Technological respite to change face of rural India

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By Saurabh Arora

The government in its budget for financial year 2016-17 laid focus on rural sector, allocating sizeable funds for agriculture, road infrastructure, and farmers’ welfare – all with the intent to uplift rural India.

Undeniably, the government too is aware of the fact that the next level of country’s growth isn’t possible until rural India is brought under the fold of economic development. Given around 70 percent of India’s total population is still inhabited in rural areas, it is crucial to connect them with the mainstream and provide them accessibility to all the basic necessities in healthcare, education, agriculture, power, sanitation, and infrastructure, which, somehow, they are currently devoid of.

In the last two decades, India has seen massive economic, social and technological growth. While the effects of these have been greatly visible in urban settings, a major portion of the rural population have still been gaping at the benefits from far off and struggling to enjoy them in the same breath as their urban peers. Though multiple public-private partnerships have done some notable work to reduce this urban-rural divide, there is yet a lot more to achieve.

The question is: How? The answer very much lies in innovative technologies, that can invariably serve as the perfect tools to plug the apparent gaps.

Technology: A potential game changer

As we see, the persisting problems rural India have long enough been facing are primarily on the fronts of agriculture, healthcare, power, education, sanitation, among others. Any ‘accessible’ solution to these for the rural masses has to be ‘affordable’ and ‘convenient’. For people living in the interiors of the country, they must be self reliant: information-wise, facilities-wise and infrastructure-wise. Technology – both in hardware and information communication – can play a tremendous role here in improving the condition of rural India.

Vehicle of information

Internet is gradually penetrating to interior parts of the country and can help hugely in data collation, uninterrupted flow of information and devising customisable technological solutions that are ‘scalable and cost-effective’.

The structure mentioned above is of utmost importance, for India is a diverse land with varied ecological and geographical conditions. So, one solution that has a revolutionary impact at one place, might well be a failure at another. For this reason, local solution needs to be carved out for local problems, and when there is information at hand relating to conditions of soil and water, weather and epidemiological data of human beings, coming up with affordable solutions in terms of seeds, manure, water harvesting, healthcare delivery become easier with the help of technology.

Besides, information communication technology (ICT) can prove to be a key vehicle for spread of critical information about weather, seeds, feedstock, animal husbandry, market rates vis-à-vis agriculture produce, healthcare and even to push e-learning initiatives, especially in the field of education. Places where internet is not present, there SMS-based services at least can be tapped to impart useful information. This flow of information makes remote connectivity possible.

A pertinent thing that technology can do to make such communication seamless is by simplifying tools of information delivery. The devices such as computers and mobile phones must be uncomplicated for rural people to use and support vernacular languages. This is what service providers in the domains of healthcare, education, agriculture too need to be sensitive about, to be able to allow rural population to make best use of their offerings. 

Boon to rural facilities  

There are some basic facilities like power – either for domestic or agricultural use, irrigation, sanitation, clean drinking water, healthcare or transportation that are in pathetic condition in rural areas. Innovative technological solutions can fix these, while ensuring they remain cost efficient.

Power is the bedrock for development. Ensuring its availability has, however, remained a perennial challenge. Addressing this is possible through solar energy. While creating the infrastructure comes at a cost, innovation in technology can help bring it down substantially and yet provide a scalable model. The ‘clean’ energy hence produced can be used for agricultural purposes, irrigation, domestic use and even for transportation.

Likewise, technology can result in affordable and innovative solutions for water harvesting, irrigation methodologies, water cleaning, wash management (sanitation) and water pumps that are not dependent on electricity to function.

An area where technology can particularly play a revolutionary role is in healthcare. Cashing in on the opportunities of internet penetration and adoption of smartphones by rural population, quality healthcare can be made available to those residing in far corners where accessibility to doctors is a huge issue. A country marred by doctor shortage, rural India is always on the receiving end as healthcare professionals chose to practice in either big metros or towns.

Healthcare technology platform like ours can solve this lingering problem by allowing communication between doctors and patients. A partnership with the government can make it happen far more easily by connecting the service to primary health centres (PHCs). The government-appointed ASHA workers can be enabled with a tablet or smartphone device who can not only help out people with online doctor consultation, but also provide critical health information to people, especially expecting mothers. Language again is a key factor here for scripting the success story. We are already working with eminent medical associations like Indian Medical Association, and are keen to partner with the government to help rural people benefit from our platform to gain access to quality doctors.

Backbone for cost-efficient infrastructure

Today, erecting cost-effective infrastructure from rural households, to cold storage, warehouses, roads, canals and borewells can take place only through technological interventions. Right from machinery to material, all that can be made to suit rural requirements and cost efficient for infrastructural creation through technological research and development. A sound and sustainable infrastructure is the backbone and springboard for rural sector’s growth. Government and private players can take a resort to technology to create infrastructure that are long lasting, requiring easier fix ups in case of damages.

Not that these technologies are not already in place or implemented. But the sad fact is that they are either limited to just a few pockets or suffer from extremely slow pace of duplication. Government alone can’t solve all the problems. While it has the reach and manpower, it somehow lacks in innovative technologies, for which it can coalesce with players in myriad fields that are trying to come up with unique solutions. Undoubtedly, strong and serious partnerships are the need of the hour.

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