Bridging the digital divide in India

Riddhi Sharma
New Update
digital dividends world development report

Almost a billion people in India still need to connect to the internet for pushing growth, creating jobs and accessing public services, says the latest ‘World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends’, authored by Deepak Mishra and Uwe Deichmann.


aAt least 8 in 10 individuals in India own a mobile phone, hence, opportunities for increasing access to digital technology for creating higher growth, more jobs, and better public services are significant. The Internet penetration rate nearly quadrupled in the Middle East and North Africa, from 10 per cent in 2005 to 38 per cent in 2014. 228 million people used internet in 2014 in India.

While India has come close to US in numbers, in terms of internet penetration it was far behind at 18 per cent as against 87 per cent in the US. India still remains the place where most number of offline people live. The internet penetration in China stood at 49 per cent. The worldwide internet penetration rate has jumped six fold from 7 per cent in 2000 to 41 per cent in 2014.

However, the report does recognize India's early success in digital technology when it became a global powerhouse for information services. India is currently the largest exporter of ICT services and skilled manpower in the developing world.


Our Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry today employs more than 3.1 million workers, 30 percent of them are women. Due to Aadhar payments time to beneficiaries in MGNAREGA has been reduced by 29 percent and leakages by 35 percent.

India has the third highest number of internet users by absolute number, only behind China and the United States. Most important and striking revelation from the report was that India loses upon opportunities because of its restrictive market regulation in retail finance and banking.

“There is little doubt about the transformative potential of digital technologies. However, they are not a shortcut to development, though they can be an accelerator when used in the right way,”Deepak Mishra said. Digital development strategies in India need to be broader than Information and Communication Technology (ICT) strategies.

World Bank Country Director in India Onno Ruhl said the “India’s Aadhaar programme is today a model for many countries and recent initiatives like Digital India has the potential to generate greater digital dividends among all sections of its society.” Digital revolution is transforming the world, aiding information flow and creating huge opportunities for growth and poverty reduction.

But, the need of the hour is affordable and wider access to the internet and skills that enable all workers to leverage the digital economy. The report does laud India's initiatives on digital front but says much still needs to be done. The digital divide in India is hence a worrying sphere.