'Digital divide' persists despite the country's desire to become a digital giant

'Digital divide' persists despite the country's desire to become a digital giant

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published Published on Jan 29, 2020   modified Modified on Apr 3, 2020

 

A recent report of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI) brings forth the dichotomy between digital divide and India’s transition towards a cashless economy. The rural-urban divide in access to computer and internet is quite stark, according to the report entitled 'Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India, July 2017 to June 2018'.  

The 75th round National Sample Survey (NSS) report on education finds that the proportion of households with computer access was higher in urban areas (23.4 percent) as compared to rural India (4.4 percent) during 2017-18. The overall proportion of households with computer access in the country was 10.7 percent.

Similarly, the proportion of households with access to internet facility was higher in urban areas (42.0 percent) as compared to rural India (14.9 percent) during 2017-18. Roughly one-fourth of Indian households (viz. 23.8 percent) had internet access. One can observe that as compared to computer, a higher proportion of households enjoyed access to internet facility at the national level. This may have been possible due to pervasion of smartphone usage among people in the recent years along with data becoming cheaper.

Table 1: Percentage of households with computer and internet facility for different states

Table 1 Percentage of households with computer and internet facility for different states
Source: NSS 75th Round Report: Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India, July 2017 to June 2018, released on 23rd November 2019, please click here to access 
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Table-1 shows that the proportion of households (rural+urban) with access to computer was the highest in Delhi (34.9 percent), followed by Kerala (23.5 percent), Tamil Nadu (18.1 percent), Punjab (16.2 percent) and Haryana (14.7 percent). The proportion of households (rural+urban) with access to internet facility was the highest in Delhi (55.7 percent), followed by Himachal Pradesh (51.5 percent), Kerala (51.3 percent), Punjab (46.4 percent) and Haryana (43.9 percent).

 

 
It may be noted that Kerala became the first Indian state to declare internet access as a basic human right just like food, education and water nearly three years back.  

Table 2: Percentage of persons of age 5 years and above with ability to operate computer, ability to use internet and used internet during last 30 days

Table 2 Percentage of persons of age 5 years and above with ability to operate computer ability to use internet and used internet
 
Source: Same as in table-1
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From Table-2 it can be seen that the proportion of males (rural+urban) of age 5 years and above who were able to operate a computer was 20.0 percent, whereas for females this figure was 12.8 percent. The proportion of males (25.0 percent) of age 5 years and above who were able to use internet was greater than that of females (14.9 percent). Similarly, the proportion of males (22.3 percent) of age 5 years and above who used internet during the last 30 days was greater than that of females (12.5 percent). There exists a clear-cut gender divide in ability to operate computer and use internet in both rural and urban areas. Please check table-2 for more details.

In rural areas, among persons of age 5 years and above, 9.9 percent were able to operate a computer, 13.0 percent were able to use internet and 10.8 percent used internet during last 30 days. In urban areas, among persons of age 5 years and above, 32.4 percent were able to operate a computer, 37.1 percent were able to use internet and 33.8 percent used internet during last 30 days. Please see table-2.

From the 75th round NSS report on education, it has been found that the male-female gap in proportion of persons of age 5 years and above with ability to operate computer (rural+urban) was the highest for Maharashtra (10.3 percentage point), followed by Uttarakhand and Delhi (both 10.1 percentage points), Gujarat (10.0 percentage point), Haryana (9.8 percentage point) and Tamil Nadu (9.2 percentage point).

The MoSPI report shows that the male-female difference in proportion of persons of age 5 years and above with ability to use internet (rural+urban) was the highest for Uttarakhand (15.8 percentage points), followed by Haryana (15.0 percentage point), Gujarat (13.6 percentage point), Maharashtra (13.2 percentage point) and Himachal Pradesh (13.1 percentage point).

It has also been revealed by the same report that the male-female gap in proportion of persons of age 5 years and above who used internet during last 30 days (rural+urban) was the highest for Uttarakhand (15.4 percentage point), followed by Haryana (14.2 percentage point), Punjab (13.7 percentage point), Gujarat (13.4 percentage point) and Kerala (13.3 percentage point).

In the above-said NSS report, a computer included devices like, desktop computer, laptop computer, notebook, netbook, palmtop and tablet (or similar handheld devices). Ability to operate a computer in the NSS report meant carrying out any of the tasks, like
 
* Copying or moving a file or folder;
* Using copy and paste tools to duplicate or move information within a document;
* Sending e-mails with attached files (e.g. document, picture, and video);
* Using basic arithmetic formulae in a spreadsheet;
* Connecting and installing new devices (e.g. modem, camera, printer);
* Finding, downloading, installing and configuring software;
* Creating electronic presentations with presentation software (including text, images, sound, video or charts);
* Transferring files between a computer and other devices;
* Writing a computer program using a specialized programming language.

Ability to use internet in the above-mentioned NSS report meant that the household member was able to use internet browser for website navigation, using e-mail and social networking applications, etc., and to find, evaluate and communicate information. Use of ATM was not considered as use of internet by the report. Moreover, internet is to be accessed by the household member himself/ herself. If any member used internet services through another person (like booking of railway/ air ticket/ hotel through another person), those were not considered as use of internet by the person. Internet services (fixed or mobile network) could be accessed via any digital device like computer, mobile telephone, tablet, personal digital assistant (PDA), games machine, digital TV etc.
 
Social groups and the extent of digital divide

The Human Development Report 2019 of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mentions that social groups like Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) underperform as compared to the rest across human development indicators, including education attainment and access to digital technologies. The report entitled 'Human Development Report 2019: Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century' states that social groups like SCs, ST and OBCs have suffered from stigma and exclusion for many centuries. The country has tried to constitutionally redress the social and economic disparities through affirmative action, positive discrimination and reservation policies for these groups.

Chart 1: India: Horizontal inequality in access to technology (in percent)

Chart 1
Source: Human Development Report 2019: Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century, released in December 2019, please click here to access 
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Chart-1 shows that 77.6 percent of ST households, 87.8 percent SC households, 92.0 percent OBC households and 94.7 percent other caste households (viz. so-called forward caste households) had access to mobiles in 2015. Similarly, 3.0 percent of ST households, 4.8 percent SC households, 8.0 percent OBC households and 16.7 percent other caste households (viz. forward caste households) had access to computer in that year.

Although there is a convergence in access to and uptake of mobile phones (between so-called non-forward caste households viz. SC, ST & OBC households and forward caste households), there has been an increase in horizontal inequality in access to computers (between non-forward caste households and forward caste households). This is because between 2005 and 2015 access to mobile had risen more among ST (72.6 percentage point), SC (79.1 percentage point) and OBC (77.4 percentage point) households vis-à-vis forward caste households (66.2 percentage point). It can also be noted that between 2005 and 2015 access to computer had increased more among forward caste households (10.2 percentage point) vis-à-vis ST (2.3 percentage point), SC (4.0 percentage point) and OBC (6.0 percentage point) households.  

Internet shutdowns and their economic impact

The Digital India Programme of the present Central Government aims to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. According to the government website http://www.cashlessindia.gov.in/ (accessed on 29th January, 2019), "Faceless, Paperless, Cashless" is one of professed role of Digital India.

The website http://cashlessindia.gov.in/ reveals that there are several digital payment modes, which are available before a citizen such as Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD); Banking Cards (Debit / Credit / Cash / Travel / Others); Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS); Unified Payments Interface (UPI); Mobile Wallets; Banks Pre-paid Cards; Point of Sale; Internet Banking; Mobile Banking; and Micro ATMs.

Digital payment or online transaction is determined by several factors, including availability of a payment device (like smartphone, laptop, PoS machine etc.), which is connected to the internet; access to seamless internet services; electricity to power the payment device; easy to read language, which guides the common user to make digital transaction; level of digital and financial literacy among customers; user’s trust in digital mode of payment, extent of financial inclusion, rules and regulations concerning online financial transactions, etc.

With internet shutdowns imposed by authorities becoming a regular feature, India's dream to become a powerful digital economy may face a setback. The country has already witnessed 3 incidents of internet shutdown in 2020 at the time of writing this news alert, according to the website https://internetshutdowns.in/.

Chart 2: Internet shutdowns in India during various years

Chart 2 Internet Shutdowns
 
Source: https://internetshutdowns.in/

In 2019, the country witnessed 106 cases of internet shutdowns (for example, internet shutdowns during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests across the country), including 19 instances of time span 24 hours or less, 23 instances of time span 25 to 72 hours, 6 instances of time span 73 hours or more hours and 53 instances about which information is not available. Around 72 shutdowns were related to preventive action and 21 shutdowns were related to reactive action. Please consult chart-2 and the website https://internetshutdowns.in/.

In 2018, the country witnessed 134 cases of internet shutdowns, including 35 instances of time span 24 hours or less, 24 instances of time span 25 to 72 hours, 5 instances of time span 73 hours or more and 70 instances about which information is not available. Almost 67 shutdowns were related to preventive action and 67 shutdowns were related to reactive action.
 
A research done by Top10VPN.com indicates that India faced losses of more than US$ 1.3 billion in 2019 owing to major internet shutdowns. Please click here to access the states' name that faced internet blackouts, duration of internet shutdowns, and the associated cost. For example, on 26th December, 2019, 16 districts of Uttar Pradesh witnessed internet blackout. The total number of internet users in those districts was nearly 15.6 million and the associated economic cost was US$ 20.7 million.

Rise of cyber crimes

Digital literacy is not just about knowing how to operate a digital device. It is also about knowing aspects related to digital safety (like installing and using a reputed anti-virus in one’s device); online security (such as using difficult/complex passwords that can’t be cracked easily; to be aware of phishing and spamming scams in order to avoid such unlawful attempts; keeping kids away from pedophiles operating in the cyber space); online behavior, particularly in the social media (like discouraging online trolling and bullying; avoiding the use of abusive language), etc. Given the rising trend of cyber-crimes in the country, one can say that just knowing how to operate a digital device is not enough.

The annual publication 'Crime in India' of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that the total number of cyber-crimes committed in the country was 9,622 in 2014, 11,592 in 2015, 12,317 in 2016, 21,796 in 2017 and 27,248 in 2018. It means that the total number of cyber-crimes reported has almost trebled between 2014 and 2018. The rate of cyber-crimes (viz. number of cyber-crimes committed per one lakh population) in India was 1.0 in 2016, which increased to 1.7 in 2017, and further rose to 2.1 in 2018.

References

NSS 75th Round Report: Key Indicators of Household Social Consumption on Education in India, July 2017 to June 2018, released on 23rd November 2019, please click here to access 

Human Development Report 2019: Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century, released in December 2019, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), please click here and here to access   

Website on internet shutdowns in India, https://internetshutdowns.in/

Crime in India, various reports, please click here to access
 
The Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns in 2019 -Samuel Woodhams & Simon Migliano, 7 January, 2020, please click here to access 
 
Kerala becomes first Indian state to declare Internet a basic human right, India Today, 18 March, 2017, please click here to access
 

Image Courtesy: Dailyo.in, 10-03-2017, please click here to access

 


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