VALPOI/SATTARI: A mere 50 kms from the bustle of Panjim, is a cluster of hilly villages that seem to be stuck in the 1990s, connectivity-wise. When Dashrath Mandrekar, who lives in Valpoi’s Dhavem village, wants to make a phone call, he gets ready, starts his two-wheeler, and rides in the direction of the town, waiting for the network bars on his mobile phone to show up. On a good day, if Mandrekar is lucky, he only has to travel 4 kms before he can place a call.
“My village is only 15 kms away from Valpoi town, but we do not get a single bar of cell service at home. If I need to call in sick for work or download photographs or documents, I have to ride at least 10 minutes to use my phone,” says Mandrekar, who scoffs at the idea of a Digital India. “We have a cell tower near the town, but hardly anybody here has network connectivity,” he says.
Even as the Goa government aims to get the entire State connected on a fibre network for high-speed Internet, and most Goans already enjoy the perks of 5G connectivity. People who live in the forested villages of Sattari taluka have been left in a different time zone, with very little access to the digital world.
Team Herald’s visit to the taluka revealed that most of the conveniences urban Goans take for granted—online bill payments, digital job searches, distance education, news, and social media – are akin to futuristic technology for people from the villages of Sonal, Mollem-Collem, Karanzol, Venus, Marsoidem and Krishnapur.
Being cut off from the outside world was especially difficult during the pandemic lockdown, recounts Ramnath Parab, who lives in Mollem-Collem, around 20 kms from Valpoi. “We were stranded at home, unable to meet anybody, and had no way of knowing how our friends and family were coping. We did not know any of the developments about Covid-19, and it was a tough time for the children and youth of the village,” says Parab.
The situation is no better at Sonal village, located only 12 kms from Valpoi. “Even today, people here walk out of their homes, looking for cell service to send a message or place a call. We have been disconnected for years now, but nobody is able to solve our issue. We have phones for emergencies, but what is the point if there is no network,” says Prashanth Naik.
Without access to digital tools, students from these areas have few options when it comes to pursuing technological studies. “Due to these network issues, even the education of our children becomes outdated, as they are unable to use the net for homework or research. A simple task takes 4 to 5 hours to complete, even if they manage to get cell service,” complains Parab.
“PM Modi has been talking about cashless payments in Digital India. How can we make online payments if there is no connectivity? The State government should understand that even we would like the convenience of making payments at the touch of a button. We want to be included in whatever fibre network plans the State is working on,” he says.
The further one travels from the municipal area, the worse the cell service gets. In Krishnapur, 50 kms away from Valpoi, most families own cell phones, but they are kept locked away, as they do not serve as a medium of entertainment or connectivity, without network. “We have lived for many years without technology, and do not know when we will be able to catch up with the outside world. The worst thing is that our children get left behind. They were unable to attend online schooling during the lockdown, and did not receive any education during those years,” says a Krishnapur local.