The journey towards an incorruptible government interface

03-Sep-2015 #Digital India

It was planned as a $20-billion mission to empower Indians and deliver government services, healthcare, education, subsidies and most importantly, inclusive development, to India’s 1.2 billion citizens.

The Digital India Mission is one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet schemes and promises to make good his election promise of “less government, more governance” by reducing the need for ordinary citizens to interact with the bureaucracy. At the launch of this flagship scheme of his government at the 15,000-capacity Indira Gandhi Stadium, Modi said: “I dream of a digital India where high-speed digital highways unite the nation; 1.2 billion connected Indians drive innovation; technology ensures the citizen-government interface is incorruptible.”

The scheme, which envisages laying fibre optic cables to connect 250,000 villages across the country, creation of more than 100 million jobs and also setting up of 400,000 public internet access points and connecting 250,000 schools, colleges and universities to the net, was given a rousing welcome by Indian and international companies, which committed investments of more than $75 billion.

The mission proposes to deliver digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen, governance and services on demand and digitally empower citizens.

Indian media reports highlighted 15 takeaways from this initiative:

  • Digital locker system to minimise the use of documents and enable their e-sharing through registered repositories
  • in as an online platform to engage citizens in governance through a discuss-do-disseminate approach
  • Swachh Bharat Mission mobile app to achieve the goals set by the mission
  • e-Sign framework that will allow citizens to digitally sign documents online
  • e-Hospital system for healthcare services such as online registration, fixing doctors’ appointments, online diagnostics, fee payment and checking blood availability online
  • National Scholarship Portal for beneficiaries, which will include everything from submission of application to verification, sanctions and disbursal
  • Digitise India Platform for large-scale digitisation of records across the country to facilitate efficient delivery of services to the citizens
  • Bharat Net programme as a high-speed digital highway to connect all 250,000 gram panchayats across India, making it the world’s largest rural broadband project using optical fibre
  • BSNL’s Next Generation Network to replace the 30-year-old telephone exchanges to manage all types of services like voice, data, multimedia and other types of communication services
  • Large scale deployment of wifi hotspots throughout the country
  • Broadband highways as one of the pillars of Digital India to address connectivity issues
  • Outsourcing policy to promote development and employment generation in the Northeastern states and smaller towns across the country
  • Setting up of the Electronics Development Fund to promote innovation, research and product development to create a resource pool within the country
  • National Centre for Flexible Electronics to promote research and innovation in the emerging area of flexible electronics
  • Centre of Excellence on Internet of Things as a joint initiative of government agencies and private institutions such as Nasscom

The mission dovetails with another flagship scheme of the Modi government, the Make in India programme, that proposes to turn India into a global manufacturing hub.

Indian and foreign investors announced massive investments. Reliance Industries Chairman Mukesh Ambani said his company would invest more than $40 billion on rolling out its 4G network, work with vendors to launch Made in India phones and set up 150,000 stores across the country. Similarly, Sunil Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Airtel, India’s largest telecom company, announced $16-billion worth of investments on creation of telecom infrastructure throughout India and on his company’s e-education and e-health initiatives.

AV Birla Group chief Kumarmangalam Birla, Vedanta Group Chairman Anil Agarwal, Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group chief Anil Ambani and many other Indian and foreign business groups also announced investments worth billions of dollars.

Addressing the media during the Digital India Week, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said: “More than 250 services relating to health, education, public distribution system, police, agriculture, trade and employment have been launched by various state governments.”

Various state governments also launched smart PDS cards, land record services, legal services, police services and employment exchange services, among many others under the Digital India initiative.

But a caveat: these are still promises. Delivery will take time. But if reality can live up to the promise, it can bring about a paradigm change in the way India is governed and millions of underprivileged Indians at last get access to benefits and services that every government since Independence has committed to provide.

Arnab-Mitra1mbArnab Mitra is a senior journalist based in Delhi. He writes on business and politics.

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