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Decoding Narendra Modi's Digital India Mega Plan

Digital India will work only when a digital culture is embedded in all government, private and regulatory bodies to provide day-to-day services on the digital platform

The Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has rolled out an impressive Digital India Programme to provide e- services for its citizens. The success of this endeavour would enable India to take the ‘digital’ leap, empowering its citizens and augmenting the efficiency of the economy.

But what is Digital India and how can it make a difference to the common man?

Any digital programme can be broken into three easy segments – input of information digitally (i.e. electronic forms); storing and processing information (i.e. system driven rule based checks to approve and reject applications) and lastly dissemination of information electronically. In computer lingua franca, the above can be described as Input, Process and Output (I-P-O). The success of the I-P-O depends upon three critical aspects - that there is digital literacy (e.g. the person knows how to surf and open websites), connectivity (e.g. internet as a ubiquitous tool) and having a strong digital culture.

In developed countries all public goods and services are linked digitally to their residents e.g. the National Registration Identity Card in Singapore and the Social Security Number in United States. This has brought multitude of benefits to the residents of these countries, including ease of application submission and processing; centralized data repository (of data travel, medical, employment records) along with quick retrieval; leading to improved productivity and efficiency of the system.

Where does India stand?
Taking cue from the above, India has embarked on an ambitious Aadhar Programme, to create a national database for service delivery. With close to a billion enrollments (or more than 90 per cent of adult Indian population), the Programme is a success in terms of inclusion, but it has not achieved the same level of effectiveness as seen with other peer programmes abroad. The reason for this is that any Identity card/system *cannot* act as digital framework but can only serve as link. The Input-Process-Output (I-P-O) framework is sine-qua-non to complete the circle and the National Digital india Programme with its Nine Pillars aims to do just that.

9 pillars of Digital India

Nine pillars of the Digital India Programme can be conformed to the I-P-O model as depicted below.

The 9 pillars focus on:

• Connectivity - through Broadband Highways and mobile subscriptions;
• Automating Input through - e-Governance, automation of financial ecosystem etc.;
• Effective Processing and Storage through eKranti - Electronic delivery of services;
• Focus on Digital Output through initiatives such as Information for all;

The missing link in the 9 pillars
Although the 9 pillars are well grounded, two key aspects missing in the 9 pillars are digital culture and digital literacy. The ninth Pillar of Creating IT jobs can be aligned to Digital Literacy of the I-P-O framework, but that is an effect of, rather than a cause for the Digital India Programme.

Digital India will work only when a digital culture (i.e. all systems are digital) is embedded in all government, private and regulatory bodies to provide day-to-day services on the digital platform. Civil servants may be encouraged to work ‘digitally’ by linking their appraisals to the number of pending files and number of hours in pending state (similar to TAT in private sector) and providing bonuses to their ‘electronic embrace’.

On the opposite side of the spectra, residents may be encouraged to use digital services e.g. providing tax incentives and concessions for businesses/SME’s/kirana shops on digitally recording a certain percentage of total transactions. Cash back incentives may be provided for online bill payments.

On the digital literacy front, while Moore’s law has made silicon chips smaller every 18 months, it has left a whole generation (and maybe two) digitally compromised, especially in the Tier 3-6 cities, where people would need more than simple hand holding.

The government can make a beginning in this critical area by opening helpdesks and kiosks dedicated to improving digital literacy. Digital awareness campaigns may be rolled out to showcase benefits of digital services.

A positive spin off effect would be to bring more transactions into the economy at the cost of the self-defeating parallel economy. Popular social media tools like Facebook, and Whatsapp can also be harnessed to disseminate information and essential public announcements about latest local events through designated e-officers. A robust capacity building digital programme would also be needed – to bring residents ‘up to speed’ and also to serve as a platform to recruit/train service providers

Going digital can have huge benefit to a nation – from reduction in processing time for approvals to improvement in productivity of its workforce. Even without relying of foreign capital and investment, a Digital empowered society would add many notches to our GDP.

India is thinking big and Digital India is a critical tool for it to act big. If we get tie up the missing pieces together, the nation will be ready for a lift off!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Rajul Jain

The author is head of regulatory and risk management - m-commerce at Idea Cellular Ltd

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