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12 Nov 2019: The Hindu Editorial Analysis

1) On Kerala plan for free Internet roll-out: Casting the Net wide

  • If things go as per plan, Kerala could have near-universal Internet access in a little over a year’s time. Last week’s nod by the State Cabinet for the Kerala Fibre Optic Network project clears the path for a Kerala-wide optical fibre network by December 2020.
  • At ₹1,548 crore, it is, without doubt, an ambitious project. But what makes it commendable is its recognition that Internet access is a basic human right.
  • No other Indian State has recognised Internet access in this manner till now. This is also in sync with what the UN has been articulating in recent years, based on the Internet’s role in enabling freedom of speech and reducing inequality, among other things.
  • And so, embedded in this plan to touch every household in Kerala is a provision to deliver free Internet access to over two million BPL families. The idea is to charge affordable rates for other families.
  • The network, to be set up by the Kerala State Electricity Board Ltd. and the Kerala State IT Infrastructure Ltd., will also connect 30,000 government offices and educational institutions.
  • When complete, Kerala, a State that already tops in human development indicators in the country, will be ready for a steep digital evolution.

  • Kerala’s plan for Internet roll-out, therefore, is also worthy of emulation by other States, given that Internet have-nots still exist in the millions. There is no doubt that India has made huge leaps in providing Internet access to its people in recent years.
  • To be sure, a good part of the growth till now can be attributed to cheap data plans, triggered in no small measure by the advent of Reliance Jio.
  • According to a recent study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and Nielsen, the country has 451 million active Internet users.
  • But this number masks huge access gaps. Internet penetration is significantly higher in urban areas than it is in rural areas; it is also significantly higher for men than it is for women.
  • The best-performing State, Delhi-NCR, has an Internet penetration of 69%. The second-best is Kerala, with just 54%. Global technology companies have in recent years eyed the huge population of Internet have-nots as an opportunity.
  • Some, like Facebook, even came up with an idea of free access to a list of chosen sites, a severely skewed version of the Internet which endangered its basic values. While such ideas were thankfully rejected by the government, the gaps are there nonetheless.
  • There is no doubt that governments need to play an interventionist role in plugging this gap. Kerala could set a healthy example. It’s plan for providing free Internet access to the poor is worthy of emulation by others.


2) On Kartarpur corridor: The extra mile

  • For millions of Sikhs worldwide, the inauguration of the Kartarpur corridor was a dream seven decades in the making.
  • Ever since India and Pakistan were partitioned with an arbitrary line drawn through Punjab, the placement of Kartarpur, where Guru Nanak spent his last years, meant that while a majority of his devotees were left on one side of the border, his last resting place was left just four kilometres on the other side.
  • Unlike the other major Sikh shrine at Guru Nanak’s birthplace Nankana Sahib, Kartarpur Sahib was off Pakistan’s highways and therefore fell into disuse. Those keen to see it were restricted to peering through binoculars at a border checkpost.
  • Saturday’s inauguration of the renovated shrine in Kartarpur by Prime Minister Imran Khan, and the access to the corridor from Sultanpur Lodhi on the Indian side by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saw the fervent hopes of all those people being granted, timed with the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.

  • The corridor, which will allow 5,000 Indian pilgrims a day to walk visa-free into Pakistan, pay obeisance and then return to India, is unique. If both governments are willing, it could lend itself to other cross-border connections for Hindus and Sikhs to visit shrines in Pakistan, and for Muslims and Sufism followers to visit shrines just across the border in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
  • That it was completed from start to finish in a year that saw relations between the two countries plumb new depths, is also nothing short of a miracle: from the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot strikes.
  • The slugfest over the government’s moves on Kashmir; the recall of High Commissioners; and even Pakistan’s repeated denial of overflight rights to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aircraft on foreign visits etc. it was a downward spiral. Each event was accompanied by sharp rhetoric and recriminations, yet the Kartarpur process was not derailed.
  • In that sense, the Kartarpur shrine has fulfilled the promise it held out to the devout, but hasn’t lived up to its potential for diplomacy.
  • It had been hoped, when Pakistan’s Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa first conveyed Islamabad’s acceptance of India’s long-pending demand for the corridor, that this would lead to a new sense of understanding between the two governments as well.
  • Instead, Pakistan’s encouragement of Khalistani separatist groups to use Kartarpur as a platform has been a constant cause for suspicion for India. On the other side, India’s misgivings have been seen as a churlish response to Pakistan’s efforts on building the corridor.
  • The fact is that neither side has been able to build on the goodwill for the project in both countries to create an atmosphere for talks on other issues.
  • This failure was most evident when both Mr. Modi and Mr. Khan carried out separate inauguration ceremonies, but failed to come together at the border for the launch of the project, though both leaders likened it to the “coming down of the Berlin wall”.
  • Kartarpur corridor has realised the dream of devout Sikhs, but done little for India-Pak. Ties. For that promise to be realised, leaders will need to walk the extra mile, both literally and figuratively.