The government’s ambitious Digital India programme was launched with the aim of transforming the entire public services ecosystem through the use of information technology. In the past two years, the programme has successfully engaged a number of large, medium and small players from diverse industries, and has the potential to drive inclusive growth in the economy. The government has 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. For instance, in December 2015, the government launched 22 initiatives under the programme, including projects in the areas of digital infrastructure, digital empowerment, on-demand government services and promotion of the electronics industry. Further, in a major breakthrough in March 2016, the government gave statutory backing to the Aadhaar framework, which will be the key enabler for the provision of online services.
In his address at Convergence India 2017, P.P. Chaudhary, minister of state for law and justice, and electronics and information technology, spoke about the government’s vision for creating a digitally enabled India. Excerpts…
Through a series of path-breaking and transformative initiatives undertaken by the central government, India is taking giant strides to quickly emerge as a digital economy and an inclusive knowledge society. Among these initiatives, Digital India, the flagship initiative being steered by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), stands out uniquely in many ways – in terms of its involvement with industry stakeholders, academia and the government at various levels – the centre, the states and union territories – as well as in terms of its enabling nature, and its consequent impact on both the economy and society.
The Digital India initiative is about ensuring that government services are made available to citizens on demand, electronically, and as close to their doorstep as possible, preferably on mobile handsets across the country, even in the remotest parts. It requires, inter alia, fast, efficient, state-of-the-art online infrastructure, digital connectivity, affordable devices, and digital literacy among the masses.
In a short span, Digital India has enabled the roll-out of many new projects and products, covering the entire spectrum of e-governance in the country, including government to government (G2G), government to business (G2B), and government to consumer (G2C), with an emphasis on quality in all aspects of service delivery.
One of the most important initiatives in this regard has been the implementation of the “Aadhaar platform” for giving a digital identity to every individual in the country. Aadhaar enrolment has reached a staggering figure of over 1.11 billion citizens, making it a unique project in the world. A closely related initiative is the “Jan Dhan Yojana”, which helped in making financial inclusion not just a dream, but a reality. Under this, over 260 million bank accounts have been opened, which has brought a large segment of the population at the bottom of the pyramid into the organised financial sector. These bank accounts have been seeded with the Aadhaar identity of their holders. The Aadhaar platform, along with the Jan Dhan accounts, is now being leveraged for implementing the direct benefit transfer schemes, which would take subsidies and other benefits to the deserving in a targeted way.
The recent currency demonetisation initiative has been a boon for ensuring widespread utilisation of digital infrastructure. Since November 8, 2016, the UPI (unified payments interface), USSD (unstructured supplementary service data), AEPS (Aadhaar enabled payment system) and RuPay card transactions have shown exponential growth and registered multi-digit growth figures in percentage terms. The unified BHIM digital payments app was launched by the government on December 30, 2017. It is reported as the top trending app in terms of downloads across a range of platforms by users. A computer emergency response team (CERT-In), working under MeitY on a 24×7 basis, is already in place to ensure that digital data and transactions are safe and secure.
Apart from developing digital infrastructure and products, it is of utmost importance that people are made aware about such products and services as well as the benefits that accrue from their usage. To popularise digital payments, MeitY has also launched “DigiShala”, a free Doordarshan DTH channel, and a website “cashlessindia.gov.in” to train and educate citizens in digital payments. Through educative video clips, talk shows and panel discussions, this effort aims to make aware, teach, train and enable every household, from the metros to the smallest village in the country, to make digital payments.
MeitY, along with NITI Aayog, is organising “DigiDhan melas” across the country, rewarding people through the Lucky Grahak Yojana and the Digidhan Vyapar Yojana to encourage a culture of digital payments.
Today, even the far-flung and remote areas of the country have begun to benefit from the Digital India initiative in some form or the other – be it direct benefit transfer (DBT), e-services such as scholarships and pensions, or digital literacy and empowerment. Internet penetration has reached the villages and with the establishment of common service centres (CSCs), the delivery of services through the internet has increased manyfold.
“In a short span, Digital India has enabled the roll-out of many new projects and products, covering the entire spectrum of e-governance in the country.”
It is time that the private sector also comes forward in a big way to contribute to the efforts of the government by developing applications and products utilising this digital infrastructure and platforms so that the benefits of the Digital India initiative reach the citizens at the bottom of the pyramid and take technology to the masses. There is also a need to continuously create vibrant and popular mass awareness campaigns around this digital movement. This would require the creation of media content focused on transforming the cultural aspects of the country.