Four years after Supe – a small village in Baramati Tehsil in Pune district – was included in the Digital Village program on October 31, 2018, it still struggles with poor reach (internet) and low digital literacy, among other issues.
Due to the bad internet connection, the banks in Supe remained closed for more than a week and the villagers could not withdraw any money during this time. Jayram Supekar, one of the villagers said, “Last month, the Bank of Maharashtra was closed for more than a week due to lack of internet connection and the villagers were forced to go to Baramati to withdraw money.” Although there are three cell towers in Supe, they cannot provide uninterrupted service, Supekar said.
Likewise, the villagers could not obtain land documents under e-seva. Bharat Khaire, a resident of Supe and a member of the Zilla community in Pune, said: “Recently there have been heated arguments between farmers and the Talathi people over electronic documents. However, I have informed the farmers that poor connectivity was the reason they could not receive the documents on time.” Khaire said nothing had been done, although he had written several letters to the concerned authorities.
Due to the poor internet connection, the students face difficulties to participate in online courses. Shopkeepers have stopped using PoS (Point of Sale) machines to provide villagers with digital transactions as most villagers are now making cash transactions due to poor connectivity.
Under the Government of India’s ‘Digital Village’ programme, villagers can access educational services including basic and advanced computer courses and health services including telemedicine and televeterinary consultation. They can develop their skills as automotive technicians, cell phone repairmen, field service technicians (household appliances) and electrical engineers. You can register online for Vocational Entrance Examinations, Pancards, Aadhaarcards including Modification, Service Selection Boards and the Public Service Commission. As part of the business-to-consumer (B2C) component of the program, villagers can top up their cell phones/direct-to-home (DTH) and book train and plane tickets. However, very few of the services available to Supe residents under the Digital Village program have been implemented locally.
For her part, Swati Hirve, Sarpanch, Supe said: “As part of this program we have organized computer courses for villagers. We have installed solar streetlights at important points in the village.” Hirve said her team is writing to several cellphone companies to erect towers in Supe.
Ayush Prasad, CEO of ZP, said: “We have provided the necessary infrastructure required for the ‘Digital Village’ program. Under “Bharat Net” we have provided connectivity at five key points in the village including PHC, School and Gram Panchayat. In fact, we are successfully running the telemedicine facility in Supe. However, many times we struggle with fiber optic issues.” Prasad said that in many places they have prioritized obtaining permits to install cell towers so that rural areas can get proper connectivity. If there are still problems after that, he will take care of it personally, he assured.
Total expenditure of Rs98.32 crore has been allocated under the Digital India Central Sector program to implement the Digital Village pilot. Funding of Rs 3,398 crore (Rs 9,99 crore per village) has been allocated for project implementation in Maharashtra, of which Rs 2,272 crore (in Maharashtra) has been used so far. 34 villages in Maharashtra have been selected under the Digital Villages program.