TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India 2: Introduction

A few months ago, I had written a series on Transforming Rural India. Since then, I have had more opportunity to think on the issues facing rural India and have also interacted with many people. This Tech Talk series is a continuation of the same thread.

This was a paper written with Atanu Dey, Reuben Abraham and Vivek Padmanabhan for an ICT workshop in Sydney held on July 25. The original title of the paper was Two Mutually Reinforcing Applications of ICT for Socio-economic Development of India. Some of the ideas here have been adapted from Atanu Deys paper on RISC and my earlier series.

The gains from any innovation or revolution in technology or process usually have little impact on the poor in any developing country. The benefits usually accrue to the richpeoples as well as nations. The industrial revolution of the past is an example of this, where poorer nations are yet to fully benefit from the industrial revolution. So far, the benefits of globalization appear to have not had an appreciable impact on the poor. This should change and the revolution in information and communications technologies has the potential to help break out of this unfortunate scenario.

Povertyincome poverty as well as non-income povertyis perhaps the most common characteristic that defines the populations living in the developing world today. Non-income poverty in terms of education, health-care, access to markets, etc., directly produce the income poverty that traps the average citizen of developing countries. The question of how to raise huge populations out of this poverty trap is a formidable challenge that governments, multilateral organizations and policy makers face.

Because income poverty is relatively easier to measure compared to non-income poverty, it is more commonly reported and emphasized. (For instance, about half the world’s population, or about 3 billion people, have an average income of less than $2 a day, and of that about 1.3 billion have a daily average income of $1 a day. For India, the figures are even more stark: about 60% of Indians, or 600 million people, live on less than $1 a day.) Income poverty and non-income poverty are closely related, of course. The problem appears almost intractable because the two kinds of poverty are mutually reinforcing. Any solution that does not address both kinds of poverty is unlikely to be successful in poverty alleviation.

In this paper we focus on two uses of information and communications technology (ICT) that hold the promise of immense benefit to the rural poor, specifically in India, and more generally in other parts of the developing world. We focus on the rural population because the incidence of poverty is higher there than in the urban population.

Tomorrow: The Two Applications

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.