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Now for the Hard Part

By Praveen Raman
In Digital India
August 11, 2015
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Digital India would take more than a set of policies to succeed


Digital-India-rural

The Union government has realised that a lot more thrust is required to ensure e-Governance in the country to promote growth

Governments use many administrative tools to ensure that the benefits of the various social schemes reach to the people with minimum lapse of time. Conventionally, it is the government workforce who deliver services and benefits of various welfare schemes to the millions of people living in both urban and rural areas. Serving a big population, like India, is a challenge in which information technology can prove to be a medium to deliver services in prompt and reliable manner. It is in this way the idea of e-Governance emerged as an alternate service and information delivery mechanism.

Electronic governance or e-Governance is the application of information and communication technology (ICT) for delivering government services, exchange of information, communication of transactions, integration of various stand-alone systems and services between government-to-customer (G2C), government-to-business (G2B), government- to-government (G2G) as well as back offi ce processes and interactions within the entire government framework. The journey of e-Governance initiatives in India began in mid-90s for wider IT sector applications with emphasis on citizen-centric services. Later on, many States/UTs started various e- Governance projects. In 2006, central government launched National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). Within this broad umbrella, 31 Mission Mode Projects  covering various domains were initiated. Despite the successful implementation
of many e-Governance projects across the country, e-Governance as a whole has not been able to make the desired impact and fulfil all its objectives.

Hand held devices are expected to play a big role in information dissemination
Of late, the government realized that a lot more thrust is required to ensure e-Governance in the country to promote inclusive growth that covers electronic services, products, devices and job opportunities. In order to transform the entire ecosystem of public services through the use of information technology, the government  has launched the Digital India program with the vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. The scheme is an initiative to integrate the government departments and the people with an aim to ensure the government services are made available to citizens  electronically by reducing paperwork. The initiative includes plan  to connect rural areas with high-speed Internet networks. The scheme not only works to ensure that government services are available to all citizens electronically, but also focuses on bringing in public accountability through mandated  delivery of services electronically. Thus in a manner of speaking, Digital India is a broader version of the e-Governance programs that were running till now.

The umbrella program of the government comprises various projects worth about Rs 1 lakh crore to transform the country into a knowledge economy. The government hopes to complete the project by 2019. A two-way platform will be created where both the service providers and the consumers stand to benefit. The scheme will be monitored and controlled by the Digital India Advisory Group which will be chaired by the Ministry of Communications and IT. It will be an inter-ministerial initiative where all ministries and departments shall offer their own services to the public Healthcare, Education, Judicial services etc. The Public-private-partnership model shall be adopted selectively. In addition, there are plans to restructure the National Informatics Centre. This project is  one among the top priority projects of the Modi administration.

Digital India has three core components, namely creation of digital infrastructure, delivering services digitally and improving digital literacy. For digital infrastructure, the government will make high-speed Internet available at all Gram Panchayat level. While the modus operandi of it is still not clear, the government will have to mobilize a large resource for it given that the Internet penetration is very low in India. Another focus area is to provide digital identity to an individual that should be unique, lifelong, online and authentic. For this, the government will have to make easy access to Common Service Centre. For the security of this infrastructure, the government will also have to come out with a distinct cyber-security mechanism and legal framework for the same. In line with the vision, the government has already upped the ante on IT spending, both on hardware  and software. A portal (mygov.nic.in) has been launched and approximately 6 lakh kms of fi bre has been laid to create the digital highway.

digital-india-kids

The road to ‘Digital India’ would not be easy by any means. The government may face technical and bureaucratic impediments

Success would depend on progress on digital literacy front
The project is also highly employment generating. Over five crore jobs are expected to be created once it is complete. “IT gives employment to about 30 lakh people. Once Digital India becomes a reality, we can give jobs to five crore plus people,” Union Minister for IT Ravishankar Prasad said recently.

“Once BPOs start opening up in mofussil towns, there will be (requirement of) computer training for which computer centres will come up that too will create jobs. We are running ambitious program of Make-in-India which will have to be supplemented with skilled India. These all will create jobs,” Prasad further added.

To deliver citizen services electronically and improve the way citizens and authorities transact with each other, it is imperative to have ubiquitous connectivity. This is why the government has included ‘broadband highways’ as one of the pillars of Digital India. But while connectivity is one criterion, creating institutional and policy structures to facilitate delivery of services to citizens is also critical and for this, some initial works have been done by the government.

Initiatives such as e-Kranti framework of DeitY, Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software for the GoI, Framework for Adoption of Open Source Software in e-Governance Systems, Policy on Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for GOI, Policy on Collaborative Application Development by Opening the Source Code of Government Applications, Application Development & Re-Engineering Guidelines for Cloud Ready Applications are examples of such institutional framework that are
being put to make Digital India a reality.

However, the process would not be easy by any means. Besides technical impediments, bureaucratic and administrative lethargy and lack of competence could also throw spanner in the initiative. The fi rst big challenge is the physical infrastructure this project will require. In India, over 40 crore people have no access to electricity. This is the biggest hurdle towards digitally empowered society. Secondly, there is a scarcity of spectrum through which the project will take place. As the number of mobile users will increase, more spectrums will be needed. But the speed of Internet is a big and bothersome issue here.

While world has gradually moved to 4G, India still totters waiting for its screen to open the page, fat claims of 3G speeds notwithstanding. Around 10 cr net users have broadband connections in India. With National Optic Fiber program running late, it is difficult to procure 20 mbps download speed to Internet users.

To be honest, most of the features of the program have any meaning only to high-end Internet consumers and not to the 70 per cent of the rural population in India. But this is not the only problem. Even if Internet reaches the rural India and there is electricity to have the computer running, a large majority still may remain in dark, for they cannot either read and understand, or operate the computer. Improving IT literacy is tougher than laying fiber optic network and will pose a big challenge for  the government. This is very important because the entire mass who is using Internet should know how to secure his/ her online data. Another dimension is to create content in a language in which user can comprehend it. It is easier said than done in a counter or over couple dozen languages.

Another issue is that of data security. With increased online interaction between government and citizenry, all the personal details would be prone to hacking if the data security is not fool proof. Details such as bank details, Income tax details, PAN details could be the most sought after by rogue elements. This has financial as well as national security  dimensions.

Next, there will be a large number of people required to run the Digital India program. Already, there is lack of trained manpower and as such, a huge investment would be required to churn  out adequately trained manpower. Our Telecom Minister only alluded one side of the scenario, which is employment that could be generated from the Digital India program, but the challenge of create such a large workforce is a daunting one indeed.

Without doubt, through the program, the government has raised people’s expectations in terms of getting services, it will be worth watching how does it perform actually in future.

DIGITAL INDIA PROJECT

  • Digital Locker System aims to minimize the usage of physical documents and enable sharing of e-documents across agencies. The sharing of the e-documents will be done through registered repositories thereby ensuring the authenticity of the documents online.
  • MyGov.in has been implemented as a platform for citizen engagement in governance, through a “Discuss”, “Do” and “Disseminate” approach. The mobile App for MyGov would bring these features to users on a mobile phone.
  • Digital India e-services Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) Mobile app would be used by people and Government organizations  for achieving the goals of Swachh Bharat Mission.
  • eSign framework would allow citizens to digitally sign a document online using Aadhaar authentication.
  • The Online Registration System (ORS) under the e-Hospital application has been introduced. This application provides important services such as online registration, payment of fees and appointment, online diagnostic reports, enquiring availability of blood online etc.