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More people in India got internet access in 2020, but fewer mobile connections: Niti report

Niti Aayog's SDG India Index 2020-2021 finds Delhi, Punjab had the most internet subscribers while Jharkhand, Bihar ranked lowest. 

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New Delhi: The NITI Aayog Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) India Index 2020-2021 report has revealed that of every 100 people, only 55 have an internet connection, improving from last year’s 49 in every 100.

When it came to mobile connections, 84 in every 100 had one, though this metric was better according to last year’s report, wherein 88 in every 100 had a mobile connection.

The Niti Aayog report looked at SDGs set by the United Nations in 2015 to address key aspects of universal well-being across different socio-economic indicators. First launched in 2018, the index covers 17 SDGs and 169 targets in the fields of health and sanitation, education, poverty eradication, etc.

The ninth goal or SDG-9 is ‘Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure’, and pertains to internet and mobile connectivity. The goal is measured based on seven factors — mobile connections, internet subscriptions, access to all-weather roads under PMGSY, score under India Innovation Index, employment in manufacturing sector, score as per the Logistics Ease Across Different States (LEADS) report and gross value added in manufacturing.

India’s score on this goal dropped by 10 points to 55 in the 2021 report from 65 in 2019, according to the Niti Aayog report.

On India’s ranking in terms of the number of persons with internet connections, Anushka Jain, a policy counsel at the Internet Freedom Foundation, said this was an “excessively low number”.

The 2021 report also looked at region-wise penetration. Delhi was the best performer with the highest number of people who had both internet and mobile connections, while Bihar fared the worst on both counts.

Delhi reported 199.88 internet subscribers per 100 population and had a mobile teledensity of 190.61 per 100 population. Punjab was a top performer too with 84.32 internet subscribers per 100 population, followed by Himachal Pradesh (82.63), Kerala (77.47) and Goa (74.72).

On the other end of the scale, Bihar reported that just 31 of every 100 people had an internet connection, while 50 of 100 had a mobile connection. Jharkhand had a similar score as Bihar in the number of internet subscribers, with 30.99 per 100 population.

Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand were also among the least performing states in terms of internet penetration, with a score of 38.73 per 100 population.

In 2019, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha and Kerala were the top performing states and union territories in the number of internet subscribers. They had a score of 100 per 100 population.

Chhattisgarh, Goa, Jharkhand, Telangana and Uttarakhand had reported “null”.

Also read: By 2025, rural India will likely have more internet users than urban India

Report doesn’t fully cover ground reality

The significance of the internet and digital media has only been growing, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic that forced everyone to adapt to remote work processes. In early 2020, the Supreme Court even stated that access to the internet was a fundamental right.

To shift the focus to the digital medium, the Government of India took out a slew of measures, including the Digital India Programme that focussed on digital infrastructure, governance and empowerment of citizens. However, despite this push, the number of internet subscribers in the country remains very low.

Internet Freedom Foundation’s Jain told ThePrint that the SDG report might not give the full picture as multiple factors were not looked into.

“The teledensity in cities is a lot higher than in rural areas. Also, more men have access to the internet than women,” she pointed out. She also said that the divide between urban and rural India, when it came to access to an internet connection, is another factor that has not been accounted for.

To address the problem of accessibility, Jain said, “First and most importantly digital infrastructure has to be strengthened. And once you have the internet and infrastructure, it needs to be accessible in terms of cost.”

Noting the internet shutdowns in India, Jain added that if it was not accounted for in the SDG score, then this means accessibility was even lesser than what it was measured to be.

Internet shutdowns are usually considered exceptions and not calculated, Jain said. “But if you keep shutting down the internet for 1-2 days regularly, then it is not an exception.”

Kashmir has had one of the longest communication blackouts, but Rajasthan had the highest number of internet shutdowns in the country in the past year, Jain said.

Also read: Internet shutdowns cost India over Rs 20,000 crore in 2020

Other SDG-9 factors 

Apart from mobile and internet connections per 100 people, the SDG-9 also looked at  other factors such as access to all-weather roads under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) and workforce employed in the manufacturing sector.

According to the 2021 report, the top performing state in terms of infrastructure, innovation and industry was Gujarat (72 points), followed by Tamil Nadu (71 points) and Punjab (69 points). The worst performing state was Bihar (24 points). Among the UTs, Delhi was the top performer (66 points) while Andaman and Nicobar came in last (23 points).

The report also stated that 98 per cent people were covered by all-weather roads under PMGSY. States such as Haryana, Gujarat, Goa, Punjab, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka had complete access to all-weather roads. Meghalaya was the bottom performer with only 381 out of the 603 targeted habitations (63.18 per cent) connected by all-weather roads under PMGSY.

In terms of employment in the manufacturing sector, Gujarat had the highest employment rate of nearly 21 per cent of the population employed in it. In Sikkim, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Lakshadweep, less than 5 per cent of the workforce was employed in the manufacturing sector.

In all, 12.07 per cent people were employed in the manufacturing sector. In 2019, 12.13 per cent people were employed in the sector.

(Edited by Manasa Mohan)

Also read: Anxiety for students, violation of privacy — The problems with online proctored exams


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