“Digital connectivity should become as much a basic right as access to school“. -PM Modi at the 102nd Indian Science Congress in Mumbai.
One of the major policy thrust areas for the Modi government since it came to power is the creation of a ‘Digital India’.
What is Digital India?
According to the government’s press release, it is “a programme to transform India into a digital empowered society and knowledge economy”. Through this description, we can see that Digital India is an all encompassing vision of a futuristic Indian society and economy rather than a single scheme. Digital India is envisioned by DietY(Department of Electronics and Information Technology) which would be coordinating the transformative change through various departments and ministries.
There are three sub parts of the overarching vision of Digital India
It is a great sign for the future of the country, that the government designated digital infrastructure as a basic utility to be provided to citizens. Key infrastructure is being created through many initiatives including expanding the reach of National optical fibre network which is now renamed BharatNet, conducting a transparent spectrum auction, launching communication satellites, creation of key financial public infrastructure(RuPay, infra for rolling out UID) etc.
Creation of digital infrastructure is not sufficient, citizens need to be empowered to utilize them. This calls for efforts to achieve universal digital literacy and providing access to internet at an affordable price. Quality broadband connection needs to be provided at affordable prices if not for free(till a limit, like AAP is doing for water in Delhi) and the devices like mobile phones, PCs through which people connect to the digital world needs to be cheaper. This can be done by encouraging local manufacturing and competition between players. Other initiatives to digitally empower citizens include use of vernacular languages for providing government services and information to citizens, encouraging participative governance using digital tools, using open source development for government platforms etc
The third and the most important sub-part of ‘Digital India’ is E-governance. It is the use of digital tools to govern and provide services to people.
Technology driven E-Governance can fundamentally transform India in many ways:
Linking of bank accounts with Aadhaar number and transferring entitlements like pension, scholarships directly in to peoples’ accounts would undercut harassment from corrupt middle men, this is especially important for MGNREGA( Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act) wages payments. Similarly the present system of disbursement of subsidies is very inefficient in India, many deserving citizens lose out while others who do not deserve subsidies get them. This inefficiency can be weeded out by linking the UID(unique identification number) with the Socio-economic caste census that is being carried out to identify the deserving beneficiaries and transferring them subsidies. This would also help government to reach it’s fiscal deficit targets.
One of the worrying aspects of Indian economy is the high percentage of black economy. By promoting cash less transfers digitally like in developed countries, money could be accounted and its trail can be traced easily. This would give less incentive for hoarding of black money as using of such any black money would be immediately traced out.
Carrying paper less work in government offices by utilising digital technologies is not only environmentally sustainable but would increase efficiency and accountability in government offices.
In the last two years, there have been a lot of questions over transparency in governance especially about the mis-allocation of natural resources to private players. E-Governance would increase transparency in government processes in many ways like conducting auctions & bidding via online.
Intelligent use of E-Governance could improve India’s dismal rank in Ease of doing business. According to World bank, India is ranked at 146 out of 189 countries in terms of ease of doing business. For a country who is persuading MNCs to ‘Make in India’, this rank is a significant liability. By shifting many of the process and compliance certificates online, the time and cost it takes to start a business in India would come down. A single window type website which makes it easy to get permissions and explains all the rules and regulations in a simple manner would ease the experience of doing business in India.
India performs lower than Sub-Saharan countries in some of the health indicators, according to UN reports. One of the reasons for this is the low doctor to population ratio and the lack of medical facilities in remote areas. To solve this problem, ‘Tele-medicine’ could be an effective solution which requires quality digital infra at rural places. Other technological solutions to make it affordable and easier to take medical tests and self-monitor themselves(mobile devices that can be used to check heart rate, BP, conduct blood test etc) could improve health conditions in the country.
E-governance could also help in better law and order administration. Digitizing police records and linking their databases to create a national database(see: Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems) on crime would help police and intelligence agencies to nab criminals easily. Similarly filing FIR online and tracking of the case’s status digitally will empower citizen to seek justice. Our judicial system which is overburdened and snail paced could take help from digitization to speed up its work and become efficient.
I had a personal experience with digital tools used in disaster management which saved many lives. I am from Vishakapatnam which got devastated by Hudhud cyclone a few months ago. Although there was huge material damage with most of the city losing its green cover and all communication channels getting cut off for two weeks, only a few human lives were lost. A cyclone with similar intensity had hit Odisha in 1999 which led to more than 10,000 deaths. The minimization of loss of life this time is attributed to better disaster preparedness and management in which use of digital tools played a major role. After the cyclone hit the city, there was no power and all communication channels with outside world got cut. Government had used the Mass Messaging Application developed by DietY to give timely updates and information on do’s and don’ts during the cyclone to people through SMSs. The most vital information was about the ‘eye of the cyclone’ when there would be relative calm and it appears as though the cyclone had passed away. But it is a temporary phase and the retreating cyclone would be more intense. Government asked people to stay inside their homes and warned of the retreating cyclone, without this, there would have been more loss of human lives. Some people who had access to internet used them to give updates on Twitter about the situation which helped in rescue operations.
Digital tools could be used to provide simple solutions to big governance problems also. For example, Indian railways is one of the most unhygienic transport systems in the world. IRCTC could provide an option in their mobile ‘app’ for travelling passengers to click photos of any uncleanliness or unhygienic food and upload it as a complaint. As the uploaded photo has geo-spatial information and the time of its upload, it could be held as proof to take action against those responsible and such complaints can immediately be rectified during the journey itself when the train stops at the next station.
India people have high awareness of politics and as was seen in the last elections, people are more concerned with issues of governance and economy than about religion or caste based politics. In order to reach their expectations e-Governance is the only way forward to provide good governance and transforming India in to a knowledge economy to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Also e-Governance could be used to politically empower people through participative governance(see: MyGov.in).
In this way e-Governance along with the other pillars of Digital India namely digital infrastructure and digital empowerment of citizens, could transform India.
How is Intel supporting ‘Digital India’?
Like many global technology giants, Intel has also expressed its commitment to Digital India programme. Intel is synonymous with innovation and is a leader in digital technologies. India needs partners like Intel to support its endeavour of becoming a fully digital country.
Intel is a perfect partner for Digital India as it can contribute to all three sub parts of Digital India namely, digital infrastructure, e-Governance and digital empowerment.
Intel and Digital Infrastructure
Majority of personal computers and laptops in the world use Intel’s Micro Processors and Chips. Intel is collaborating with partners like Lenovo to produce affordable tablets and mobile phones. Such affordable digital tools are necessary for people to access the digital world. Government’s digital infrastructure heavily relies on cloud computing in which Intel is a pioneer. Similarly it’s McAfee software provides cyber security to our digital infra.
There is however one major hurdle for India’s Digital India plan, which is import dependency for electronic products(see my next article for details). Lack of semiconductor manufacturing plants is one of reasons for absence of other electronics industries in India. Intel being one of the largest semiconductor manufacturing organization in the world, India needs to persuade Intel to set up a FaB plant here which would kick start our electronics industry.
Intel and Digital empowerment:
Intel is directly contributing to Digital India through many initiatives for the digital empowerment of people. It recently started a digital literacy programme called ‘Digital Skills for India’ program, through which it hopes to train at least 5 million people in the country by this year end. It launched a mobile application that would enable digital skills training in five Indian languages for free. It would soon launch a similar offline programme for digital literacy. It is collaborating with Bharat Broadband Network Limited to build training capacity by giving training to the first 1,000 Panchayats under the National Optic Fiber Network.
For the success of e-Governance programme, a robust digital infrastructure needs to be put in place and citizens need to be digitally empowered to take advantage of such governance and services provided digitally. Thus by supporting the other two sub-parts, Intel is indirectly helping with e-Governance part of Digital India. It is also directly contributing to e-Governance by encouraging innovation in the country through the launch of ‘Innovate for India Challenge’. This challenge hopefully would produce unique solutions using digital technology to governance problems of the country. Intel India is also working for frugal and India specific technologies to solve our problems. For example, its researchers have developed a device called ‘LifePhonePlus‘, which allows people to take an ECG, monitor their blood-glucose levels and seek a specialist’s advice without travelling anywhere. Digital India programme needs many more such technology led solutions to India’s myriad problems.