As India launches a Rs. 1.12 lakh crore plan to spread the IT revolution to its provinces, some of the problems it faces are a holdover from the past - electricity shortages, badly planned, jam-packed cities, and monkeys.
The clash between the old world and the new is sharply in focus in the crowded 3,000-year-old holy city of Varanasi, also the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
But the monkeys also feast on the fibre-optic cables that are strung along the banks of the Ganga.
We cannot move the temples from here. We cannot modify anything here, everything is built up. The monkeys, they destroy all the wires and eat all the wires.
- Communications Engineer AP Srivastava
Srivastava, who oversees the expansion of new connections in a local district, said his team had to replace the riverside cables when the monkeys chewed them up less than two months after they were installed.
He said his team is now looking for alternatives, but there are few to be found. The city of over 20 lakh people is impossibly crowded and laying underground cable is out of the question. Chasing away or trapping the monkeys will outrage residents and temple-goers.
A shortage of electricity is further complicating efforts to set up stable Wi-Fi in public places - daily power cuts can last for hours during the sweltering summer in Varanasi and across much of India.
Modi’s government has pledged to lay 700,000 kms of broadband cable to connect India’s 250,000 village clusters within three years, build 100 new “Smart Cities” by 2020 and shift more public services like education and health to electronic platforms to improve access and accountability.
Bringing some order to chaotic cities with technology is a daunting task.
India’s urban population is forecast to swell by an additional 22 crore to 60 crore by 2031, potentially overwhelming already inadequate infrastructure.
Many of the new digital projects are simply aimed at improving existing civic amenities: time traffic information to help people better plan their journey, or systems that allow individuals to monitor water leakages or waste management and then inform local authorities.