for, blatantly disparaging and derogatory”. It questioned whether it was justified in the least for an independent constitutional authority to make allegations against another which would effectively tarnish the image of the latter. The petition asked whether the high court was justified in making the ECI fully responsible for surge in cases. The apex court, however, asked the EC to take the court’s observations in the right spirit. 

 

The State Election Commission in West Bengal provided guidelines for COVID-safe campaign.  The EC directed the district machinery vested with election work, responsible for enforcement of  laws including the Disaster Management Act to implement and monitor implementation of  COVID norms during the  campaign and take  appropriate  action in case  of any violation.

 

Despite rapid surge in the number of COVID cases, political rallies of Prime Minister Modi,  Home MinisterAmit Shah, and Chief MinisterMamata Banerjee attracted vast crowds evidently  oblivious to the onslaught of a deadly epidemic.In response to deteriorating pandemic crisis and  severe criticism from many quarters of flagrantviolationof COVID rules by leaders themselves,   several parties including the BJP, TMC, Left Front, and the Congress cancelled rallies in West Bengal. It was on 19th April, when West Bengal reported nearly 20,000 cases and over 50  deaths  that the BJP put a limit of 500 people to attend rallies and cancelled road shows where keeping  social distancing was impossible.The State reported about 800 cases when first phase of voting  took place, and the number increased nearly six times by the fourth phase of  polling.

 

Large social gatherings and religious festivals have also been blamed as super spreaders of the virus, but not at the right time to stop them without any hesitation.There seems to be a common  practice in the country to allow events to take place and blame the organisers  later.  Commercial  interests  and social enjoyment derived from crowd gathering override invisible health interests.   Who can take theblame?

 

Thus, the Kumbh Mela went on with usual enthusiasm and religious fervour at Haridwar and  other holy places en route the Ganga and temple festivals in many States as if life is normal.  COVID norms became irrelevant while social-religious events became one’s life mission.

 

Worse still is the question raised by some -- why not religious gatherings when political gatherings are allowed?Evidently, breaking COVID protocolis going on  with competitive spirit  and as assertion of equal rights.Thrown to the windis the life and livelihood of people. What flourishes is the pandemic andchaos and tension amongpeople. Should not people organising social events and festivals accept the blame for the second wave?

 

At the same time, people cannot pretend to be meek victims of the faults of others. Their  cooperationin adhering to COVID norms is practically nil. Information machinery has been doing a good job of conveying pandemic related developments,the precautions to be taken, the  risk in non-compliancewithregulations, etc. Lockdown is not seen as a method of cutting thespeed of the disease, but as an official restriction enforced on their freedom and can be defied if  possible. Wanton disregard forrules and regulations normallyseen in traffic regulations is openly seen everywhere. When things go out of control, they are the first to blame others particularly the agencies working day  and night.

 

Pandemics  are  not  routine occurrences to have ready solutions on hand. The whole world is learning about the Coronavirus which is revealing several characteristics one by one. We can only be prepared by remaining alert that the virus will not vanish, but will assume different forms.

 

A concept in epidemiologyattributesspreadof a disease to“interaction of the agent, host,and   environment”. Every individual may be a recipient and carrier of the virus and therefore, mustbe  coaxed or forced to adopt appropriate COVID-19 behaviour.

 

Blame game is a universal phenomenon and is going on at various levels within and between   nations.Centre, States, private sector, health personnel, patients and their kin blame one another. It is like lighting cigarettes when the house is on fire.India is facing a crisis of confidence fanned by political rivalry. Unity is the need of the hour.—INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

Digital Divide: DELETING INEQUALITY VITAL,By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 28 April 2021 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 28 April 2021  

Digital Divide

DELETING INEQUALITY VITAL

By Dhurjati Mukherjee

 

Rural poverty in India has been manifest in various studies, specially Oxfam, and the widening income disparity, not just between the rich and poor but also between the urban and rural sections, between those working in the formal and informal sectors, between those working in the industrial sector and in agriculture has become sharper. If inequality is found to widen, how can we expect that digital divide can be breached in the near future?

 

While India can boast of having the second-largest pool of internet users, about 600 million, comprising over 12% of all users globally, yet half its population lacks internet access, and even if they can get online, only 20% of Indians know how to use digital services. Spatial divide is vast with the internet density in rural areas, with around 65 per cent of population living, being still below 25 per cent in comparison to the internet density in urban areas (of around 90 per cent).

 

In this backdrop digital technology, particularly during the pandemic is expected to play a key role in improving access to the education system and create affordable and effective training programmes at a larger scale. Online education has skyrocketed globally, as also in India. But majority of the children actually end up not having access to the internet. And it’s obvious to trigger a hue and cry.

 

Oxfam in its status report last September on government and private schools during the pandemic noted that ‘digital education requires a stable internet connection along with adequate data. However, these two preconditions constitute the biggest hindrances in accessing digital education. For over half the parents, internet speed and signal is an issue while for a third, data is too expensive. This is followed by more fundamental challenges of not having the right device, internet connection or being unable to navigate the software.’

 

Its survey found that despite the sample consisting of parents belonging predominantly to urban areas and being digitally literate, 82% still faced challenges in supporting their children to access digital education.’ Worse, there have been multiple media reports of children from economically weaker sections enrolled under Section 12 (i) c of the RTE Act struggling to access digital education during this time. This, said Oxfam, highlights the shortfalls of depending sorely on digital mediums for education delivery and the need to look at alternative mediums that are more inclusive and provide universal access.

 

Indeed, the canvas must be wider. However, academics, experts among others unfortunately seem to get preoccupied with the issue of lack of academic freedom. Instead, there is need to focus on the grim reality that large number of students from poor families, backward castes, adivasis, etc in rural areas are not getting the benefit of digital India.

  

Jadavpur University Vice Chancellor and historian Prof. Suranjan Das’s soliciting contribution from members of the extended university to donate generously for a greater cause is a pointer to prevailing situation. The VC said in his appeal that the university was able to provide 250 smart phones to needy students and data recharging to 750 students. However, there are some solutions to help bridge connectivity gaps and address high data costs by offering non-streaming option for school education content and also promoting on-demand learning platform.

 

India’s problems cannot be understood if seen through the lens in metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or Kolkata. The political class needs to be reminded that the country lives in villages and, as such, rural infrastructure development is critical particularly in these times.  

 

The appalling reality needs to be highlighted constantly and not what many an expert would claim is the picture. In a recent article in a national daily, the writer contended that the digital revolution is already as advanced in emerging economies than developed ones. Further, it was stated that among the top 30 nations by revenue from digital services as a share of GDP, more than half are in the emerging world.

 

While digital technologies have, no doubt, been adopted, considering the dimension of the country and the huge population, this does not stand any comparison. Moreover, if per capita use of digitisation is mapped, it would be found that India is no match even for countries such as Brazil, Argentina, South Africa not to speak of China.

 

This is not to say that innovative technologies are not being inducted in the private sector, specially in the IT and related areas. But even in these areas, additional emphasis or for that matter funds for R&D have unfortunately been missing in the Indian context. Therefore, experts who suggest that digitisation has been increasing must map micro and small industries as also cottage industries and decipher what percentage of such industries are actually digitised.

 

At the same time, it cannot be denied that digitisation is far better compared to a decade back. But while it may have entered the lives of say even low middle income sections, it hasn’t truly percolated down further below. If the benefits have to be reaped by the lowest levels and the backward districts of the country, a different strategy and plan of action needs to be adopted by the government.  

 

If only policy makers delve deeper into the problems affecting the rural economy, a better understanding of the overall socio-economic situation would have been in place. Investments are very much necessary in gearing up digital technology infrastructure in rural and semi-urban areas with data storage, data centres and content housing infrastructure being scaled up to connect people. Not just the government but the private sector too needs to chip in to try to bridge the digital divide. The question of course would be whether India has the money to spread the benefits of digital revolution to the villages.

 

Meanwhile, concerns of ‘digital colonialism’ have been raised that a few corporations both globally and also India, are beginning to dominate the field. It is pertinent to mention that before the pandemic, government researchers estimated that India’s digital shift could unlock as much as $1 trillion of economic value over the coming five years. But the crisis is spreading those benefits and widening socio-economic inequalities. The government needs to ensure that all Indians are in a position to benefit from digitisation, specially the rural folk and start planning ahead for the next generation. Digital inequality should not be an addition to its list of failures. ----INFA

(Copyright, India News & Feature Alliance)

 

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