Little did anyone had an idea that during this six years of Digital India campaign, the nation would entirely shift from offline to online? Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Indian government introduced its flagship Digital India initiative, worth INR 1,13,00 crore in a bid to transform Indian landscape into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
Largely, for a larger democracy as India, e-Governance played a crucial role and took a broader dimension since the mid 1990’s, while it defined our e-Governance initiatives with a broader dimension. The policies presently comes with wider sectorial applications with emphasis on citizen-centric services leveraged with information technology.
The flagship program not only elevated India’s workforce across domains to online virtual medium but also established a strong connectivity between the government and India’s last mile. The program enabled better services for education, health care and agriculture, thus helping to ensure transparency and accountability, all leveraging technology to the next level.
Herein we will delve deeper to investigate how the Central Government mandate of digitally transforming the nation impacted our economy for greater and better governance touching millions of lives of the country. Read on to explore.
Digital India Campaign: Transforming Governance Digitally
Ever since its days of inception, PM Modi often decoded the focus of Digital Transformation to realise – Indian Talent (IT)+ Information Technology (IT) = India Tomorrow (IT). In a way the induction of the central government’s flagship campaign has not only made government services easily available but also opened up for a constant scope for technology innovation in the domain, besides creating ample of job opportunities and investment by global tech-giants in the nation.
“MeitY holds a vision to bring together all the citizen centric services that both central and state governments cater under a common integrated digital platform. The Ministry is working with various other ministries, state governments and the industries to adopt the emerging technologies to improve the quality of services and infrastructure” asserted Rajendra Kumar, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).
Speaking to us further, Kumar highlighted, “The IT sector has grown exponentially in the last two decades, providing close to 4.5 million direct and 10 million indirect jobs within the country. As per estimates, the sector’s revenue is currently at about $194 billion which is expected to reach $350 billion by 2025, creating many more jobs in the process. Even in the middle of the pandemic, leading companies in this sector continue hiring in large numbers across experience and job levels. Overall, the sector is expected to witness a 12% increase in hiring this year. ”
He further added on to say that the department keeps its focus on better and seamless delivery of Government to citizen and e-services through both web-based and mobile devices for better reach and anytime and anywhere delivery model. “Meity aims to achieve good Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with the use of ICT enabled services and enhanced every opportunity to leverage E-governance, which certainly plays a crucial role to secure citizen engagement and participation in decision-making, enhance access to information and to remove barriers to public service delivery”, asserted Kumar.
The future of e-Governance is shifting from digital storage tower mandate to services that touches the lives of millions of beneficiaries, dependent on the government service delivery. While implementation of the public digital platforms needs to be accelerated with a focus on providing the digital services through a seamless view of OneGovernment or Connected Government. “The flagship program leveraged technology enabling access to better services for education, health care and agriculture ensuring transparency and accountability. The government intends to serve governance at the finger-tips of beneficiaries through m-Governance by offering services on Mobile phones and ensuring access to online services to all is a reality today. Implementation of initiatives like Aadhaar, UPI and Digilocker is ensuring faceless, cashless and paperless Governance that has laid the foundations of a strong, robust and secure Digital India enabling Digital Infrastructure, Digital Services & Digital Inclusion for helping move India towards a more digitally empowered nation”, commented Abhishek Singh, President and CEO, National eGovernance Division (NeGD).
While access to public services with use of e-Governance and m-Governance has helped improve ease of living for people, technology has also helped India move up in the Ease of Doing Business rankings. The robust GST Network has more than 1.28 Crore taxpayers registered on it and has helped mobilize more than Rs 34 lakh crores in tax revenues and has also helped process almost 200 Crores-Way Bills. In the process, complex concepts as tax collection has rendered in transparency and accountability in GST tax collection. Singh further asserted, “Under Direct Taxes, we have brought in Faceless Assessments which has eliminated discretion in tax assessments and helped bring in transparency and trust through the principle of honouring the honest. Introduction of FASTags and electronic toll collection have brought efficiency in freight movement and resulted in cost savings for transporters and people”.
Leveraging technology and ensuring services to the last mile requires building digital infrastructure that can help achieve the objectives of a digitally empowered nation. “At NeGD, we are working on connecting all our villages through BharatNet– robust fibre based connectivity. This is essential to ensure access to digital services in rural India. We aspire to take the fiber to every household under GharTakFiber Scheme. We have launched the PM WANI scheme to increase Internet Connectivity across the nation through an innovative system of public access points. We launched the undersea Internet cable to Andaman & Nicobar Islands that’s giving a big boost to tele-education, tele-health & tourism services. Similar connectivity is being built for Lakshwadeep Islands as well”, emphasized an enthusiastic Singh.
Not only at centre, the Government of India’s flagship campaign Digital India has been well elaborated and implemented at the state level also. Several Indian states, including Odisha, Telangana amongst others have been in a constant spree of further innovation in the domain leaving behind further scope for development. Odisha has always been at the forefront of digital interventions and embraced digital solutions across crucial citizen facing departments, much in sync with the Digital India’s vision of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance. Odisha has come a long way in on-boarding digital technologies and setting examples for other states to emulate. Manoj Kumar Mishra, Secretary, Electronics and IT, Government of Odisha remarked, “We developed a seamless, intuitive Covid dashboard that redefined our pandemic response and management strategy. The dashboard, using predictive analytics, offers a one-stop solution for identification of infection spread across state, intra/inter-state benchmarking, insights into testing and infrastructure requirement for infected patients.”
Mishra further accounted of a consolidated State Dashboard that facilitates easy monitoring of the performance of people-centric schemes implemented by different departments. This technology enabled platform has enhanced the quality of governance as schemes have turned outcome driven and are delivering more to the beneficiaries. Technology applications are also changing the landscape of citizen delivery in departments where as a state government, Odisha adopted digital solutions like Paddy Procurement Automation System (P-PAS), Automated Public Distribution System (PDS) etc.
Mishra further emphasized to mention that the state’s efforts would not have reached the scale unless there was a conducive policy ecosystem. The 5T governance model has been a catalyst to accelerate the digital initiatives as the thrust is on achieving transformation by leveraging technology to deliver time bound outcomes. He said, “Our digitization journey started with the Odisha State Workflow Automation System (OSWAS) where e-filing replaced manual file entry and processing. We could feel what a huge impact this project could create during this pandemic when government decisions and interventions could occur seamlessly even from remote working. Sensing the potential and the disruptive impact of ‘digital’, our stakes are high on emerging technologies in the future.”
Scopes and Challenges
When the pandemic struck early in 2020 most government offices were at a fix on how to manage with the important work and economic functionalities when the time demanded maintaining physical distancing and the nation was put under lockdown for all important reasons. It was then, when the prime minister’s brainchild Digital India showed its power and rose to occasion, the rest is history.
Although the nation saw a significant glimpse of digitisation in various fields in mid 1990s, it was quite limited in approach and access, but as the time progressed, the government and its division continued with their advancements.
Rajendra Kumar, from MeitY remarked: “The last 15-18 months have proved how robust our system has become, especially in the backdrop of COVID-19 management — from testing facilities management to vaccine rollout through CoWIN and several other important work that was varied out seamlessly even in the remotest of places in country. One of the world’s largest digital contact tracing apps, Aarogya Setu, has helped a lot in preventing corona infection. Several countries are showing interest in India’s COWIN app for vaccination. They also want to take advantage of this scheme in their country. Having such a monitoring tool for the process of vaccination is proof of our technical proficiency.”
Delivery of essential services in varied field through the Common Service Centres (CSCs) in rural areas is one of the shining success stories of Digital India. The CSCs have not only taken services to rural areas but have also become a scheme that has employed youths in rural areas who act as our torchbearer of digital literacy all across the nation.
Singh of NeGD further added on to say, “As evident from the development, the Digital India has mostly been able to deliver what was envisaged of it. India is developing into a superpower and much credit of it goes to the digitisation. It’s a long road ahead but the government under the leadership of PM Modi is committed to walk along it and take the country to greater heights in tech development.” The programme is aimed at providing the required thrust to the nine pillars of growth, namely Broadband Highways; Universal Access to Mobile Connectivity; Public Internet Access Programme; e-Governance; Reforming Government through Technology; eKranti-Electronic Delivery of Services; Information for All; Electronics Manufacturing: Target Net Zero Imports; IT for Jobs and Early Harvest Programmes.
Singh further asserted: “A great example of how Digital India has made this possible is DigiLocker. Keeping school certificates, college degrees, driving licenses, passports, Aadhaar or any other documents has always been a major concern for people. Many a times, important identity cards of people get destroyed in flood, earthquake, tsunami, or fire. But now all the documents from the 10th, 12th, college, university mark sheets can be stored in DigiLocker easily. Amidst the chaos of Covid, colleges in many cities are carrying out verification of school certificates for admission with the help of DigiLocker. Recently, the esteemed Supreme Court has also given a very important decision related to this. There were some states which did not accept the One Nation, One Ration Card scheme. Now the Supreme Court has ordered those states to implement it immediately.”
“Meity’s SVANidhi scheme has enabled inclusion of street vendors in the banking system besides disbursal of small loan amounts for their business. With drone mapping of village lands under Svamitwa scheme, it has become easier for legally and digitally mapping properties in village. Crores of fellow citizens of the country are now benefiting from the platforms developed for online education and delivering medicine”, asserted Kumar.
On the other hand, state level challenges are much acute and needs up-scaling from the grass root level. “One of the key challenges we navigated while accommodating digital technologies is infrastructure upgrade. Seamless adoption of new technologies means going for business process reengineering which entailed updating the existing software. Then, there were heterogeneous databases that needed integration. And, during integration, we had to prevent data loss and also ensure data security”, added Manoj Mishra, Secretary, Electronics and Information Technology, Government of Odisha.
He further added, “Moreover, aligning our personnel and making them digital ready through training and upskilling was another challenge since it meant a transformation of mind-set as well as workplace culture at government offices. To mitigate this, we hosted extensive training sessions within the IT department to make people attuned to working with the emerging technologies. For overcoming other challenges, we had a multi-pronged strategy. We had a relook at our RFPs and various approval processes. Besides that, we have roped in domain consultants and technical experts to make the seamless shift to digital interfaces. Our partnership with high calibre technology and consulting firms like EY, Deloitte and SAS have also smoothened our digital journey. “
The Journey Upcoming
For a mandate as huge as Digital India, which has spread its realms across domains and under several banners, the target and scope of innovation is greater than imagined. With the advent of newer technologies foraying in the domain daily, and new tech service providers accept the challenge of implementation the journey forward is a delight to long for.
While Aatma Nirbhar Bharat and Achieving Trillion Dollar Digital Economy are the guiding force for many upcoming projects under the ministry, several other projects are in pipeline that would boost India’s aim to be a knowledge economy. Highlighting some of these, Singh mentioned: “Hyperscale Data Centre Scheme has been designed to make India as an attractive destination for setting up hyperscale data centers. It is planned with an aim to add 2000 MW (IT Load) by 2026. The beneficiaries include Data Centre Park Developer (DCPD), Data Centre Developer (DCD) and Data Centre Operator (DCO). Another important new addition named Digital India Infoway will be rolled out to define the Network of Networks” is expected to be the next generation secure network with high speed, redundancy, robust architecture and security which is continuously updated with emerging technologies and would be a high-end multi-tier, multi-technology research, education and eGovernance network.”
National Public Digital Platforms in health, education, agriculture, logistics, women and child development are being worked out. National Digital Health Mission is launched on August 15, 2020 and same has been initiated in 6 Union Territories. For Agriculture and Education also, the blue print is ready and public consultations have been held. Mishra further added on to emphasize on emerging technologies, “ National Programme on AI has been designed to make India the global leader in AI space and ensure responsible and transformational use of AI for All. The components of the programme include AIRAWAT (Infrastructure), AI4All Projects (Ambitious projects with short timeline), ICTAIs, Skilling, Financing AI, and National AI Data Platform. National Strategy on Blockchain has been prepared and the public consultation has been held and the views gathered are incorporated.”
IT sector in Odisha has not only been one of the top recruiters but also has promoted growth of small and medium scale IT companies and tech start-ups, building a robust ecosystem for employment. Over the past two decades, Odisha has also been the hub for skilled manpower in the IT sector. Moreover, the slew of digital interventions by the state government has generated ample job opportunities for the youths. Post Covid pandemic, IT has changed the landscape of working. The use of virtual meeting platforms has ensured that work has continued seamlessly on the remote mode.
Mishra further added on to say: “We are focused on accelerating Digital Transformation. But we realize this can’t be fast-tracked unless we achieve ‘digital inclusion’. Towards, this end, our broader goal is ‘internet for all’. The state government is committed to providing high speed internet connectivity at the grassroots level. We have issued directives to provide Wi-Fi activity at the main activity points of the Gram Panchayats so that all government offices including the schools, medicals and banks can also access the connectivity. In the pursuit of enhanced speed, convenience & transparency in government to citizen (G2C) transactions, the Government of Odisha has initiated the development of Social Registry and Integrated Social Protection Delivery Platform (SPDP). Development of an integrated social registry would make identification & authentication of beneficiaries more transparent, accountable and quicker.”
Going ahead, the state will increasingly tap emerging technologies like Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Big Data & Analytics, AR/VR, Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) for taking citizen centric governance to the next level.