Digital resources should be universally accessible: RS Sharma, secretary, DeitY

Pratap Vikram Singh and Praggya Guptaa | January 27, 2015

An IAS officer of the 1978 batch of Jharkhand cadre, RS Sharma was the director general of UIDAI before joining DeitY. He is the main driving force behind the ambitious Digital India programme. Talking to Pratap Vikram Singh and Praggya Guptaa, Sharma explains the role of his department in providing services and localised content to the rural population over the internet.

How do you plan to address the issue of lack of digital infrastructure?

‘Infrastructure as a utility to every citizen’ is one of the three vision areas of Digital India. A key component of this vision is high-speed internet as a core utility to facilitate online delivery of services. It also aims to set up infrastructure for digital identity, financial inclusion and ensure availability of common service centres.

Through Digital India programme, broadband connectivity will be ensured to every gram panchayat by December 2016 through the national optical fibre network (NOFN). The existing government networks and infrastructure will also be integrated. Additionally, all the government services will be accessible through mobile devices. Around 42,300 villages will be connected through mobile network during 2014-18. Cities with population of over 1 million, and many tourist centers, will have free Wi-Fi hotspots by December 2015. Around 2,50,000 secondary and higher secondary schools will be given free Wi-Fi and broadband facilities.

Public internet access outlets will be strengthened and one common services centre would be built in each gram panchayat by March 2017. Additionally, a total of 1,50,000 post offices will be converted into multi-service centres in next two years. These service centres will play a critical role in spreading digital literacy across remote locations.

Government services will be strengthened and widened. Out of 41 mission mode projects (MMPs), 24 MMPs are providing a wide range of services across various sectors, viz. agriculture, social benefits, road transport, land record, commercial taxes, municipalities, passport and visa. 

By when is the proposed electronic delivery of services legislation expected to become a reality? 

The proposed legislation is expected to become a reality soon after the completion of the required legislative approvals. At present, DeitY is working on a proposed legislation which would mandate provision of electronic delivery of public services to all people within a defined timeframe, to ensure transparency, efficiency, accountability, accessibility and reliability in delivery of such services to the citizens.

How do you plan to provide benefit of Digital India programme to rural residents and non-English, non-Hindi speaking population?

Digital India plans to provide government services in all Indian languages. At DeitY, we have initiated a ‘technology development for Indian languages’ programme for developing information processing tools and techniques to facilitate human-machine interaction without language barriers, creating and accessing multilingual knowledge resources, and integrating them to develop innovative user products and services.

DeitY is also formulating a new mission mode project named as e-Bhasha to help develop and disseminate digital content in local languages to India’s largely non-English speaking population. The disabled friendly content and systems are also being developed as per accessibility standards.

Further, mobile devices will serve as a viable and effective complementary channel for financial inclusion in the rural areas. Our common service centres will play a major role in spreading digital literacy across remote locations. Also, around one crore students from small towns and villages will be given training necessary for IT jobs in the next five years.

Applications related to health, education, etc. have been limited to theories than actual rollout. Is the government thinking about business models and content development in this regard?

Currently, 24 MMPs are operational. Phase I of agriculture MMP has been implemented in centre and several states. In order to widen the scope of agriculture, another MMP, namely, agriculture 2.0 has been approved. The scope of this new MMP is being worked out.

E-health is another MMP. The main services proposed under e-health are: hospital information system, citizen portal, supply chain management, government resource planning and integrated public health solution. The detailed project report is in its final stages. Similarly, ‘education’ is another MMP where work is under progress.

The ‘national career service’ project (employment exchange MMP) envisages skill enhancement, counselling and job assistance. Several career centres would be built as part of this programme, to assist and connect the local youth with all possible job opportunities through the use of technology as well as through counselling and training.

All the MMPs would be expedited, so they start delivering services to the citizens in the earliest possible timeframe. Many applications which were developed a few years back are being revamped with robust architecture and latest technologies. Through Digital India programme, all the government databases and information would be digitised and digital resources would be universally accessible.    

Regarding business models, it is observed that the timeliness of implementation, quality of service and the impact created on the stakeholders has been much better in projects implemented on a PPP or on an outsourced model. MCA 21 and passport seva projects are examples in this regard. Moreover, levying user charges should be the default revenue model, as this will ensure financial sustainability, proper maintenance and upgradation of e-governance projects and service delivery outlets. Wherever possible, a completely operational expenditure-based model should be designed for creation of infrastructure and a cost-per-transaction model for delivery of services. Also, new licensing/operational models will have to be evolved keeping in view the cloud, NII (national information infrastructure), NOFN, egov and mobile app stores that are going to be the new realities.

How can Aadhaar-based digital certification bring a transformation in government and citizen interface? 

Currently, a personal digital signature requires a person’s identity verification and issuance of USB dongle having private key, secured with a password/pin. As per the IT Act, a digital signature certificate (DSC) private key must be stored using secure storage devices like USB tokens, smart cards, etc. This is achieved via issuance of physical tokens, and identity verification is done by validating against an identity document.

DeitY has conceptualised a new project which would provide a scheme by which any Aadhaar holder can digitally sign any document using an online service. This service authenticates the person, does Aadhaar e-KYC, and then digitally signs the input. Such scheme allows DSC to be scaled massively and allows many third party applications to use the service via an open API and integrate DSC into their application.

The service can be used for integrating government document signatures to government e-file and workflow application for signing the documents, signing the tax submission either online or at the accountant’s office, for issuance of e-cheque, whereby an Aadhaar holder could go to micro-ATM and use their fingerprints to create an e-cheque and send it to another person allowing a billion people to issue cheques without any paper!



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