Electronics and IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday said the government’s Digital India initiative was aimed at bridging the digital divide by providing access to digital platform to the masses. “From payments to education to medical health, the digital platform provides low-cost, easy access to all, thus bringing about the digital inclusion,” Prasad said while delivering his address at the Express IT Awards.
He said the Express IT Awards honours and rewards innovations which go a long way in empowering ordinary Indians through technology.
Prasad said the unique selling point of the government’s Digital India initiative is low-cost access to digital technology and gave examples of Aadhaar and digi locker systems, which are hassle-free and accessible to people from the hinterland. He said the accessible digital system was unlocking the entrepreneurial spirit and passion for technology of the rural population, which was responsible for a rapid increase in digital transactions and payments. This has enabled these areas to depend much less on traditional banking channels for their day-to-day needs.
“Usage of digital services is rising from the hinterland, the semi-urban and semi-rural areas. People have forgotten going to the banks. They take their pensions from community service centres through digital payments. This metamorphosis is happening in rural India and needs to be studied carefully. Leaders of digital payments must commission a proper study,” Prasad said.
He admitted that that the safety and security concerns came along with digital technology. The government is currently working on a data protection law to ensure that these concerns are addressed. Prasad, however, said that any data protection law needs to be a fine, holistic and a blend between data availability, innovation, anonymity, utility, and privacy. “We need to take a pragmatic view while making the law. Anonymity is good but some loss is bound to be there. If a person is travelling the digital footprints can’t be totally anonymous and terrorists and corrupt people cannot claim right to privacy,” Prasad said.
The minister counted growth in UPI-based payments, rise in mobile phone manufacturing factories and rural BPOs, 32 crore new bank accounts for previously un-banked population as some of the success stories of the government’s Digital India initiative.
Earlier, speaking at a panel discussion at the same event, Sharad Sharma, co-founder of iSPIRIT Foundation, said the government’s role in building an open architecture for digital platforms to grow was at the core of the spurt being witnessed in digital platforms. He added that it was important for India to continue to own the ‘rails’ of the digital ecosystem to avoid being a colony of other nations.
TR Ramachandran, group country manager India & South Asia, Visam said that India presented opportunities for various kinds of payment solutions — both digital and card-based — to grow as Indians were using digital modes to pay for only 14 per cent of personal consumption compared with 55 per cent in China.
Citing the difficulty that a bank faces in promoting digital transactions vis-a-vis private-owned payment system like
Paytm even though it is in the interest of banks in lowering operating cost, PK Gupta, Managing Director at State Bank of India, said that the latter didn’t have the freedom to burn cash. He added that increased formalisation — owing to demonetisation and GST — will drive the usage of digital payment methods in the coming days.