Note: GoCertify India first reported on Digital India in September 2015.
Digital India — the Modi Administration’s nation-wide initiative to make government services available to all citizens via online infrastructure and internet connectivity — was launched to great fanfare in 2015. It is a prodigious undertaking with the lofty goals of 1) connecting all of India to high-speed internet, 2) creating 17 million direct and 85 million indirect jobs, and 3) significantly reducing Indian imports of electronics by promoting and developing manufacturing in country.
The campaign has given hundreds of millions of Indians hope that their lives will be transformed via electronic delivery of financial, health, education, justice, and security services along with a truly massive push for online open courses.
The challenges of connecting every citizen, however, are enormous. It’s going to cost a great deal of money — Rs. 1.13 trillion (approximately $16.5 billion U.S.) — and require even more cooperation between government and private industry.
Well, it’s been almost eight months and it’s time to ask a few questions: What is the status of the campaign? Are expectations being met? Is the progress on track? I recently took a deep dive to discover the current status of the Digital India campaign and here are my findings.
Major Challenges and Cost Tracking
One of the monumental targets for Digital India is bringing high-speed broadband internet to 1.2 billion people. And, it appears that there is still a long way to go for this target to be met. Slightly more than one Indian out of a hundred had broadband access at the end of 2015. Also, one of the most ambitious projects, named BharatNet (previously known as the National Optic Fibre Network), remains a major challenge.
Bharanet’s aim is to connect 250,000 gram panchayats with fiber optic cable with a bandwidth of 100 Mbps by the end of 2016. Thus far, progress has not been spectacular with speeds currently ranging between 2 Mbps and 20 Mbps. On top of that, the final deadline has been pushed back to 2017.
According to figures shared by Mr. Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister for Information Technology and Communications, up until December 2015, relevant work had been done in around 81,000 gram panchayats. However, the target was to work in 100,000 gram panchayats before the end of this financial year, March 31.
Bharanet’s costs have also exceeded the initial estimate of INR 20,000 crore by 75 percent. Clearly, the majority of the work is yet to be done in only 13 months.
Another vital project of the Digital India campaign is the launch of Online Labs (Olabs) for schools. Olabs’ aim is to provide students access to educational content online. The second phase, with an outlay of approximately INR 4.49 crore, is expected to be completed by March 2016. However, the initial outlay of this project was fixed at around INR 8.16 crore in June 2015. If the deadlines are not met according to the plans, then there will likely be a cost overrun for this project.
Another significant challenge is the digitizing and networking of all 155,000 post offices in India and adding all the products to a common database platform.
At the Good Governance Week held during the last week of December 2015, and organized by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), Ms. Kavery Banerjee, the Secretary at the Department of Posts (DoP), said that more than 27,000 departmental post offices have already been networked. This has led to the creation of the single largest wide area network (WAN) in India. Still, with the initial target of providing internet services to all 155,000 post offices by 2017, the challenge to complete the project is immense.
Banerjee also confirmed that her department had plans to successfully roll out core banking and core insurance across all the departmental post offices, along with the setup of 1,000 post-office ATMs by March 2016.
Progress from the Viewpoint of the Modi Administration
According to Telecom Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Digital India campaign has begun to show results. He believes that the bottom of the pyramid has been touched and e-services are gathering momentum. He also confirmed that over 12,000 rural post office branches have been linked digitally and that payment banking would soon become a reality for them.
By linking the various schemes with technology, the government plans to make a nationwide digital village, powered by solar energy, LED lighting, skill development centers and e-services, such as e-health and e-education.
Moreover, Prasad has even highlighted the point that the progressive policies and aggressive focus on “Make in India” have enabled the resurgence of the electronics manufacturing sector. The aggressive implementation of the Digital India projects has also given a major boost to the e-governance project based electronic transactions.
These transactions have almost doubled: the 3.53 billion transactions have increased to 6.95 billion e-government transactions in 2015. Prasad revealed these figures during the i-bharat conference organized by Ficci in January 2016.
Furthermore, apart from the appearance of DeitY at the Good Governance Week, the event also saw active participation from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the DoP as well as their agencies.
During the event, Prasad also pointed out the activities that have witnessed great progress over the last year, such as mobile penetration, internet user base, monthly e-transactions under various e-governance services, the number of ICT-related startups, investments in electronic manufacturing and citizen engagement.
Mood in the IT industry for the Progress Shown by Digital India
Thus far, most industries have reacted positively to the Digital India campaign. This was made evident with the announcement by general industry members that they would invest INR 4.5 crore and even offer employment to more than 18,000 people.
Prominent industrialists have even openly announced their strong economic support for the Digital India campaign. These industrialists, and their pledges, include Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries (INR 250,000 crore), Sunil Mittal’s Bharti Airtel Group (INR 100,000 crore) and KM Birla’s Aditya Birla Group (INR 42,000 crore). In fact, Cyrus Mistry’s Tata Group has committed to hire 60,000 IT professionals, giving the IT industry a major boost.
Even global business leaders see the potential of the Digital India campaign. For example, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, has shown an interest in partnering with India in the Digital India campaign. His company has also offered to set up low-cost broadband technology services in more than 5,000 rural villages across India.
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, has also expressed confidence in India being able to play a significant role in driving technology forward in the future. He expects this will improve the lives of the people in India. Clearly, the talks are being backed by the support from all the corners of the world as far as the IT industry is concerned.
Common Man’s Assessment of Digital India
The Indian government launched a website (MyGov.in) and a mobile app to establish two-way communication between citizens and the government. The response to this has been overwhelming with millions signing up, indicating that Indian citizens are willing to discuss issues and use the platform for the betterment of the country.
The manner in which numerous Digital India mobile app and online portals have been embraced by the common people of India makes us believe that there is widespread hope and support for Digital India. For example, the common man is willing to participate and contribute to the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan app and the DigiLocker app.
At the same time, many people are concerned that Digital India is facing too many challenges and that they will not be able to overcome all of these challenges. However, many believe that the intent is good and that there is hope that the execution will eventually improve.
The World Bank predicts that India will become the world’s fastest-growing major economy by 2018. We will soon have 20 percent of the world’s working-age population with tens of millions entering the job market. Digital India, for all its challenges, is going to play a significant role in helping create jobs for them.
Prime Minister Modi’s government has made a solid start in completing Digital India’s projects. So, we hope that the campaign proves successful in digitally transforming the whole of India.
What is your view about the Digital India campaign? Do you think it will overcome the roadblocks in the future or will the government experience even more challenges? Please let me know by leaving your comments below.