As usual the New Year, 2015, has started with a flurry of activities.
Let us first give you some great news. As you know, since our inception in 2002, we at DEF have been at the forefront of efforts in India, South Asia and the Asia-Pacific region to bridge the digital divide, smash the information barrier, empower people and bring about greater socio-economic equality.
Our journey has been nothing short of exciting. Despite facing some hell or high water once in a while, which always happens when you embark on a long sojourn, we have still crossed many milestones and notched up quite a few satisfying achievements.
We now feel we need to document our peregrinations, successes and failures over the past 12 years in the form of a documentary film. The good news is well-known Australian film maker and musician Andrew Richard Mathew Garton (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Garton) has especially flown down from Melbourne, Australia to take up this task of telling the story of how our work has impacted millions of lives in India. Upon arrival in India, he wasted no time and together with our audio-visual team straightaway began work on retracing our trail.
Read about this “Journey Within A Journey” in this issue. You may also visit our blog http://upliftdoco.tumblr.com for an interesting blow by blow account on the making of this documentary. And of course, please do send in your views and suggestions.
But journeys require vehicles and one of the primary vehicles that we use to cross the information barrier is the Community Information Resource Centre (CIRC). CIRCs play a vital role in creating digital infrastructure in remote and rural areas and empower information-dark marginalised or underserved communities through various ways such as spreading digital literacy, providing access to health and education, connecting rural markets to mainstream markets, enabling people to know about their rights and entitlements, allowing them access to as well as demand government services and so on.
In this issue read about two of our CIRCs in somewhat remote locations in the North East Indian state of Assam.
Empowerment of women is one of the key destinations in our journey. We launched the Red Rickshaw Revolution in 2012 with the objective of empowering 200000 women across India. After travelling through various places in West and North India, the Red Rickshaw reached its final destination Kolkata on December 17, 2014. Read our report on this journey.
Our expedition has always been interspersed with advocacy campaigns on such issues as Internet Rights, role of governments and data security and of course, government policies and initiatives to bridge the digital divide. Read three reports on DEF’s participation in conferences on Internet Rights and data security.
Finally, do read our status report on one of the most ambitious government initiatives to end information darkness in India – the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project. Under the project, the government has set up a special purpose vehicle named Bharat Broadband Network Ltd (BBNL) to connect all the 250000 village Panchayats in India through an optical fibre network that would ensure a minimum broadband connectivity speed of 2.5 mbps by 2015 (revised schedule, earlier the end date was 2014).
You will be appalled to know that the programme is not only way behind schedule but even the pilot project that the government claims it completed in 2012 connecting some 59 Panchayats seems horribly underperforming and in some cases simply incomplete. It is obvious from this report that the Prime Minister’s Digital India vision will remain just a vision and never a reality unless the government pulls itself up by the bootstraps to make BBNL a more effective and efficient agency for bringing about connectivity across the country.
You may also read our founder and Director Osama Manzar’s column in Mint on this issue Building another pipe dream? . This premier business newspaper has also published another report on the same subject - Study disputes effectiveness of govt’s optical fibre project.
Perhaps, it is time to call in the cavalry and go for a larger role of the private sector in this project. It is up to the government to decide how but state-owned companies such as BBNL and BSNL simply do not seem to have the ability to deliver any kind of results, leave alone effectively and efficiently.
This issue is of vital importance to the cause of digital inclusion. Please use our platform to voice your concerns and offer your recommendations.
We will not hold you back any longer from all the interesting material that lies before you in this issue. Happy reading dear readers!