NEW DELHI: The mammoth task of vaccinating rural India against the pandemic has hit multiple roadblocks ranging from poor awareness to lack of internet connectivity. Ironically, the ambitious mission of making Covid vaccines available to rural households is facing a big hurdle in the form of poor execution of another ambitious project of the government; the Bharat Net project which aims to bring internet connectivity even to remote villages.
While poor awareness about vaccination is cited as one of the reasons behind lack of enthusiasm for taking the jabs among villagers, digital illiteracy and lack of access to digital technologies, including smartphone and WiFi or data availability, are playing key roles in keeping the rural people vulnerable to the deadly virus. Mukesh Meena, the village head of Fatehpur in Rajasthan said many residents, particularly elderly people, are not aware of the benefits of vaccination.
“They are not interested in getting the jabs as they don’t know the benefits,” he said. However, the bigger problem seems to be the cumbersome registration process. “Only a few families have smartphones and they got the vaccine. But others are in need of help,” he said, adding that there is no Wi-Fi hotspot in the village. Only 1.04 lakh out of the targeted 2.5 lakh panchayats in the country have Wi-Fi hotspots installed under the Bharat Net project.
However, just around 65,000 of these hotspots are operational. According to data from the Union IT and Communication Ministry, there are only 15.5 lakh active users of Wi-Fi and FTTH (fibre to the home) in nearly 65,000 panchayats where hotspots are operational. While defending its stand to have online registration for vaccinations, the Centre recently submitted before the Supreme Court that citizens who have no access to CoWIN app, can get assistance from Common Service Centres established by panchayats.
For Prem Kishore, sarpanch of Barhpura Mazra, Moradabad (UP), it not just the connectivity that concerns him. “The situation is very bad here. There is hardly any testing. Many people are down with fever but officials say it is typhoid,” he said. “Vaccine registration is not happening properly as we don’t have any Wi-Fi hotspots,” he added. Ram Karan, head of Maheri village in Rai Bareli district, said a hotspot was installed in the village long ago. “It is not working now,” he said with a pinch of sadness. Similar views were echoed by village representatives from several states including UP, Bihar, MP and Rajasthan.
Internet in gram panchayats
1,04,400 Gram panchayats where Wi-Fi hotspots are installed
64,927 Gram panchayats where Wi-Fi hotspots are operational
15,50,431 Active users