Digital India fails to impress farmers

Published : December 10, 2018 16:53 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship programme, Digital India, has had a poor reception in the rural belt of Madhya Pradesh, which voted on November 28 to elect a new government.

Far from speeding up business transactions, which is at the core of its stated objectives, it seems to have provided traders an excuse to delay payment to farmers for the procurement of crops. Speaking to Frontline, farmers in the Malwa-Nimar belt criticised the Centre for not having factored in the possible ramifications of the initiative in the country’s hinterland, bereft of grievance redress mechanisms.

“Digital India is a kind of permanent note ban for us. Earlier, we used to get ready cash for our produce at the mandis. Now traders usually take four to eight days in crediting the payment through RTGS, citing one reason or the other. Sometimes they pay in installments,” said Rameshwar Gujjar, a farmer of Pipliya Bujurg village in Khargone district. “How are we supposed to work if we are kept cash starved?” asked Roop Singh Pawar, also of the same village.

In the Mhou and Rau tehsils, not far from Indore, the financial hub, the sentiment is echoed. Several farmers whose incomes were in the lower end were resentful of digital transactions. They voiced concern at not being able to keep a tab on deductions that might accrue owing to online charges. A group of villagers at Panda village in Rau tehsil had a list of complaints. Among them, the absence of Internet banking facility on their mobiles, the fact that they do not get to visit the bank often for updation of their passbooks, and the deductions on account of taxes or surcharges that they do not understand. They were of the view that cash transactions were better, but are up against traders “who are no longer willing to pay them us cash, and this is proving difficult for us”.

In several villages, farmers said that most of the Centre’s schemes were far removed from their immediate needs. They said they would rather that the Centre implemented the Mandi Act of 1972 that stipulates the initiation of legal action against mandi staffers who purchase crops below the MSP fixed by the government. They also wanted the government to focus on ensuring fair prices for their crops and adequate electricity supply in their fields.

Digital India aims to empower the population through e-governance and digital administration of the benefits of key services. But critics point out that without a corresponding emphasis on increasing digital literacy, particularly in villages and small towns, the initiative is nothing more than a promissory note.

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