The need to make every Indian citizen realize the power of the internet recently received a major fillip as the national government, led by honorable Prime Minister Narendra Modi, initiated a flagship program called “Digital India,” an honest attempt to integrate government departments and the India people. Digital India strives to ensure that government services are available to all citizens electronically by establishing a strong electronic connection between the people of India and the government as it strives to become more transparent, participative and responsive.
Overview and Scope
Modi often quotes a simple formula: “IT + IT = IT (India’s Talent + Information Technology = India of Tomorrow). As simple and straightforward as Modi’s formula may be, the audaciousness of Digital India is anything but. Its scope is huge — to bring internet access to 800 million rural citizens as a way to serve them better, drive internet usage and kick the economy upward.
Digital India plans to bring about a transformation of the nation into a digitally empowered society and knowledge-based economy, using the power of IT. The aim is to reduce paperwork by building a smooth digital interface for all e-governance services, consisting of education, banking, health care and more, that can be provided to Indians on demand.
The three main areas of focus under the Digital India campaign are:
- Creation of a digital infrastructure as an important utility for every citizen
- Provision of governance and services digitally
- Increased digital literacy and empowerment of citizens
It’s estimated that Digital India will increase the country’s GDP by between 20 and 30 percent by 2025. The widespread integration of technology into key economic sectors — infrastructure, energy, financial, agriculture, healthcare, and education — will provide a positive impact of $550 billion to $1 trillion (U.S.) to the Indian economy annually by 2025!
Digital India is monitored by the Digital India Advisory Group and is scheduled to be completed by 2019, arguably a very short time to achieve its objectives.
Challenges for Digital India and the Role of IT
Ironically, India is already the IT hub of the world: Indian companies and workers have solved some of the biggest IT problems in history. Still, Digital India is a monumental undertaking for the Modi administration, made more so by our demographic challenges. The population explosion and illiteracy are just two of the major obstacles. Four billion people in the world lack internet access, and 25 percent of them live in rural areas of India. About 37 percent of adult Indians (287 million) are illiterate, and 33 percent of our population is younger than 15 years, including 50 percent who are younger than 24 years.
India is also extremely culturally diverse — we have 22 officially recognized languages! Helping all these people develop electronic literacy is going to take some serious effort. IT of course will play a significant role in reaching out to every Indian via mobile phones and the smart apps designed for them.
Mobile access to the internet is actually a positive aspect of the challenge. More Indians, especially those older than 50, are using internet-connected phones to stay in touch with friends and family. In 2014, more than 70 million iPhones were sold in India.
Digital India also faces significant challenges in ensuring online security as more people take to the internet to request e-governance services. The shift toward mobile governance relies on the able shoulders of India’s IT companies to protect our data.
Because Indians will only start to learn about the internet as they get access to it, one of the most important challenges facing Digital India is to establish high-speed internet networks throughout the country, especially in rural areas where little to no IT infrastructure exists. To achieve this broadband coverage alone it is estimated that more than 150,000 towers will need to be constructed. (The challenges of right-of-way issues will be significant.) A positive aspect of the buildout is that it will be a significant boost to the economy, as hardware manufacturers and telecom and IT service firms get involved.
Cost is another significant hurdle — Digital India is estimated to cost approximately Rs. 113,000 crore (equivalent to 1,130 billion rupees). On top of these challenges is the ticking of the clock — Digital India has just four years left to prove its worth.
An Encouraging Start for Digital India
Clearly it will require a herculean national effort to make Digital India work. Fortunately, India and Indians are capable of great things. (We are, after all, the people who caused “Alexander the Great” to rethink his world-conquering tendencies.) And the movement is off to a good start, with the inauguration of “Digital India Week” by Mr. Modi in July 2015.
Modi has boosted the confidence of Indians by committing to an investment of approximately Rs. 450, 000 crore for this campaign. As per the top Indian CEOs who attended this event, “The investments will be used to make mobile devices, including smartphones, at cheap prices in India itself.” This will ensure jobs are generated for Indians and help reduce the costs incurred for importing such mobile devices from foreign countries.
Modi also stressed the need to move from e-governance towards m-governance and added “m-governance does not mean Modi governance. It means mobile governance.”
Seeing the financial potential of Digital India, private entities are lining up in support. Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries, India’s second-largest company by revenue, recently revealed plans to invest Rs. 250,000 crore for different aspects of the initiative. He even announced the set-up of “Jio Digital India Start-Up Fund” which aims to motivate young entrepreneurs for starting businesses revolving around this campaign.
An official online portal for Digital India has been made available. This serves as a perfect platform to educate Indians about the initiative, receive valuable inputs and ideas from them, share the roadmap towards digital empowerment and complete similar activities.
Still, even the best government program is destined to fail without the support of the people. Along this line, perhaps most promising sign of all is that Indian IT professionals have helped to build several Digital India apps and products that can be used on mobile devices. These include:
This app empowers citizens to participate in government policy making processes with their unique ideas or suggestions.
This app has been developed to assist citizens and government organizations for any issues or challenges faced while executing tasks for the Swachh Bharat campaign.
This is a great product to enable citizens to store and share important documents, like passports, pan cards and educational certificates, online across agencies.
This helps in the quick issuance process for birth certificates, marriage certificates and domicile certificates along with the quick registration for driving licenses, mobile SIM cards, LPG connections, and so on.
Indians can register online and make use of the online appointment booking services, pay fees, keep track of their diagnostic reports and even check the availability of blood.
Citizens can use this online product to digitally sign documents. It can also be used to verify and authenticate signatures.
This enables authorized online tracking and disbursement of scholarships to the bank accounts of deserving students.
Private organizations like the Centre for Flexible Electronics and the Centre of Excellence for IoT (Internet of Things) have also been initiated to promote innovation and technological advancement. BharatNet serves as the world’s largest broadband connectivity project in rural areas, using optical fiber for establishing connections across 2.5 lac Village Gram Panchayats. In order to fulfil the goal of providing broadband internet access on the move, BSNL has already launched 78 Wi-Fi hotspots in around six Indian cities with plans to launch 2,500 Wi-Fi hotspots next year.
A Digitize India platform was recently launched to motivate citizens through monetary rewards if they help government agencies digitally transform by reducing the piles of physical documents in their offices. Several proactive Indians have already started participating in the process of digitization of scanned document images or physical documents of organizations via this platform.
It is clear from the above that India, through the Digital India campaign, is on the cusp of a great digital movement. Are we prepared for it and do you think it can give India the much-awaited edge? Please let us know in the comments below and thanks for reading!