Digital India

The Digital India Programme of the NDA Government is a repackaged and consolidated version of the hitherto called National e-governance plan with an equally nice-sounding label. It seeks to deliver all government services electronically. It not only envisages giving boost to information technology but also envisages achieving import-export balance in electronics.

Overview

The DI initiative was envisaged by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (Deity), and will be implemented in phases that will culminate in 2018-19. The initiative is being implemented as an umbrella programme which shall include all departments and ministries within its scope. However, the implementation shall be monitored and overseen by a Digital India Advisory group that will be headed by the Ministry of Communications.

Objectives

The Digital India (DI) initiative aims to bring digital empowerment to India and aid in its transition to becoming a knowledge economy. The programme aims to do so through a combination of building digital infrastructure, providing digital services, implementing e-governance in an accessible manner and using technology as a driver of change and growth. Thus, the objectives are:

  • Transform so far agrarian Indian economy to a knowledge-centric economy
  • Plug the widening digital divide in Indian society
  • Give India equal footing with the developed world in terms of development with the aid of latest technology.

Salient Features

Umbrella programme which includes the hitherto National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN) to connect 2,50,000 gram Panchayats by providing internet connectivity to all citizens.

  • To be completed in phased manner by 2019.
  • To be monitored by a Digital India committee comprised of several ministers.
  • Contemplates creation of massive infrastructure to provide high-speed internet at the gram level, e-availability of major government services like health, education, security, justice, financial inclusion etc. thereby digitally empowering citizens.
  • Will also ensure public answerability via a unique ID, e-Pramaan based on standard government applications and fully online delivery of services.
  • Has capacity to create huge number of jobs.
  • If implemented well, will be a great boost for the electronics industry in India and expectedly will see a fall in imports of electronics.

Nature and Scope

DI aims to encourage the participation of individuals in digital activities through promotion of digital usage through mobile phones etc and also beefing up of infrastructure. High speed internet will be made available at the Gram Panchayat level. Individuals will maintain a digital identity right from birth. A public cloud will be created with private space that could be shared. Emphasis will also be placed on making cyber space secure for Indians.

All departments and ministries will work together to provide single window access to all individuals. Government services can be availed either through mobile phones or through the internet. All processes will be simplified, making digital access easier. Citizen entitlements will be made available on the cloud. Also, efforts will be undertaken to make financial transactions of a sizeable amount electronic and cashless.

Another major aim of the DI is to educate people and increase awareness about digital processes. To further this aim, the government will promote universal digital literacy and make all digital resources universally accessible to the people. Also, to make digital resources and services accessible to all people, it will be made available in all Indian languages.

Scope of DI

The DI programme covers a wide range of areas:-

  • Broadband Services– It provides for incremental coverage of broadband services in gram panchayats over a span of three years at a cost of Rs. 32,000 crore under the guidance of Department of Telecommunications (DoT). It also provides for building up of a national information infrastructure with the guidance of Deity.
  • Mobile connectivity– Another important objective is to provide universal access to mobiles, improve mobile connectivity and increase mobile network penetration at a cost of 16,000 crores and under the DoT’s purview.
  • Public Internet Access– DI also aims to establish service centres in rural areas through a National Rural Internet Mission and in post offices thus ensuring easy public access to internet and other digital services.
  • E-governance– The government aims to simplify procedures and reduce bureaucratic hurdles by using IT for a variety of purposes such as maintaining electronic databases, registering grievances against public officials etc.
  • E-kranti– This provides for electronic delivery of services such as education, healthcare, dispensing justice, educating farmers, forming plans, increasing financial inclusion etc. DI will continue in the footsteps of the National e-governance Plan with respect to implementation of these.
  • Access to information– Use technology to proactively engage with citizens through social media, emails, messages etc. Also, build portals that provide people easy access to relevant information
  • Manufacturing of electronics– DI aims to bring down India’s electronics imports to zero by 2020 through adopting a variety of measures aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing
  • IT Jobs– Creation of skilled workforce in the area of IT. Improve capacity-building and provide training so that a suitable workforce is built. The DI programme envisages 1.7 crore direct and 8.5 crore indirect opportunities.
  • Early harvest programmes– Envisions converting all government greetings into e-greetings. Development of an IT platform for mass messaging and biometric attendance for all government employees is also being developed.
  • National Knowledge Network (NKN) : The scheme has been initiated for establishing the National Knowledge Network with multiple gigabit bandwidth to connect Knowledge Institutions across the country
  • Also includes connecting citizens by social network called MyGov, envisages as Net-Zero Electronics Import Target by 2020 and setting up of an Electronic development fund.

Critical Note

The backbone of this programme will be “National Optical Fiber Network”, which was started in 2011 and set out the vision to connect 250000 gram Panchayats in 27 months at the cost of Rs. 20,000 Crore. Its target was subsequently scaled down to less than half (1.10 lakh Panchayats) due to miserable implementation and then the targets as well as the plan lost into oblivion.

What went wrong with the above programme? Chiefly it was lack of coordination. This programme was approved by the Union Cabinet, and its implementation committee had names such as Sam Pitroda and Nandan Nilekani. But it failed.

Apart from lack of coordination, the other reasons to why NOFN failed included:

  • Neither hardware requirements nor software requirements were appropriately thought of.
  • Corruption and cartels at work, so procurement tenders did not happen in time.
  • No revenue model for the project to sustain
  • India did not have capability to manufacture the inputs
  • Issues in getting land and other resources from states

The new project is not only bigger in approach than NOFN but also five times bigger in its budget. The new government has set a deadline of just 4 years; so it seems almost unrealistic that targets will be achieved within the time limit. If the project is implemented well it has the ability and energy to transform Indian way of life and doing public business as it will synchronize and synergize all digital initiatives for a better and more connected India. Not only IT/ITeS, telecom, electronics manufacturing sectors would be benefited from Digital India, but there will be a positive impact on other industry sectors as well, like Power Sector and Banking and Financial Services. But the challenges are daunting and they are indeed in its proper and time bound implementation.

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