New Delhi: The government has set a target of creating 1 lakh digital villages in the next five years with an aim to foster financial inclusion, said finance minister Piyush Goyal while presenting the budget on Friday.

Digital villages are an integral scheme linked with the Digital India initiative, which aims to provide a platform for availability of services such as telemedicine, tele-education, LED street lighting, wi-fi and skill development to the people at the gram panchayat level across the country.

The finance minister praised the work done by Common Service Centres (CSCs) towards creation of such villages. CSCs are access points with basic computing infrastructure run and operated by a local entrepreneur who lives in the community.

In 2014 there were only 84,000 CSCs. Today, their number has increased to more than 3 lakh. Of these, 2 lakh and 12,000 centres have been set up in village panchayats, President Ram Nath Kovind said on Thursday in his address to the joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.

While announcing the budget, Goyal also said the government would launch a national programme to promote the use of artificial intelligence (AI).

“A national programme on artificial intelligence has been envisaged. Nine priority areas have been identified to promote the development of AI. A national AI portal will be developed," he said.

Last year, while presenting the budget for 2018-19, former finance minister Arun Jaitley had also announced a similar programme, which was executed by the Niti Aayog. Over the last two years, the government has been actively promoting the use of AI. Last year, the IT ministry had set up four committees to encourage research related to AI headed by directors of Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Nasscom and eminent researchers to develop citizen-centric use cases.

Goyal also praised the role of the unique identity number in accelerating financial inclusion in the country. “Aadhaar ensuring poor, middle class receive government benefits directly," he added, while praising the Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) trinity – an initiative by the government to link Jan Dhan accounts, mobile numbers and Aadhaar numbers in order to plug leakages in government subsidies.

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