India, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, despite all its development is still clocked at the growth rate of 7.6% in terms of poverty. Poverty being a relative term, not just decreases our competencies with other nations, but also impedes our progress by averting us to take new steps in the direction of scientific, cultural or social advancement. More than 22% of our population still lies below poverty line and in no time we might just cross the line and be marked as one of the poorest nations of the world. Technology, as we see it today is a major weapon that could be harnessed to eradicate poverty.
Imagine a tailor sewing a dress by hand for three hours and getting 150 rupees for it. What is the output and value of money here? 50 rupees an hour! Including the amount of effort involved, compromising on the accuracy and the tiredness that comes complementary with it, thereby decreasing efficiency for work that lies ahead. Now, I purchase a sewing machine for this tailor with the training to use it. The output for the same input of material goes to three dresses in three hours getting the tailor paid 450 rupees for it. Not just this, the accuracy of the product increases and so does the efficiency of the tailor for future works. Also, now the tailor can train new people in the same skill and get the sewing machine used in rounds, thereby increasing productivity and finance. And this is what the Skills India Mission talks about. Endeavours like MGREGA, NREGA, NITI AAYOG, Skills India Mission, e-commerce as platform to production by poor, are designed to provide below poverty line population with the employment and skill-set for self-sustainability.
The above is just one illustration of how technology could be beneficially used to combat poverty. The introduction of AADHAR cards, PAN cards to crystallize the economic status and digital identity of a citizen has helped us withhold realistic facts and data over the archaic fabricated data that happened by manual collection. It has eased the monitoring of distribution of benefits from pre-existing schemes to the target population and paved the way for framing new policies as well. All the benefits can now reach the rightful owner of it, instead of passing through the bureaucratic system of organizations or officials.
Moving from efficient implementation of pre-existing schemes we move to embracing new technological solutions. The root causes for poverty are inter-linked, be it illiteracy, unemployment, overpopulation or disasters. These could be eliminated in the following manner.
India has majority of its poverty-stricken population involved in the agriculture. A sector deeply affected by climatic changes, overpopulation and inflation. Indian agriculture has been in struggle since the 1990s. Where stagnant or no productivity has culminated to famines, poverty and loss of life. Genetically improvised crops, use of machinery instead of manual labour, artificial rains, monitoring of weather conditions over apps and preparing accordingly can boost production. The key challenge of technology diffusion can be solved with adequate agricultural extension services through mobile phones. Farmers can be made aware of the market rates and relevant information through schemes like Kisan Call Centers and also help their supplies reach areas of high demands.
There are two more areas where efforts can swiftly deliver long-term reforms in ending poverty: financial inclusion and education. As, previously discussed Prime Minister’s efforts to push bank accounts through Jan Dhan Yogna are a good start but to make it effective the gap for mobile banking yet needs to be bridged. To quote an example, Bangladesh’s bKash is one of the fastest growing financial services company in a span of four years, processing roughly 2 million transactions per day with a total value of nearly $1 billion each month. The lesson can be derived from this is that yes, mobile banking can profitably serve the poor even in the rural areas just like brick-and-mortar banks do for the wealthy.
Lastly, the education sector could bolster all other sectors. With the knowledge to understand and implement reforms, not just apt profitability can be achieved but it will also kindle ideas and innovations. With the introduction of electricity, good transport facilities and internet anyone can take advantage of e-learning portals like SWAYAM. The disadvantage of non-reach ability at places can be curbed by e-learning. We all have seen this ad from SAMSUNG where a girl is trained in their institute and goes on to develop her own village. This isn’t fictitious. This is how proper education and training can help destroy the root causes of poverty like illiteracy and unemployment.
Definitely, government is taking measures in combating poverty but more stress needs to be laid on proper implementation of these schemes. These development interventions need to be accompanied by behavioral changes in society, which at present is reluctant to adapt. The question is who will take these technologies to the poor. Demonetization could be a success if this was kept in mind. Young Entrepreneurs need to be promoted by the government to take up this task of introduction and implementations of innovations. MyGov portal to boost smart city concepts, campaigning, hearing to innovative minds and providing them opportunity is on its way to give shape to an improved statistics of poverty.
“Great advantage for India is that there is no country in the world that has a billion mobiles, a billion bio-metrics, which is spearheading a big change through bank accounts which will actually reduce the cost of transaction so radically that will enable us to uplift about 100 million people above the poverty line” – Words of Amitabh Kant ( IAS Officer nad CEO of NITI AAYOG,2015)