Pillars of Digital India – India is a known powerhouse of software. Its share in global IT services outsourcing is 56% and growing every year. But the availability of electronic government services to citizens is still comparatively low. The National e-Governance Plan approved in 2006, made steady progress but it has been slow and greater thrust was required.
With this background, Digital India was launched by the Prime Minister on 1st July 2015 with an aim to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. The program would go a long way in wiping out the digital divide besides offering a slew of digital solutions in almost all sectors including education, health, agriculture, and administration. Also, it will generate a huge number of IT, Telecom, and Electronics jobs, both directly and indirectly.
9 Pillars of Digital India
Pillars of Digital India stands on the foundation which are briefly described below along with the challenges that each of these pillars faces.
- Broadband Highways
- E-Governance – Reforming government through Technology
- Electronics Manufacturing – Target NET ZERO Imports
- Universal Access to Mobile Connectivity
- E-Kranti Electronic delivery of services
- IT for Jobs
- Public Internet Access Programme
- Information for All
- Early Harvest Programmes
1. Broadband Highways – Pillars of Digital India
Under this broadband connectivity for all is planned. By December 2016, 2.5 lakh Panchayats would be connected by broadband. Urban areas and new urban buildings would have ICT infrastructure. Networks like SWAN (State Wide Area Network), NKN (National Knowledge Network), and NOFN (National Optical Fibre Network) would be integrated under National Information Infrastructure. It is the most important Pillars of Digital India for development.
However, laying optical fiber cables doesn’t ensure that they will be used. Because, in India, the number of wireline broadband users is very less, whereas usage of mobile broadband has exploded like anything. This increase in mobile broadband users is mainly because of the good content it provides e.g. apps like Facebook and WhatsApp. Government is not very good at creating such content, so wireline broadband may not be that appealing to users. So a partnership with private companies would be required for this. Without good content, broadband cable networks would be like empty pipes.
2. Universal Access to Phones
Still, there are more than 40,000 villages that do not have mobile connectivity. This initiative is to fill this gap. Laudable though, the challenge is to ensure: the quality of service in these remotest places. Even in metro cities like Delhi and Mumbai, users face the problems of call drops and network accessibility, then we can imagine the situation in a remote village of Arunachal Pradesh. Also, with the increase in the number of mobile broadband users, the present network may not be able to keep up. Pillars of Digital India: will need more spectrum. For this government is taking a spare spectrum from Defense Ministry.
3. Public Internet Access
Though our teledensity is quite high, not everyone in India can buy a smartphone or laptop. A large number of people in rural areas do not have any access to the internet. Govt plans to solve this problem by ensuring public internet access through Common Service Centres (CSC) and Post Offices. The plan is to establish one CSC in each Gram Panchayat where all government schemes would be accessible to all.
4. E-Governance: Reforming Government through Technology
ICT can be leveraged effectively through e-governance to bring government to the doorsteps of the citizen. Under this pillar, govt is laying emphasis on –
- Online applications and tracking of their status
- Simplifying the forms by asking for the minimum and necessary information only
- makes all databases and information in electronic form
- use of online repositories e.g. school certificates, voter ID cards, etc, so that citizens. are not required to submit these documents in physical form.
- automating the workflow inside government departments to increase efficiency
- by integrating the platforms such as – Adhaar, Payment Gateway, Mobile Platform, etc
- Using ICT for public grievance redressal
The use of IT for governance started quite early in India and was successful too. But most of those initiatives died once the officer behind the initiative got transferred to some other department. We’ll have to see that this does not happen with Pillars of Digital India initiatives. Also, most of the e-governance projects, that India needs, have been successfully piloted somewhere in the country. Challenge is to successfully replicate them all over the country. (Pillars of Digital India)
5. E-Kranti – Electronic Delivery of Services
E-Kranti comprises 41 large e-governance initiatives, called “mission mode projects” which include –
- e-Education- All Schools will be connected with broadband. Free wi-fi will be provided in all secondary and higher secondary schools. A program on digital literacy is to be taken up at the national level. MOOCs -Massive Online Open Courses shall be developed and leveraged for e-Education.
- e-Healthcare would cover online medical consultation, online medical records, online medicine supply, and pan-India exchange for patient information.
- Farmers will get real-time price information, online ordering of inputs, and online loan and relief payment with mobile banking.
- Security – Mobile-based emergency services and disaster-related services would be provided to citizens on a real-time basis. This would help minimize the loss of life and property.
- Technology for Justice- to reduce delays in court cases-e-Courts, e-Police, and e-Prosecution.
- Technology for Cyber Security – National Cyber Security Coordination Centre would be set up to ensure a safe and secure cyber-space within the country.
The challenge here is the sheer scale of these projects. It is easy to demonstrate a pilot project in a block or district, but the real test would be when these schemes will be made available to 1.25 billion people.
6. Information for All – A Pillars of Digital India
Under this pillar, Govt plans to establish a two-way communication channel with the citizens in which the public will have open and easy access to the information and at the same time provide feedback to the govt. Recently launched platform MyGov.in has already become a medium to exchange ideas/ suggestions with the Govt. The present government is also using social media in a big way to reach out to the citizen. Many stranded Indians in gulf countries used Twitter to reach the External Affairs Minister and got help promptly.
This initiative, no doubt, will make the government more responsive and accountable. But it will succeed only if our politicians and bureaucrats show a positive attitude towards criticism on online platforms and take it in a democratic way.
7. Electronics Manufacturing
This is probably our weakest leg in the Pillars of Digital India program. We import huge quantities of electronic equipment ranging from, smartphones to laptops to set-top boxes. Our domestic manufacturing capacity in electronics is grossly inadequate. Some blame it on the Information Technology Agreement, to which India became a signatory in 1997, and allowed electronic imports to flood the country. Whatever the reason, we can’t make India digital with foreign equipment. This Make in India and Digital India, both have to come together. Our PM’s vision is for ‘Net Zero Imports’ by 2020 in this segment (which means, our imports become equal to our exports). This is ambitious. To ramp up local manufacturing, coordinated action on many fronts is required e.g.
- Tax incentives to local manufactures
- Give more focus on – Set-top boxes, Mobiles, Consumer & Medical Electronics, Smart Energy meters, Smart cards, micro-ATMs
- Incubators, clusters to promote innovation and entrepreneurship
- Skill development to meet human resource requirements of the industry
- Government manufactures procurement from local
8. IT for Jobs – A Pillars of Digital India
This is a project to train 1 crore students from smaller towns and villages for IT sector jobs over five years. BPOs would be set up in every northeastern state to facilitate ICT-enabled growth in these states. Also, Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) would train 5 lakh rural youth to cater to their own needs in those areas like maintaining mobile towers.
The challenge here is not just the numbers, but the quality. Technology in this field keeps changing at a rapid pace and often there is a mismatch in the demand and supply of trained manpower. Most firms have to invest a great deal into their own training for “fresher” recruits. It is the most important Pillars of Digital India.
9. Early Harvest Programmes
As the name suggests, these are the programs that are easiest to implement. Most of these projects are already underway and some are even nearing completion. These include –
- Biometric attendance in Govt organizations
- Wi-Fi in all Universities
- Secure Email within the Government
- Public Wi-fi hotspots
- School Books to be e-Books – All books shall be converted into e-Books
- SMS-based weather information, disaster alerts
- National Portal for Lost & Found children – This would facilitate real-time information gathering and sharing on the lost and found children and would go a long way to check crime and improve timely response.
No doubt, these are low-hanging fruits and can be harvested easily but challenges remain. For instance, official government e-mail has been available for so many years. Yet most government officials and politicians prefer to use Gmail and yahoo mail. Reasons are many, e.g. government email is slow, it is not available in app form on smartphones, and it is not that user-friendly. Whatever the reasons, it is seen as a huge risk when a country’s Home Minister uses a foreign-based e-mail service.