By Sourajit Aiyer
India’s government has been leading from the front in the country’s digital transformation. At a time when the demonetization move has brought forth many lamenting about its existing digital gaps, it is opportune to highlight the initiatives the government has been taking. Its Digital India programme is a Rs 1.1 trillion project which aims to deliver on key themes like digital connectivity, digital payments, e-governance and analytics.
Digital payments have been in spotlight ever since demonetization, and the government has advocated citizens to adopt it to the best extent possible, so that accountability of incomes is maintained. Its push to increase the penetration of bank accounts through its Jan Dhan programme is helping participation in digital payments. The government has mandated all government-to-citizen payments to be done digitally, and that all payments above Rs 5000 by government departments will now be done through e-payment. The government’s think-tank, NITI Aayog, is identifying possible modes of digital payment to push the vision of a cashless, and cleaner, economy. Its committee, headed by CEO Amitabh Kant, aims to operationalize user-friendly options across all sectors. The panel includes Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, one of India’s technology centers, and Nandan Nilekani, the architect of the Aadhar-Unique ID project. Apart from announcing several incentives to use digital payments instead of cash for railway, petrol, etc purchases, it is also pushing its usage in India’s vast geographical hinterland by incentivizing district administrations to promote digital payment in their districts, and convert citizens to go-digital for daily transactions. It is incentivizing e-payments through cards, online and mobile by waving some service charges till end-December. Since only ~27-30% of India uses smartphones, the government reduced tariffs on non-smartphones for USSD-based (unstructured supplementary service data) mobile banking transactions. The government is also working to make available hand-held PoS machines (point-of-sale) for smaller retailers. There is focus on digital education and making available digital resources in vernacular languages, to help people go-digital. Its eventual goal is to move at least 80% of all transactions to digital through cards, e-wallets, unified payment interface, Aadhar-based payments or USSD-based transactions.
Digital infrastructure is being ramped-up, to expand the connectivity network along with appropriate speed across a geographically vast India. The National Optic-Fibre Network is laying broadband highways to provide high-speed and secure internet across 0.25 million gram-panchayats (village self-government organization). Apart from public access to internet, the government is working to cover all villages with mobile connectivity. This also includes expansion of Common-Services Center to one in every panchayat, solar powered WiFi hot spots, making available tele-clinics to every village, and virtual classes. Its EKUKA programme with Intel (Ek kadam unnati ke aur/One step towards progress) which is bridging the digital divide by taking technology to rural India through village-entrepreneurs, has already trained 0.5+ million people through 100 centres in 11 states. Its Smart-City initiative would integrate several digital facilities, for which it is investing in data-centers. To help highway toll-plazas to go-digital, it is asking car-manufacturers to place RFID tags in cars. Electronics manufacturing of mobiles, ATMs, V-Sat, smart cards and energy meters, as well as software technology parks is given an impetus to fuel employment and supply-chains. Innovation has been given a boost by the incubation facility for projects related to chip-to-system design, development of text-to-speech technology, etc.
E-governance is making available all public services in real time, on online or mobile. Its e-Kranti (e-revolution) initiative is focusing on e-delivery of services across education, health, agriculture, justice and financial inclusion, etc. This will ensure faster delivery, better accountability and wider reach. The tele-clinics are an example here. It is also working on a IoT (internet of things) model for agriculture. It is stressing on integrating services across all government departments and has worked to build its e-Marketplace. This Amazon-style platform would enable online public procurement of goods and services by its departments, who can buy directly through bidding and reverse auction. It would include over hundreds of sellers. Its UMANG initiative (unified mobile application for new age governance) is expected to go live soon. Its DigiSevak initiative, a volunteering platform wherein volunteers can register to do tasks like training and awareness creation, data collection, translation, collecting feedback, etc for government departments, is already in beta-version. It is also carrying out business process re-engineering to improve processes, as well as synchronized engagements between the central and state governments to ensure its last-mile outreach!
Data analytics is helping optimize available resources to where it is most needed. An initiative is in passport issuance, where the government has used data analytics to project growth, understand demographics and seasonal fluctuations to ensure adequate counters, manpower and camps are made available to those regions where demand would peak. This has reduced the time for issuing a passport now. It has also been working towards e-passports using chip technology.
In conclusion, the government is leading from the front with several initiatives to make a Digital India. Apart from the above, it is also working on cyber laws, digital regulations and combating digital terrorism. As these efforts fall into place, India’s digital transformation should yield significant dividends, to both Indian and to the world!
About Sourajit Aiyer
Sourajit Aiyer works with a leading capital markets company in Mumbai. Previously, he worked with financial companies in Delhi, London and Dhaka. As a personal interest, he writes for business publications and runs his comics page. He has written on over 60 topics in 30 publications across 13 countries. He is the author of the E-Book, “Flying with the Winged Elephant: Niche business themes that may emerge in India”. His news/satire comics page is now on Facebook, “Sourajit Aiyer Comics”