In these past few years, digital technology has become a vital factor in accelerating the pace of India’s economic growth, in promoting social and economic equity by enhancing access for all to information, markets and public services; and in overcoming the country’s infrastructure deficit. Digital technology can help India realise the ambition of creating a just and equitable society. It can help propel India to the front rank of nations, particularly leveraging the energies of the country’s youthful population, with its propensity for quick adaptation and frugal innovation.
The ‘Digital India’ initiative was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1 July 2015, and on the fourth anniversary of the programme, we can celebrate the fact that there have been dramatic improvements in all of its three key facets: in the creation of pervasive national digital infrastructure, in the electronic delivery of public services and financial succour to citizens, and in enhancing digital awareness and literacy.
We can justly be proud of the fact that India is one of the fastest digitising nations in the world; driven by an explosion in mobile connectivity, the permeation of internet infrastructure nationwide under the iconic BharatNet programme, the exponential growth of data consumption, and the emergence of start-ups in the digital transformation space that are creating new livelihoods, services and wealth for millions of Indians. Currently, 1230 million Indians possess digital identities in the form of Aadhaar cards, while there are over 1210 million mobile phones and 560 million internet connections.
One of the most successful outcomes of the ’Digital India’ initiative has been the runaway success of the Jandhan-Aadhaar- Mobile[ JAM] initiative, which has provided a digital identity to more than a billion Indian citizens as well as access to the banking system to millions of Indians who were earlier excluded from the formal economy.
The government’s Direct Benefit Transfer [DBT] scheme now caters to around 350 million Indians, liberating them from bureaucratic impediments, while ensuring that process leakages are a thing of the past. Instantaneous and safe financial transactions are now within reach of all, with the Unified Payments Interface having grown in three years from a mere 100,000 to 800 million transactions in March 2019.
Following the success of the DBT initiative, efforts are underway to provide more public services online, in an ‘anytime, anywhere’ mode, thus converting the ubiquitous mobile phone into an instrument of economic and social empowerment as well as access to livelihoods and information. There is little doubt that this new wave of governance reform is likely to promote economic empowerment, as well as radically enhance ‘ease of living’, particularly for those sections of the population whose aspirations are currently impeded by social barriers and geographic constraints. One of the major accomplishments of the ‘Digital India’ initiative is the fact that nearly 119,000 gram panchayats in far-flung locales are connected by digital optical fibre.
One of the most promising outcomes of India’s digital transformation experiment is its role in catalysing the energies and in meeting the blossoming aspirations of India’s youth, who have a natural flair for technology. Apart from the iconic start-ups that have metamorphosed into unicorns, thousands of technology enterprises and BPOs are sprouting across small-town and rural India, with the government’s 365,000 Citizen’s Service Centres [CSCs] providing employment to a million small entrepreneurs, as well as access to information and services to millions.
In the realm of digital literacy, the government’s Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan [PMGDISHA] has ambitions of making 60 million Indians digitally literate, and it is anticipated that this programme will attain greater traction in the days ahead.
What is really exciting is the realisation that India’s digital transformation saga has only just commenced. The creation of a nationwide digital infrastructure, allied with potent new tools and technologies that are on the anvil: AI, Big Data, and the Internet of Things [IOT]; is expected to galvanise sectors that affect the well-being of every Indian, ranging from agriculture, that can benefit from the infusion of technological intelligence, to natural-resource management, energy-use, transportation, urban-infrastructure and manufacturing: indeed there is practically no aspect of modern life that cannot be improved by the application of intelligent digitisation. India is striving to become one of the early adopters of 5G technology, and its induction is expected to multiply possibilities and opportunities across the spectrum in ways that we cannot fathom now.
The Prime Minister has recently set a new national goal of India becoming a 5 trillion dollar economy by the year 2025, and there is little doubt that the refreshed ‘Digital India’ programme will play a critical role in realising this audacious ambition.