Digital India will touch, empower you

The country is all set to embrace a digital revolution which will connect one and all

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RS Sharma | July 1, 2015


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India, 10 years down the line, will be a country where every person will have access to broadband, and all public services will be delivered using mobile and broadband, for example tele-medicine and tele-education. Everyone will be able to conduct online financial transactions using their digital identity, mobile and bank account. In other words, India will largely become a cashless society. People will have a choice in terms of modes of payment, using unified payment architecture being developed by the national payment corporation of India (NPCI).

Thanks to Aadhaar authentication system, people will be able to open their bank accounts from their homes and will be able to conduct other transactions online.  All government services will be available at their doorstep or in their neighbourhood at a reasonable cost. Mobile will become a powerful tool to conduct digital transactions.

One will not have to move from one website to another to interface with different government departments. A single entry point will enable people to interact with the government. Internet of Things (IoT) will transform many areas of life and economy. The initial application for IoT will be smart cities, smart traffic management, pollution detection, agriculture, and irrigation.

Carrying forward the vision of Digital India to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy, the entire programme is divided into three focus areas: digital infrastructure as a utility to citizens, governance and services on demand and digital empowerment of people. All three are required to work together to realise the vision. Digital infrastructure without applications is useless, as much as both these will be worthless if we do not have digitally empowered people.

Digital infrastructure: An utility
Let us have a look at the first component. To ensure that digital infrastructure reaches the citizen as a utility there is a need to have adequate IT infrastructure – including hardware, software platform and broadband connectivity. It also requires physical service delivery centres that are interconnected and within easy reach of citizens. The other key components that will be needed are the soft infrastructure to recognise and facilitate easy access for every citizen, and a safe and secure cyberspace.

One of the key objectives of Digital India programme is a digitally empowered economy where all transactions – be it G2C or B2C or C2C – can be conducted online. In this context, universal access to broadband internet becomes a pre-requisite. Today, in India internet is accessed by just about 20 percent of the population as compared to global penetration of about 42 percent. Of this 20 percent also, the majority of users access internet from their mobile phones, the speed of which is well known! Another way to look at this statistic is that 25 percent of world’s unconnected people live in India. This can be considered both, as a challenge and an opportunity.

To tackle this challenge, the government is implementing Bharat Net, the erstwhile national optical fibre network (NOFN). In last one year, the rollout speed has increased 30 times. However, even this is not good enough to meet the targets set by the prime minister and we need to accelerate. Steps are being taken to fast forward it so as to achieve the target of connecting 2.5 lakh panchayats by the end of 2016.
The second part of enabling digital infrastructure is creating common service centres (CSCs) so that the citizens have an easy access to digital services. The numbers are being increased from current one lakh to 2.5 lakh. It means that every panchayat will have one CSC.

Similarly, around 1.5 lakh rural post offices are also going to be converted into service delivery centres. This will mean that the country will have about four lakh service delivery outlets to provide e-governance and other citizen services including banking, access to e-books and e-health.

Then, there is the need for soft infrastructure that is already being created. This includes digital identity which is unique, online and authenticable. As on date, about 87 crore people have already got Aadhaar. Secondly, there is a need to give citizens easy access to bank account and the success of the Jan-Dhan Yojana is well known. The other critical component is access to mobile phone, which is an important tool for government service delivery. We are nearing one billion mobile phone users in the country. In other words, the Jan-Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile (JAM) trinity is going to provide the true empowerment to people to be included in the digital economy. 

However, there is another critical component that cannot be ignored. If we don’t strengthen our cyber security, our Digital India dream will not materialise. The threat is so dynamic that we have to continuously upgrade our responses to remain safe. A cyber attack can bring to halt several sectors connected on a single network. This includes banking, telecom, railways, aviation and power, among others. We have started procurement of equipments for national malware and botnet protection centre. It will be a cloud-based, online cyber protection system to create a cleaner Digital India. Anyone can plug into the system and get rid of viruses. Soon the multi agency cyber coordination centre will also come up.

Governance and services on demand
Riding on digital infrastructure is governance and services that can be delivered to citizens on demand. To address this area, reforms are being done at policy level, architectural level and service delivery level.

The cabinet has recently approved e-kranti framework, which sets down the broad overarching principles of e-governance application design. The guidelines include that the applications should be based on open standards, should expose open APIs to promote innovations and interoperability and should be mobile-enabled, should offer software as a service (SaaS) rather than the stand alone applications. Applications should be scaleable, cloud-enabled and, to the extent possible, based on open source. The essential idea is that we must create an ecosystem of applications that can talk with each other so that the citizen experience of approaching and interfacing with the government is seamless and pleasant.

There are 31 mission mode projects under the national e-governance plan (NeGP), which was approved in 2006. Out of these, 24 are delivering services at present. Unfortunately, the applications in many of the MMPs have architectural issues, the reason being that they have been developed many years back. Now, we are re-engineering all the applications so as to make them compliant to the e-kranti framework.

While we have been extensively working on the existing MMPs to re-engineer them, we have also been developing a number of new products which conform to these architectural principles. National scholarship portal, attendance portal, platform for digital books and e-hospitals are few examples. The e-hospital platform will allow patient to register online for OPD appointment. It will also enable them to check, for example availability of blood or medicines and give instant access to medical records.

The government has also brought reforms in service delivery through Aadhaar-based direct benefit transfer (DBT). DBT is being used in distribution of LPG subsidy and payments under national social assistance programme (NSAP), among other schemes.

Using Aadhaar, we have also introduced electronic signature or e-sign. It essentially enables one to digitally sign a document without using the traditional digital signature dongle. It is a transaction-based solution rather than capex based.

Another key service delivery platform that will be extended to citizens is the digital locker. This is a repository of digitally signed documents (through online Aadhaar authentication) extended to citizens. Digital locker provides shareable private space of a public cloud to any Aadhaar holder. For example, consider a case where Aadhaar number is provided during course or exam enrolment. As soon as the result is generated, the marksheet will be pushed to that person’s digital locker. When I share with you my marksheet, I am actually sharing a link, which takes you to the repository.

Digital empowerment of people
On top of the pyramid in Digital India framework is digital empowerment of people. This comes from providing a cradle-to-grave digital unique identity, digital literacy and universal access to digital resources, and portability of all entitlements through cloud.

India is on a very strong wicket in terms of digital identity through Aadhaar. Aadhaar is the first initiative worldwide that provides identity through effective use of biometric technology, which is at the heart of Aadhaar. Biometric serves two basic purposes in Aadhaar. The first one is to ensure uniqueness during enrolment and the second is to enable online authentication.

In terms of digital access, we have introduced a range of programmes varying from basic literacy (DISHA) to the high-end capacity building. The idea is to enable people to access and demand electronic delivery of services. 

Using Aadhaar-based digital authentication, the government has made entitlements portable. Once entitlement portability becomes a reality, one can get ration from any shop irrespective of geography. The portability increases competition between service providers and gives citizens more bargaining power. Andhra Pradesh has implemented this in one of the districts recently.

Lastly, India has to be self reliant in electronics manufacturing. At present, we effectively meet only 10 percent of our domestic demand. There are a number of incentives which are being given to the industry to attract domestic manufacturing in electronics. Our target is to achieve net-zero import by 2022.

To conclude, India today is at the tipping point where technology has to be leveraged more holistically to meet the aspirations of its 1.2 billion citizens. Digital India programme is about erasing the demarcation line between digital haves and have-nots so that the government and its services reach the doorsteps of every citizen and create a long-lasting and spiralling developmental impact.

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