Appreciating the work done by Rotarians in India during the corona pandemic and responding to RIPN Shekhar Mehta’s statement that Rotary in India had contributed in cash and kind to the tune of ₹200 crore, Union Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a Zoom meeting, urged Rotarians “to work with the GoI for the good of our country.”
When RID Kamal Sanghvi asked him to spell out his vision for Digital India, Prasad urged Rotarians to get involved in the ‘digital village’ initiative of the GoI. “We are going to give villages access to the internet and sign them up for literacy programmes, government schemes, job opportunities, and much more. Should you choose to partner, then these villages could become Rotary Digital Villages.” He also asked, “Can each Rotary club in your district make five lakh digitally literate students who know what is an email, how to use WhatsApp, how to obtain government services through apps?”
He added that “government schools need handholding. The country’s mindset towards these schools needs to change. You must work towards bridging the gap.” Mehta explained Rotary’s “Happy School initiative, which has upgraded the infrastructure and co-scholastic facilities in State-funded schools and made them secure, attractive, and happy learning places for lakhs of students and thousands of teachers.
Saying that today’s students were different, the Union minister added, “You and I have read about the solar eclipse from a black and white textbook. But today, students want to experience a solar eclipse, see it with their eyes rather than read about it. Only when we upgrade the learning experience by making it equal for students in both private and government schools, we will be able to bridge the digital divide.”
Prasad pointed out that India heads the global IT backend operations, and “while the whole world wondered kaam kaise karen, Indians are doing 85 per cent of the global work from their homes. This is the beginning of a new world. We will have to learn to live in it and I seek your support in this digital transformation of India.”
He added that the government runs Common Service Centres (CSC) which is a digital kiosk. Among the many things, this kiosk does its works as a platform for tribal students to find a job and runs a Digital Literacy Programme. “Every gram panchayat has a CSC. I request Rotarians to become patrons of these CSCs and help the women who use the CSC for tele-health consultations. While earning a living these women are transforming the lives of their families and the people around them.” Mehta promised to do so.
Talking about digital healthcare being the next big thing in the country, Prasad asked “Can Rotary think of bringing together a panel of doctors, for this virtual healthcare initiative? I know there is a challenge — without checking the pulse how can we prescribe a pill? But together we can overcome this and create a plan to see how we can help people who have little or no access to healthcare at all. ”
Mehta responded: “We have hundreds of doctors who are Rotarians, the Vice-President of the Indian Medical Association is a Rotarian, I am sure we can work on it.”
The RIPN agreed to do so and gave the minister a heads-up on Rotary’s adult literacy programme, and said it cost only ₹100 to make an adult literate. “We request you to waive off the postal charges of ₹10 that we pay to send the adult literacy books to far-off parts of the country.” Agreeing to do so, the minister said “along with the waiver we will also look into printing a commemorative stamp to celebrate 100 years of Rotary in India.”
PRID Manoj Desai moderated the Q&A session and RIDN A S Venkatesh expressed gratitude.