Is Digital India essentially about the widespread and growing usage of mobile, computer, internet and social media? Or is it much more?
In 2006, the Government of India launched the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). People took little notice of it due to poor internet-penetration in rural areas as well as poor internet coverage and speeds.
Those who dreamt big such as the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh were eventually voted out as they were deemed to be out of sync with the aspirations of the people at large. Some people realised that it was going to be a significant trend in the future but in the absence of means, the ends sought were far too lofty to be realistic.
On July 1, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the Digital India campaign. The plan introduced in 2006 was just a vision. But the Digital India campaign takes into consideration the need to set up the right electronic infrastructure including availability of high-speed internet, extensive rural and urban penetration, and technical excellence and support.
The Digital India programme is a flagship programme of the Government of India with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
Simply put, it has 3 Objectives based on 9 pillars.
The objectives are as follows:
- Provide access to digital infrastructure to every citizen
- Provide governance and services on demand
- Digital empowerment to every citizen
So how will this vision become a reality?
Many cynics would wonder how these objectives can be met by just using advanced internet and data services. The plan was to deliver this using the nine pillars of Digital India:
Here are some key projects under the Digital India programme:
- Digital Locker System aims to minimize the usage of physical documents and enable sharing of e-documents across agencies. The sharing of e-documents will be done through registered repositories, thereby ensuring the authenticity of the documents online.
- MyGov.in has been implemented as a platform for citizen engagement in governance, through a “Discuss”, “Do” and “Disseminate” approach. The mobile app for MyGov would bring these features to users on a mobile phone.
- Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) mobile app would be used by people and government organisations for achieving the goals of the programme.
- eSign framework would allow citizens to digitally sign a document online using Aadhaar authentication.
- The Online Registration System (ORS) under the e-hospital application has been introduced. This application provides important services such as online registration, payment of fees and appointment, online diagnostic reports, enquiring about availability of blood online etc.
- National Scholarships Portal is a one-stop solution for end-to-end scholarship process, right from submission of student application to verification, sanction and disbursal to end beneficiary for all the scholarships provided by the Government of India.
- DeitY has undertaken an initiative namely Digitise India Platform (DIP) for large scale digitisation of records in the country that would facilitate efficient delivery of services to the citizens.
- The Government of India has undertaken an initiative namely Bharat Net – a high speed digital highway to connect all 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats of the country. This would be the world’s largest rural broadband connectivity project using optical fibre.
- BSNL has introduced Next Generation Network (NGN), to replace 30 year old exchanges. NGN is an IP-based technology to manage all types of services like voice, data, multimedia/video and other types of packet-switched communication services.
- BSNL has undertaken large scale deployment of Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the country. Users can latch on to the BSNL Wi-Fi network through their mobile devices.
- To deliver citizen services electronically and improve the way citizens and authorities transact with each other, it is imperative to have ubiquitous connectivity. The government also realises this need as reflected by the inclusion of ‘broadband highways’ as one of the pillars of Digital India. While connectivity is one criterion, enabling and providing technologies to facilitate delivery of services to citizens forms the other.
Impact of Digital India on the common man
According to Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi:
“We launched Digital India with a very simple focus – to ensure that more people can benefit from the joys of technology, especially in rural areas. Due to technology, railway tickets can be booked online, bills can be paid online…all this brings great convenience. We ensured that the advantages of technology are not restricted to a select few but for all sections of society.”
The PM said that his government has strengthened the network of common services centres (CSCs) all over the country to help people connect with the government and avail the benefits of the schemes. Around 2.92 lakh CSCs are now providing various digital services like payment of utility bills, railway ticket booking, banking services, pension services, tele-medicine, digital literacy etc. across 2.15 lakh Gram Panchayats for the benefit of common people.”
- More than 12,000 rural post office branches have been linked digitally and payment banking would soon become a reality for them.
- The government also plans to make digital villages across the country, by linking all schemes with technology. The ‘digital village’ would be powered by LED lighting, solar energy, skill development centres and e-services like e-education and e-health.
- Electronic transactions related to e-governance projects in the country have proliferated following the Digital India Programme.
- The progressive policies and aggressive focus on Make in India have played a significant role in the resurgence of the electronics manufacturing sector including manufacturing of mobile phones.
Some of the major areas where Digital India has impacted the lives of common citizens are as follows:
Economic impact: Analysts project that the Digital India initiative could boost GDP by upto US$ 1 trillion by 2025. It can play a key role in macroeconomic factors such as GDP growth, employment generation, labour productivity, growth in number of businesses and revenue leakages for the government.
As per a World Bank report, a 10% increase in mobile and broadband penetration raises the per capita GDP by 0.81% and 1.38% respectively in developing countries. India is the 2nd largest telecom market in the world with 915 million wireless subscribers and the 3rd largest internet market with almost 259 million broadband users.
There is still a huge economic opportunity as tele-density in rural India is only 45%, where more than 65% of the population lives. Future growth of the telecommunications industry in terms of number of subscribers is expected to come from rural areas, as urban areas are saturated with a tele-density of more than 160%.
Social & agricultural impact: Social sectors such as education, healthcare and banking are
unable to reach out to citizens due to obstructions and limitations such as middlemen, illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, lack of funds, information and investments. These challenges have led to imbalanced growth in rural and urban areas with marked differences in the economic and social status of the people in these areas.
Modern ICT makes it easier for people to obtain access to services and resources. The penetration of mobile devices may be highly useful as a complementary channel for public service delivery apart from creation of entirely new services. This could in turn have an enormous impact on the quality of life of users and lead to social modernisation.
The poor literacy rate in India is prominently due to unavailability of physical infrastructure in rural and remote areas. This is where m-education services can play an important role by reaching remote masses. According to estimates, digital literacy in India is just 6.5% and internet penetration is 20.83 in a population of 100.
The Digital India project will be helpful in providing real-time education and partly address the challenge of lack of teachers in the education system through smart and virtual classrooms. Education to farmers, fishermen, etc can be provided through mobile devices. The high-speed network can provide adequate infrastructure for online education platforms like massive open online courses (MOOCs).
Mobile and internet banking can improve financial inclusion in the country and create a win-win situation for all parties in the value chain by creating an interoperable ecosystem and revenue sharing business models. Telecom operators get additional revenue streams while the banks can reach new customer groups, incurring the lowest possible costs.
Factors such as a burgeoning population, poor doctor-patient ratio (1:870), high infant mortality rate, increasing life expectancy, fewer quality physicians and a majority of the population living in remote villages, support and justify the need for tele-medicine in the country. M-health can promote innovation and enhance the reach of healthcare services.
Digital platforms can help farmers in know-how (crop choice, seed variety), context (weather, plant protection, cultivation best practices) and market information (market prices, market demand, logistics).
Environmental impact: Major changes in the technology space will not only bring transformation in the economy, but will also contribute to environmental changes.
Next generation technologies will help in lowering the carbon footprint by reducing fuel consumption, waste management, greener workplaces and thus lead to a greener ecosystem. The ICT sector helps in efficient management and usage of scarce and non-renewable resources.
Cloud computing technology minimises carbon emissions by improving mobility and flexibility. Energy consumption can be decreased from 201.8 terawatt hour (TWh) in 2010 to 139.8 TWh in 2020 with higher adoption of cloud data centres, causing a 28% reduction in carbon footprint from 2010 levels.
A digitally connected India can help in improving social and economic conditions of people through development of non-agricultural economic activities apart from providing access to key services including education, health and financial services.
However, some experts also caution that ICT alone cannot directly lead to overall development of the nation. To ensure overall growth and development, supporting and enhancing elements such as literacy, basic infrastructure, overall business environment, regulatory environment, etc also need to be leveraged.
So Digital India does not take away from the importance and the much needed focus on basic infrastructure development in areas like education, healthcare and financial services.