Every government has a project or initiative that, after a certain period of time, becomes its identity and progress report card. For the current PM Narendra Modi-led government, this project for India has been the marquee initiative titled “Digital India.”
The Digital India program was launched in July 2015, with the objectives of offering seamless e-Governance services available on demand, providing infrastructure as a utility to every citizen, bringing about digital empowerment of citizens and more.
As part of this highly ambitious project of the Modi Administration, the last year saw an increased focus on the Indian government to provide:
- Internet access across rural and urban regions of India;
- Digital lockers for verifying documents;
- e-Governance as well as government services; and
- More cashless and electronic transactions across India.
But, where do we stand with regard to the Digital India campaign? What progress has been made, and what significant roadblocks lie ahead?
In order to get answers to these queries and more, let us take an in-depth look at the Digital India initiative and the related accomplishments.
- Launch of the MyGov.in portal, with more than 19 lac citizens interacting on it.
- Establishment of BharatNet for the distribution of broadband connectivity, using fibre cable technology.
- Training of 55 lac people under the digital literacy programme and allotment of INR 6 crores for the programme, during the last budget.
- Enrollment of 15 lac pensioners onto the biometric-enabled digital service, Jeevan Pramaan.
- Initiation of the E-sign framework to digitally sign documents.
- Generation of interest among Silicon Valley tech giants, such as Google, Microsoft, Qualcom and Cisco, to participate in the Digital India and Smart City projects.
- Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) to undertake large-scale deployment of WiFi hotspots across India.
- Introduction of the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) by National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) to enable citizens to carry out instant push and pull transactions without issues.
- Launch of an exclusive job portal dedicated to the differently abled people.
- Kickstart of Mahila-E-Haat programme and encouragement of aspiring women entrepreneurs.
- Introduction of free “mobile TV” by a public broadcaster, Doordarshan, to air free TV content on mobile phones across 16 cities initially (without any internet connection).
Campaign Status and Progress Report
Some of the Digital India programme goals may not be easily achieved by 2019-20. The initial phase to kick start new initiatives has been difficult and it will get even more so as the deadline looms.
So, if we go by the figures (as detailed hereunder) and compare them with the targets, it may seem that the campaign is lagging behind. But, the progress is still significant and it is sure to help bring about digital empowerment in the lives of millions of Indians by the time it comes to an end.
Let us track the progress until June-July 2016 below:
- According to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2016 report, India has raised their rank by 12 places from rank 142 (in 2015) to rank 130 (in 2016), showcasing tremendous improvement rarely seen in an economy as large as India’s and within such a short timeframe. The two major contributors towards this improvement in rank for India have been the greater ease of starting a business (through the elimination of the minimum capital requirement and the need of a certificate to start business operations) as well as greater availability of electricity.
- The extensive use of the eBiz portal (India’s single window government to business online platform) helped to provide more eGovernance services on demand. The portal now offers more than 16 services, against the 12 that it offered initially. It has contributed to reducing the average time it takes to start a business in India from more than 30 days to an average of only 29 days.
- BharatNet aims to connect 2,50,000 gram panchayats across India. As per this scheme, the OFC pipe laid (till July 2016) is around 1,40,742 km (against 2,292 km in 2014), while the OFC fibre laid is approximately 1,12,871 km (against 358 km in 2014). It has offered optical fibre connectivity to around 48,199 gram panchayats so far.
- This campaign has managed to make the internet reach out to around 40 crore Indian citizens, while the number of broadband users has increased to 12.088 crore.
- Out of the 40,000 WiFi hotspots planned by BSNL for important locations across India, it has managed to commission around 2,504 WiFi hotspots at 1,227 locations.
- The number of Common Service Centres (CSCs) has rose from 80,000 (before this digital movement) to around 1,66,000.
- Digitisation of around 21,319 post offices has occurred, out of a target of 1,55,000 post offices.
As a lot of funds will be required to make the Digital India program a success in the coming years, Modi and his government have managed to get top CEOs interested in this campaign and plan for the investment of approximately $67 billion U.S. to manufacture mobile phones and internet devices at a cheap rate.
Major Roadblocks and Probable Solutions for the Digital India Campaign
There are a number of hurdles that could possibly reduce the pace at which the Indian government executes the Digital India program or even bring it to a halt. Also, we will check if any potential measures are possible or “under implementation” to overcome the difficulties.
Unclear eCommerce Policies
The IT industry body National Association of Software Services Companies (NASSCOM) believes that the many policy decisions about the eCommerce industry do not always seem to encourage online shopping or selling in India, which forms a crucial part of the Digital India campaign as it encourages citizens to use the internet excessively.
NASSCOM president, R. Chandrashekhar, is of the opinion that GST laws in their present form may prove to be a major hindrance to the goals of the Digital India programme. According to him, the GST regime aims to make the whole regulatory environment easier for everyone. However, the current GST framework focuses on taxing goods and makes it difficult for service providers, especially from the IT industry, to handle registrations and returns filing.
The Digital India campaign has ensured the roll-out of high-speed broadband connectivity in various regions of India, including the rural areas, under the BharatNet programme. But, there are too many practical issues for a country as spread out as India, hence the fiber technology roll-out pace is a bit slow.
As per the President of Broadband India Forum, TV Ramachandran, satellite communication should be used by the government for this roll-out and it will assist the traditional fibre technology as well as increase the pace.
One of the major challenges for the Digital India programme from the start has been to increase digital literacy. Even after making the internet available and offering low-cost computing devices the question remains, will the citizens use the internet? This question persists even today as there is little demand seen for state-offered broadband internet and even less interest in booking rail tickets online or checking mark sheets over the internet.
To overcome this hurdle, a Digital Literacy Mission with estimates of about INR 1,800 crore ($26.5 crore) is in the pipeline to train 6 crore rural people (at INR 300 for training one person).
Also, earlier this year, Intel India initiated three projects to accelerate digital literacy and upskill people at the grassroots level (non-urban regions, tier two cities and beyond).
It is clear that the Modi administration has been putting in a lot of effort to make the Digital India campaign work. Though the goals may seem a bit far-fetched at the moment, the progress made has been commendable compared to the digital situation in India prior to this campaign.
It will be interesting to see if the government is able to fast track the key measures to enable timely achievement of all the objectives of the Digital India initiative.