Manoj Sinha, minister of communications

The government’s Digital India programme has the potential to drive inclusive growth in the economy. Launched with the aim of transforming the entire public services ecosystem through the use of information technology (IT), the programme has marked several milestones in the past two years. The government has, from time to time, expanded the scope of the programme by launching new initiatives and broadening the thrust areas of the existing ones so as to make more services available to citizens. In a key move, it has given statutory backing to the Aadhaar framework, which will be the key enabler for the provision of online services in the country. At the ITU-TRAI Asia-Pacific Regulators’ Roundtable, organised jointly by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in New Delhi, Manoj Sinha, minister of communications, spoke about the government’s vision for creating a digitally enabled India. The Roundtable brought together telecommunication/information and communication technology (ICT) regulators from across the Asia-Pacific region to engage in dynamic and strategic discussions, as well as share information, experiences and practices, and debate on the possible solutions and opportunities for collaborations to meet the emerging regulatory challenges. Excerpts from the minister’s address…

The ongoing digitisation of eco­no­mies and societies is reshaping the entire business ecosystem and will continue to do so in the future. Digital transformation holds many promises to promote inclusive and sustainable growth, spur innovation, increase efficiency and bring an overall improvement in services. It is a driver of financial inclusion, economic development and social progress.

In order to maximise the benefits of digital technologies, we must be aware of the policy challenges that these technologies entail. Digital technologies can be disruptive, leading to the transformation of the structure, systems and business models of the economy, and hence result in various import­ant issues such as privacy and security threats. Such disruptions can also create new digital divides and greater inequality. Therefore, the challenges need to be adequately addressed in order to ensure the maximum benefits from the growing digital ecosystem.

Today, the countries in the Asia-Pacific region are at varying stages of digital development and each of them has its own unique set of challenges and outlook.  To­ge­ther, we can identify the roadmap to make the promise of a digitally transfor­med economy and society a reality. India, as a part of the Asia-Pacific region, wants inclusive growth in order to transform the entire ecosystem of public services through the use of IT.

The government has launched the Digital India programme with a vision to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and a knowledge economy. It will help in delivering good governance to citizens by synchronised and coordinated engagement with the central and state governments. The Digital India programme will bring in public accountability through mandated delivery of the government’s business electronically. It is centred on three key visions – providing digital infrastructure as a core utility that must be accessible by every citizen, providing governance and services on demand, and digital empowerment of citizens. The Digital India progra­mme, in sum and substance, is an initiative to bridge the digital divide in India. BharatNet is one of the key projects under Digital India and aims to deploy high speed optic fibre cables to connect 250,000 gram panchayats across the country. This project would help in increasing the number of fiberised sites in India, which currently stands at less than 20 per cent (very low as compared to the developed countries). The project is being implemented in pha­ses, with more than 100,000 gram pan­­chayats already connected under Phase I as of July 2017. Further, states like Kerala, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Harya­na, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are nearing 100 per cent completion.

The government is also encouraging social media in a phenomenal way. It has launched a portal, called MyGov, which is an innovative platform to build partnerships between citizens and the government with the help of technology. This citizen-centric platform empowers people to connect with the government and contribute towards good governance. The portal has been more than successful in keeping citizens engaged and informed on important policy issues and governance. Today, the MyGov platform has more than 1.78 million users, who contribute their ideas through discussions and also participate in various earmarked tasks.

Another significant development initiative has been the launch of a digital identity platform called Aadhaar. It is one of the key pillars of the Digital India programme wherein each resident of the country has been provided with a unique digital identity. Aadhaar is by far the largest biometric-based identification system in the world. It is a strategic policy for bringing about social and financial inclusion, public sector delivery reforms, managing fiscal budgets, and promoting hassle-free and people-centric governance. More than a billion Indians today have a digital identity. The government is using this digital identity to grant subsidies.

We foresee that all government services will be delivered to citizens on demand and in real time through online and mobile platforms. Our vision is to empower citizens through the use of technology, by making available all documents on the cloud.

“Digital transformation holds many promises to promote inclusive and sustainable growth, spur innovation, increase efficiency and bring an overall improvement in services.”

Easy and affordable access and the skills to utilise increasingly advanced technologies and devices remain the central areas of focus for the government and regulators in the area of information and com­munication technology. At a time when information is power, inequities in the access and dissemination of information is adding to the digital divide. The big question here is how to leverage the ad­van­cements in digital technology.