Q. Unequal access to the Internet creates and reproduces socio-economic exclusions. Discuss. (250 words)15 Oct, 2019 GS Paper 2 Social Justice
- Mention the recent development on the issue of right to internet access.
- Explain importance of internet access and challenges in promoting equitable access to the internet.
- Mention steps to be taken to promote internet access.
- The Kerala High Court, in Faheema Shirin v. the State of Kerala 2019 case, declared the right to Internet access as a fundamental right forming a part of the right to privacy and the right to education under Article 21 of the Constitution.
- The court further held that forceful seizure of mobile phones is against right to privacy and highlighted the indispensable importance of internet in daily life, especially for excellence in education.
- Also, the court held that, in an information society, unequal access to the internet creates and reproduces socio-economic exclusions.
Socio-economic exclusions due to unequal access to internet
- Digital divide: It can be seen throughout the socio-economic spectrum of India i.e. between rural and urban India, rich and poor, India’s demographic profile (old and young, male and female) creating a new form of inequality.
- Infringement of fundamental rights: In Sabu Mathew George v. UoI Case (2018), the Supreme Court held that Right to Access Internet is a basic fundamental right and “right to freedom of speech and expression” subsumed “the right to be informed” and “right to know”.
- Unequal access to the internet is curtailing of right to education and acquiring knowledge by different means.
Importance of internet access on socio-economic development
- Implementing government policies: In the government’s bid to promote e-governance to increase transparency and accountability in the system, internet access has become a necessity. Government schemes like Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) for disbursing funds to beneficiaries, wages to MNREGA workers, etc requires internet connectivity.
- Promoting education and knowledge creation: The Internet has become a primary source for gathering information and promoting scientific temper among the children and the youth. Any hindrance to internet access is deprivation of an essential right to know and understand things.
- Health and Wellness: Internet is an essential necessity to reach out to remote areas where physical presence is difficult. For ex: AIIMS Delhi Telemedicine programme supports the provision of Health care services at a distance.
Challenges to Internet Accessibility
- Digital illiteracy: According to the Deloitte report, ‘Digital India: Unlocking the Trillion Dollar Opportunity’ in mid-2016, digital literacy in India was less than 10%.
- Lack of adequate infrastructure: India vast geographic expanse creates challenges in establishing communication links to hilly terrains and remote places.
- Linguistic diversity: India has more than 1600 languages and dialects. Non availability of digital services in local languages is a great barrier in digital literacy.
- Misuse of internet: Fear of cyber crime and breach of privacy has been deterrent in adoption of digital technologies.
- The government is making efforts through programmes like Digital India Mission, National Digital Literacy Mission, the BharatNet programme, to increase internet penetration and digital literacy across India. Still, a lot needs to be done to create a large digital infrastructure in the country.
- Apart from digital literacy, there is a need for awareness generation programmes in preventing misuse of internet like frauds, cyber crimes, etc.
- There is a need to strengthen telecom regulations, so as to ensure market competition and make the internet affordable to all.
- In a broader context, right to internet access can help achieve Sustainable Development Goals 1(No poverty), 2(Zero Hunger), 4(Quality education), and even Goal 10(reduced inequalities).
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