Fostering an enabling digital environment in Uttarakhand

Ms. Sowjanya

The main challenge in the state of Uttarakhand is the mountainous terrain and that is the reason it lags in better connectivity. Ms. Sowjanya, IAS, Secretary IT, Government of Uttarakhand, highlighted how the digital connectivity initiative is revolutionising telecommunication and internet connectivity in the state.

The scale of economies doesn’t work out the way it would work out in urban conglomeration, Ms. Sowjanya said. She talked about how people are not interested in investing as the volume of transactions is not that high. “Even now, on election poll day, I need to take daily, hourly feedback on the poll percentage. Even in those places, I don’t have the very basic 2G connectivity,” she added.

She also holds the charge of Finance Secretary. Talking about the challenges the finance department faces, Sowjanya said, “Our major challenge is the treasury. All our treasury is actually connected to PoPs, i.e. points of presence is there of the State Wide Area Network (SWAN), but even then the connectivity issues are the same.”

When it comes to financial transactions, banking sector connectivity is a very crucial issue, she said. “When I interacted with the men and women between 60-80 age bracket in Osla village, they could not even get their pensions every month because they didn’t know if the pensions had arrived as they didn’t have mobile connectivity and they had to trek for 18 kilometres to reach a place which has the nearest bank,” Ms. Sowjanya remarked.

“As it is not possible for senior citizens to walk for 18 kms, there were instances where some citizens did not receive their pensions,” she further said.

Ms. Sowjanya has also worked in three social sectors – Anganwadis, Women and Child Department and Health.

Highlighting the challenges she faced while working in these sectors, she said, “The major challenge is accountability. Once you are in the hills, you wouldn’t know if the teacher has really attended the particular class, or if the Anganwadi is really cooking the meals.”

“Through the Government of India initiative, tablets were given to each of these Anganwadis and we tried to make it compulsory for them to take pictures of themselves feeding the child every day,” she added.

Ms. Sowjanya said that this system could be put in place in Uttarakhand for all Aganwadi workers. “Giving tablets to each of these Anganwadis really helped because we could put a pre-loaded material into all these tablets,” she said.

“During the COVID time, there was no face-to-face interaction and these were the people who were checking the temperature, oxygen etc, with oximeters and thermometers, so this was enabling them to use the digital network,” she added.

Sowjanya talked about how training is essential to prepare the workforce “When we introduce digital things, we just expect people to learn it as an additional task. It becomes an add-on thing without giving the services and that is where I guess, we need to kind of gear ourselves,” she said.

“We have a very enabling environment but to overcome the challenges, we need to put in efforts like training the workforce involved in digital framework, making the systems easier, and subsidising the collectivity challenges because the industry might not find it very remunerative if it is not subsidised,” she concluded saying.

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