Rural finance: Subsidies, entitlements and the problem of digital linkages in Bundelkhand

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered yet another impressive speech at the global conference on cyberspace held in Delhi in November 2017, he had the media gushing. ‘We believe this validates our long-held belief in “vasudeva kutumbakam”,’ he had said, enunciating each word as he does often in a bid to woo international interest.

Speaking of the Digital India vision we’re all so achingly familiar with, he indulged in signature word-play, and likened mobile power to ‘m-power’, punning on empower. However, Silicon Valley dreams seem really far away in rural Bundelkhand.

Take the case of a village like Tadi in Chitrakoot for instance; while systems have been online here since February 2018, the crucial fact remains – there is barely any internet. Farmers queuing up to link their Aadhaar card and identity as farmers onto the network, in order to claim their entitlements – of subsidised manure, seeds – have been waiting for the systems to function for weeks now. In the wait that offers no end in sight, their freshly ploughed fields have turned dry again. While they rant about this, the official at Tadi village echoes Digital India memos.

Bharat Broadband Network or BharatNet, the official infrastructure service provider, claims last-mile connectivity, even as December 2018 has been declared as the official deadline for rural connectivity. Meanwhile, farmers in rural U.P. keep hearing those dreaded three words, ‘Server down hai’.

Here’s the situation, in three bytes:

What the keeper of Digital India at the rural level, Balendra Bhushan Mishra, Sachiv Sahkari Samiti, has to say: “See, it’s such a convenient system. The farmer will happily bring his Aadhaar card, scan it here, do his biometrics, pick up his manure and leave. Simple.”

What the farmer seeking his entitled subsidy, Mukesh from Mau, Chitrakoot, has to say: “They say we have to wait until the server comes up again. What does that mean? My crops are drying up back home. We’ll die of hunger until this online business is sorted.”

What Prime Minister Modi has to say:

This article was first published on Firstpost

Read Parts two, Three, four & Five of this series.