Mission (Im)Possible

Digital India has the potential to change the course of Indian history. Only, a holistic approach is called for

Anwar Shirpuwala | March 7, 2017


#information technology   #MeitY   #e-kranti   #right to internet   #broadband   #JAM   #Digital India  



The Digital India programme aims to transform the country into a digitally empowered society. But can this programme be successful with only a few projects being implemented or piloted at a few places as early harvest programme? The initiative needs a holistic approach in implementation rather than banking on limited successes of a few projects.

Though its initiatives like government e-marketplace, MyGov portal, DigiLocker, JAM (Jan-Dhan, Aadhaar, mobile), PM app, National Digital Literacy Mission and online appointments with select hospitals are commendable, yet no national framework has been evolved so far. There exists a scope for improvement in each of its nine pillars. 
 
 
Pillar 1: Broadband highways 
  • It envisages connecting villages through the Universal Service Obligation Fund. The fund is given to Bharat Broadband Network Limited, which in-turn passes resources to BSNL, RAILTEL and Power Grid – the actual executing agencies. Such an institutional framework may have its challenges. Because of this the BharatNet (NOFN) project is not on time and its timeline has been changed again and again.
  • The objectives of BharatNet need to be relooked. The various networks created by the government and the private sector need to be interconnected and a National Information Infrastructure should be evolved. 
  • The government must work towards providing a solution to citizens through Bharat Network and not just laying cables.
     
Pillar 2: Universal access to phones
  • Though mobile networks have reached most populated parts of India, last mile connectivity is an issue. As per the government’s own estimates, over 55,619 villages are outside the reach of mobile signals. 
  • Mobile towers and infrastructure are at risk in insurgency-affected areas like J&K, the northeast, and parts of Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The ministry of home affairs, along with home departments of state governments, should support connectivity in these regions.
  • The government should ensure that the players in the telecom industry do not bust like some players in aviation and for that a health checkup of the telecom industry is must as per spectrum licence conditions of DoT.
 
Pillar 3: Public internet access 
  • The government plans to provide internet access through common services centres (CSCs) and post offices. It has established 2,00,000 CSCs and plans to increase the number to 2,50,000. But the issue of financial sustainability of CSCs exists due to lack of services. In select states CSCs are successful, but this needs to be replicated across India.
  • Out of 1,54,882 post offices, 1,39,182 (89.86%) are situated in rural regions, which are managed by gramin dak sewaks, who have only basic qualification and no technical knowledge. Therefore, capacity building in digital literacy is needed.
     

Pillar 4: E-governance

  • These projects will not succeed with just front-end digitisation. The processes and services must include digitising databases, online applications and tracking, online repositories and internal workflow automation. Though every project has been piloted, the task that is pending is to take successful pilot projects, replicate and scale them up.
  • No audit of digital records or lack of enough processes that allow creation of digital records.
  • Buying hardware and setting up channels years ahead of any application in sight has resulted in the infrastructure of State Wide Area Networks and State Data Centres becoming obsolete and majority of the private players have lost money due to lack of any applications. 
  • Each state is reinventing the wheel and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) state units have developed different versions of solutions for the same problems. 
  • State e-Governance Mission Teams drawing professionals from the industry is a step in the right direction.
  • The role of NIC should be defining standards and encouraging private sector to develop applications. Also, all states need to develop state-centric IT procurement manuals to speed up IT procurement.
  • The e-governance projects should be implemented and treated as prime projects for deployment of digitisation. The government should identify mission leaders for each project. It should ensure that funds are utilised for specific objectives and not diverted. There should be sharing and leveraging of best practices of one state or a central department with other departments. 
     
 
Pillar 5: E-kranti (NEGP 2.0)
  • Currently, 44 mission mode projects (MMPs) are being implemented. The scale of these is so large that most of them have remained as pilots only.
  • Most of the e-governance initiatives are conceptualised as individual MMPs and an integrated approach is lacking. As a result, information residing in one department cannot be exchanged with another department. 
  • There should be an emphasis on standards and interoperability not only in e-governance projects but in all 44 MMPs as well.
  • The degree of process re-engineering is observed to be quite low. 
  • The project approvals still follow age-old procedures, which have hampered the pace and stifled industry’s enthusiasm.
  • Adopting the PPP model is not adequate. In many cases the private sector is not keen to invest because of unattractive business models.
  • For success of MMPs, the ministry of electronics and information technology (MeitY) must bring overarching guidelines for integrated implementation and avoid duplicity.
  • The government should appoint a national chief information officer and departmental chief information officer for design and implementation of all e-governance initiatives, as suggested by the Nandan Nilekani-headed committee on human resource policy for e-governance.

Pillar 6: Information for all
  • The government has created mygov.in for citizen engagement. However, the portal has only 3.97 million registered users.
  • There is no reason as to why the lectures of best instructors cannot be shared with other schools to improve quality of teaching. 
  • The use of IT in education should be mandated.
  • The bulk of internet content is in English. There is a need for content in regional languages.  
  • A lot of datasets shared under the open data initiative (data.gov.in) are incorrect and outdated. 
  • Despite Open Data Policy and implementation guidelines in place, there is no compliance by various departments.
     
Pillar 7: Electronic manufacturing
  • There is infrastructure disability of 9% and financial disability 6% to manufacturers in India. Inspite of the government’s initial duty benefit to mobile phones, tablets and other wireless equipment only assembly is happening in India. 
  • Until we manufacture critical components like printed circuit board (PCB) or populated PCB, we will not be able to achieve the dream of net zero imports. 
  • In Budget 2017, duty differential was given to mobile tablets and customer premises equipment. The same needs to be extended to PC, laptop and the entire bouquet of products required for Digital India.
     
Pillar 8: IT for jobs
  • The government plans to train over 10 million students from smaller towns and villages for IT sector jobs over five years. The challenge is not just of numbers but also of quality.
  • The employment exchange project has to be crystallized at the earliest for the success of various skill development initiatives. 
     
Pillar 9: Early harvest programmes 
  • It was suggested that all the universities will be Wi-Fi enabled by December 2015, which has not happened.
  • Secured email within the government was to become a primary mode of communication, but it has not yet happened. Similarly, a standardised e-mail template has not been implemented.
  • Public Wi-Fi was to be provided at tourist sites. So far, only Taj Mahalhas it. 
  • The conversion of school books to e-books was not completed by March 2015, as planned originally.
  • The government may consider early harvest programme as small successes but the wider mission of evolving national e-governance architecture should not be forgotten.
  • The Digital India project must adhere to the principles and framework of enterprise architecture. 

     
 
Shirpurwala is executive director, MAIT. The views expressed are personal.

(The story appears in the March 1-15, 2017 issue of Governance Now)
 
 

 

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