The Ministry of Panchayati Raj has completely failed to even kick off the Digital India programme and will be unable to do so till March, 2019, as there is no mobile or internet connectivity in many rural parts of the country.Digital India, a flagship programme of the government of India with a vision to transform the country into a digitally empowered society, is one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet projects.The ministry cannot start the programme as it doesn’t have basic infrastructure or platform in place. It is dependent on the Department of Telecommunication and its initiative Bharat Net, a high-speed digital highway connecting all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats of the country. Bharat Net, expected to be the world’s largest rural broadband connectivity project using optical fibre, is estimated to be completed by March, 2019.For instance, e-Panchayat project, one of the Mission Mode Projects under the Digital India Programme, is yet to be properly started.Under the project, core common software applications had been developed to address various aspects of Panchayat functioning, including budgeting, planning, accounting, monitoring, social audit, and delivery of citizen services.But all this is of no use as “there is no network connectivity in major rural areas of the country.” A ministry note stated: “The ministry would take effective and expeditious steps to increase the connectivity coverage so that the e-Panchayat is enabled in every village.”For strengthening of Panchayats and gram sabhas, the ministry needs to reach out to multiple and diverse groups, especially the rural populace, and media and publicity play a very important and crucial role in creating awareness. Due to zero internet or mobile connectivity, however, they are unable to do anything.The ministry has prepared various audio-visual programmes, documentaries, and mobile applications, but all these serve no purpose till there is no connectivity. “The elected representatives are not aware of their rights and privileges. This has become a major hurdle in effective delivery of citizen services,” the note stated.Furthermore, the ministry has also been unable to start a scheme to provide ATM services in Panchayat bhawans. To kick it off, an inter-ministerial committee has already been constituted. But again, the connectivity problem remains. Another problem is the lack of basic infrastructure. Of the 2.5 lakh gram Panchayats, nearly 46,000 do not have their own building.
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