The visionary initiative of Digital India was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 1, 2015. Digital India strives to bring inclusive growth and bridge the digital divide by leveraging technology solutions that are low cost, developmental, transformative and designed to empower ordinary Indians. Four years down the line, the success of Digital India is finding global resonance and its transformative character is being appreciated.
One of the largest digital infrastructures of the world was conceived to connect all the 250,000 gram panchayats by a high-speed optical fibre network. Today with 3.40 lakh km of optical fibre laid, Bharat Net has reached 1.29 lakh gram panchayats. India of 2019 is recognised as a country with the second largest internet user base, and which offers internet access, data and mobile at the cheapest tariffs in the world.
Digital services being offered by the government as well as the private sector have improved the life of every citizen. Gone are the days when getting a mobile phone SIM would require filling up forms, giving photocopies of documents and then awaiting activation after the KYC process. Aadhaar-based eKYC has made it easy to open bank accounts or to get instant mobile SIMs without any paperwork. There was a time when working professionals used to struggle to get their employee provident fund deposit transferred while switching companies for better prospects. The Aadhaar-linked universal account number (UAN) has made it a hassle free experience. The eHospital services have made it easy to take online appointments in 322 major hospitals. The UMANG mobile app has created a mega digital mobile platform where 362 services of 18 states and the union government can be accessed in 13 Indian languages. Online scholarships, e-Visa, soil health cards etc. have made the delivery of services faster.
The trinity of Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile (JAM) has facilitated direct benefit transfers of financial entitlements of various government schemes directly into the bank accounts of beneficiaries. In the last five years, a total of Rs 7.44 lakh crore have been disbursed to beneficiaries of 439 schemes. This has resulted in saving of Rs 1.41 lakh crore of tax payers’ money by plugging leakages, curbing corruption and eliminating fake beneficiaries.
The world’s largest digital literacy programme, the Pradhan Mantri Grameen Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA), which aims to train six crore rural adults, has trained 2.21 crore beneficiaries. During a digital interaction with the prime minister, Poonam Sapera from Alwar district of Rajasthan, who comes from an economically and educationally backward community, spoke confidently about her ability to send emails and SMSs. This speaks of the profound impact of Digital India on inclusive growth and transformation of lives.
As a retired soldier, Brahamanand living in Dhanauri Kalan village of Gautam Buddha Nagar of Uttar Pradesh had never thought he would get rid of the cost and inconvenience of visiting a bank branch in town every month to withdraw his pension. Today Brahamanand and many others withdraw their pensions from common service centres in villages by making a simple biometric authentication. From merely 83,000 centres in 2014, common services centres have not only grown to reach 3.76 lakh, but have also started offering a wide variety of digital services like banking, insurance, utility bill payment, pension, MGNREGA wage payments, ticket booking, digital skilling, public Wi-Fi in villages, tele-medicine services and are playing a key role in developing digital villages. This has created a new breed of rural digital entrepreneurs across the country, and have created 12 lakh jobs locally.
Digital payments have grown at a staggering pace. The total number of digital payment transactions made through various modes in October 2016 was 79.67 crore. In March, 2019, the total number of digital payment transactions hit an all-time high of 332.34 crore. India’s home grown fin-tech innovation, BHIM-UPI, whose humble beginning in December, 2016, is scaling new heights of popularity, and has registered 79.9 crore transactions in the month of March, 2019.
To promote the IT industry beyond a few big urban clusters, and to provide IT jobs to youth in semi-urban areas, a humble beginning was made under the BPO promotion scheme. Today 202 BPO centres at 100 locations across India are working from towns like Imphal, Kohima, Guwahati, Srinagar, Jammu, Bareilly, Unnao, Muzaffarpur, Patna, Sangli and Guntur giving jobs to thousands of young men and women.
Electronics manufacturing in India has doubled in last few years. India was home to only two mobile phone manufacturing units in 2014. But today, it stands tall in the global community as the second largest mobile phone manufacturer, with 268 mobile handset and accessories manufacturing units having started functioning in last five years.
Building on the achievements of Digital India in the last five years, the government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to scale up the digital revolution to a new level in the coming years. The PM has already expressed his vision to develop India into a $5 trillion economy by 2024. The Ministry of Electronics and IT has also prepared a road-map to develop India as $1 trillion digital economy.
Digital initiatives like smart cities, digitisation of governance, digital villages, high speed internet in every part of India, digital inclusion and digital empowerment shall be fueled by emerging technologies like the internet of things, data analytics and artificial intelligence.
Creating a faceless, paperless, cashless and digital interface between government and citizens has immensely helped in curbing corruption, delays in service delivery and leakages. The next level of digitisation in governance will strive to digitise internal processes of the government. The use of data analytics and artificial intelligence will also help in effective monitoring of performance and develop system automation for future.
We aim to set up one lakh digital villages in the next couple of years. Digital villages will offer various citizen centric services in villages and reduce the need for visiting towns for their needs. For providing easy, economical and reliable internet access to citizens the government is also working on a model to liberalise public Wi-Fi hotspot services, which may revolutionise internet access in India.
The government led by the Prime Minister Modi, has recognised the great potential of startups in transforming the economy and unleashing tech-driven transformation. Besides friendly policies, the government shall strive to explore more ways to improve participation of India’s startups in the digital transformation. Today there are close to 19,000 startups in India, of which about 7,000 are technology startups. Many of these are unicorns, having a valuation of over one billion dollar.
India’s growing digital profile has made it a data powerhouse. Our government understands the potential of data for creating a vibrant data economy and is using it for empowering people while giving due respect to privacy concerns. Soon we will bring a personal data protection law that will not only address the privacy concerns of individuals, curb misuse of personal data, but will also be an enabler for creating a vibrant data economy. Data centres, data value addition, data startups, data exchanges, data anonymisation would be some of the crucial elements of the data economy, along with safeguarding the data sovereignty of India.
Changes in the economy due to growing digitisation is leading to changes in job roles, skills and human resources. The digital economy will also require frequent training and retraining of human resources. Keeping this in mind, the prime minister has launched the Future Skills online platform for training and retraining the country’s IT workforce. Our government is working towards developing a more effective ecosystem for continuous skill development and upgradation of our workforce.
India has taken a leap towards digital transformation. Its successes in leveraging digital technologies for transforming governance and lives of ordinary Indians is being appreciated by the world. Building on this success, we will take this digital revolution to a new level for creating a strong, transparent and vibrant economy with rapid growth that is inclusive and empowering.
The writer is Union Minister for Communications, Electronics and Information Technology and Law and Justice
— This article first appeared in the July 1, 2019 print edition under the title ‘A digital power’