While announcing the Digital India project in his Independence Day Speech, Narendra Modi made it obvious that e-Governance is going to be a key area of focus for this government. Carrying a price tag of close to Rs 1.13 lakh crore, and built on the backbone of broadband highways and mobile telephony, the Digital India project has the potential of empowering every citizen in the Digital India – A program to transform India into digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.
The backbone of this grand project is the national broadband plan which aims to connect 250,000 village councils to be completed by December 2016. If executed successfully, every citizen will be able to easily access government services, which will be seamlessly integrated across departments and jurisdictions, and available in real time on mobile phones and online, in Indian languages.
The government feels that such a massive IT project will spur large private sector investments in electronics manufacturing, which in turn will create millions of new jobs and support trade. But the most important impact of the Digital India project will be on the National e-Governance Plan, which could now have a fresh lease of life.
According to Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, the Digital India project will provide people with a “cradle to grave digital identity” that is “unique, lifelong and online”. The minister says that the overall scope of this programme is “to prepare India for a knowledge future”, “to make technology central to enabling change” and “to become an umbrella programme covering many departments”. “The focus of this project is on being transformative – to realise IT+ IT = IT, i.e., India Today + Information Technology = India Tomorrow,” says Ravi Shankar Prasad.
Driving e-Governance in the Country
At a time, when there is increasing awareness among citizens about their rights with a resultant increase in expectations from the government to perform and deliver, the whole paradigm of governance has changed. Today the government is expected to be transparent in its dealings, accountable for its activities and faster in its responses. Digital India subsumes a mix of services and plans that are just right for reinvigorating the state of governance in the country.
The Digital India project is a step in the right direction; it promises several new possibilities for India. The announcement of an IT project of this scale from the government is by itself a proof of the fact that now India is ready to start investing in technology to improve its economic outlook. If implemented correctly, this project will bring forth a new layer of engagement between the government, businesses and citizens.
Like most citizens of this country, many of the private sector companies are of the view that process efficiency will improve tremendously through the implementation of this project. The success of Digital India project will enable the government to engage with the citizens in a more efficient manner.
Going digital is a need of the hour. A digital interface can enable the government to engage and interact with the public in a manner that is convenient to them both. This initiative will go a long way in bridging the digital divide and empowering the citizens of the country.
The rapid adoption of technology in governance will bring government machinery to the doorsteps of the citizens. Expansion of telephone network, rapid strides in mobile telephony, spread of internet and strengthening of the related communications infrastructure should facilitate delivery of a large number of services provided by the government. Such an enhancement of the reach of government should enable a deeper and better participation of the citizens in the process of governance.
India is a unique country when it comes to digital adoption. It has leapfrogged a few steps in its digital journey with its mobile first approach. It is believed that a new thrust on promoting mobile connectivity can help India make more progress on the digital path.
The Path Forward: Public Private Partnership
The private sector sees lot of opportunities in the e-Governance space. To begin with, IT industry body Nasscom (National Association of Software and Services Companies) has been contemplating how the $100 billion industry can be part of the government’s ambitious programme of Digital India.
“Nasscom looks forward to the opportunity to partner with the government in achieving this lofty vision. Nasscom has also been working with the government to create a facilitative investment climate, and improve ease of doing business in India by way of requisite policy changes and relevant policy implementation measures for enhanced competitiveness of our country,” says R. Chandrashekhar, President, Nasscom.
It is encouraging for us to see the Indian government under the new regime prioritising technology as an enabler for the transformation and development of India. In fact, integrating technology into everyone’s everyday life, is a huge opportunity to achieve better citizen services, inclusive growth and a digitally empowered economy.
Given that the goal of this project is to provide services in real time from online and mobile platforms, it opens doors for large number of IT industry players to develop platforms, which can help in providing government services and information to people in all parts of the country. The government will issue certificates that store data – for education, residential, medical history, birth certificates etc., in individual ‘digital lockers’ and establish a protocol that enables departments to access them physically without any need for seeing the hard copy. To enable this, the security and data accessibility solutions will have to be accounted for in the deployment plan.
The IT sector in the country employs close to 3 million professionals directly and about 9 million indirectly. In government the number of IT employees is very small in comparison, so it is a obvious that the success of Digital India project can be ensured only when the private sector gets involved in a major way for project development, execution and management. For the project to be successful, the way ahead is private and public sector need to collaborate in terms of resources from monetary to technology support, human resources and infrastructure. While the government takes up the task of taking the project forward, the private sector will support the project with its resources, expertise and technology under the framework of public private partnership.
Opportunities and Challenges
Given the scope of the Digital India project, it is expected that it will open up avenues for extensive participation from the private sector. However, the past experience of private sector companies for working in e-Governance projects has not been good. A key problem is that even the smallest e-Governance project can need the consent of many ministries for effective implementation. Lot of time can get wasted in getting the necessary permissions and regulatory approvals from various ministries involved. The private sector will find it difficult to get enthused about e-Governance projects if there are endless delays. A system has to be developed to ensure that the projects get implemented in time.
Also, in a country like India where many people are not digitally literate, it is a technological challenge to ensure process efficiency, without which people from all sections of society can’t take benefit of the new service. The systems that are developed must be user friendly. If the e-Governance system is so complicated that the end-user has difficulty in using it then it is of little use. The effective implementation of e-Governance initiatives also needs capacity building amongst government employees. New academic courses and modules will have to be developed not just at school and college levels, but also for the benefit of serving government officials in various government departments in the centre and states.
At times we find that government projects get stymied due to faulty implementation and outreach. The government has rolled out many schemes and projects including the NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005) and the Rajiv Gandhi state wide insurance scheme in Maharashtra. But due to lack of process efficiency, these schemes faced the challenges of outreach to the lower strata of population. Most processes are manual and contain a number of loopholes which can be exploited. If the government has a vision for Digital India, there should be a plan for improving process efficiency with an emphasis on reaching out to the targeted individuals.
The issue of data security is also an area of concern for a project like Digital India, in which lot of data will have to be put online. “Securing data at all time is going to be a critical requirement that the government has to address before embarking on this ambitious project. The protection of citizen’s information is of paramount importance. The security of critical infrastructure needs to be ensured through strict compliance of the security policy and the use of modern techniques, tools and processes.
Digital India is a programme to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy by leveraging IT as a growth engine. The ultimate objective is to deliver all possible government services to citizens electronically.
The focus of the new Government to build Digital India by connecting every household, village, panchayat, universities, and government departments will go a long way in providing solution to the never ending problems of particular rural India and to create smart governance. As part of the digital agenda, the Government wants to make every household and every individual digitally empowered.
For the Digital India to be successful, the way ahead is the synergy and collaboration between private and public sector in terms of resources from monetary to technology support, human resources and infrastructure.
Col Jagdish Jamwal