Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have managed to get his ministers on social media as part of India's digital transformation, but when a minister climbs up a tree to secure phone reception, it tells a telling tale.
On Sunday, the Union Minister of State for Finance, Arjun Ram Meghwal was on a visit to his constituency in Bikaner's Dholiya village. He had gone there after repeated complaints about the local hospital not being adequately staffed with nurses.
Dholiya, 85 km from the nearest town, is one of some 200 hamlets nestled in sand dunes in eastern Rajasthan.
The union minister was trying to call some officers but couldn't get through as there was no network connectivity.
So the villagers suggested the minister climb a tree.
The 62-year-old then asked for a ladder to be brought, climbed up the tree and finally managed to call the officers.
A video of the minister talking on the phone to an official while balancing himself on the ladder has been widely shared on social media.
The villagers meanwhile are quite used to this. Now that the minister has experienced things first hand, he has directed setting up of mobile towers in the villages in the area within three months. This will cost an estimated ₹13 lakh.
The incident has put the focus on Modi's 'digital India' initiative.
A Deloitte India study showed that mobile towers in India are likely to grow to over 500,000 by 2020 from about 400,000 at present due to increase in demand of wireless internet services.
"Towers are expected to grow at 3 percent CAGR for next five years and the total number of towers is expected to grow to more than 511,000 by financial year 2020, of which 30,000 towers are expected to be only supporting data sites," a report said.
Recently, Khabar Lahariya — a rural, video-first digital news organisation with an all-women network of reporters in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh, visited a remote hamlet in Jhansi district to look at the true state of affairs in the Digital India era.
"I want to see it once before I die — how my life would be with electricity," a village resident told the reporters.
Students here usually try and wrap their studies before sunset. Kerosene lamps help with night-time revisions.
The minister-up-a-tree video comes at a time when ISRO is planning to launch the GSAT-19 and the GSAT-11 satellites. The satellites are to supposed to help make Digital India a reality and provide enhanced Internet services and streaming.
However, if there are cellphones, but no place available to charge them, or there's no network, the Digital India initiative will remain a hollow slogan.
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