Digital India: Technology is central to enabling change

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A brief summary of the objectives and vision of the Digital India programme

Digital India, a national programme to transform India into a digitally-empowered society and knowledge economy, was approved by the Cabinet on August 20 2014. The programme, conceptualised by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY),  aims to be transformational in nature, ensuring that all government services are available to citizens electronically through e-governance programmes. This is envisaged to bring in public accountability and seamless integration across government departments.

According to the Digital India website, the government plans to extend coverage of the information infrastructure nationally from 2014 to 2017. The cost of the entire project is estimated at about Rs 1.13 lakh crore.

The programme aims at infrastructural reforms such as high-speed internet in all gram panchayats, lifelong digital identification for citizens, mobile banking for all, easy access to Common Service Centres (CSC), shareable private spaces on an easily accessible public Cloud and cyber-security.

Digital India envisions universal digital literacy and universal accessibility of all digital resources for citizens. This will be ensured by making the resources and services accessible in regional languages and providing digital platforms for participatory governance. To ensure convenience, all government documents and certificates will be available on the Cloud and will be portable.

The umbrella programme that is Digital India aims at restructuring and synchronising various existing schemes as well as new ones into a single integrated transformative programme. It will make technology central to enabling change.

Digital India aims to provide the much-needed thrust to growth areas. For example, providing broadband highways in urban and rural regions. On January 23, 2015, the Times of India reported that the Central government would be providing free high-speed 4G Wi-Fi in 2,500 cities and towns across the country over three years and the programme, involving an investment of up to Rs 7,000 crore, would be implemented by state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL).Other initiatives include universal access to mobile connectivity, public internet access programmes involving greater accessibility to CSCs and multi-service centres, interactive e-governance, e-Kranti programmes wherein services like education, healthcare, security, financial inclusion, justice, and aid to farmers will be facilitated with electronic delivery, universal accessibility to information digitally, facilitating independent electronics manufacturing and creating jobs in the IT sector through digital literacy and skills training.

The programme seeks to accomplish these broad goals by revamping existing e-governance initiatives, leveraging ICT infrastructure established by the Government of India and encouraging public-private partnerships in necessary fields.

A programme management structure will be established to monitor implementation. Key components of the management structure will consist of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) to approve projects, a Monitoring Committee headed by the prime minister, a Digital India Advisory Group chaired by the minister of communications and IT, an Apex Committee chaired by the cabinet secretary and the Expenditure Finance Committee (EFC) / Committee on Non Plan Expenditure (CNE).

Following its approval by the Cabinet in August 2014, the Digital India programme has been on its way to implementation in recent months. On January 27, 2015, Business Standard reported that India and the United States have signed a Joint Declaration of Intent for cooperation in the field of Information & Communications Technology and Electronics (ICTE). The Joint Declaration was signed by the Secretary, Department of Electronics and IT, RS Sharma, and US Ambassador to India, Richard Verma. The Secretary, Department of Electronics and IT said that this was likely to strengthen a partnership facilitating the Digital India programme in fields such as electronic manufacturing and cyber security. Digital India has also featured prominently in the discussions of theIndia-US Working Group on Information and Communication Technologies (WG-ICT). According to The Hindu, “In the coming months, the group’s deliberations are expected to yield results on some of the key components of the programme— digital infrastructure (to support the National Optic Fibre Network), an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) regime (essential to building smart cities), and foreign ICT investment (in line with the ‘Make in India’ policy)”. In terms of public-private partnerships, on January 27, 2015, MediaNama reported that the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) and Samsung Electronicshave signed an MOU to set up the MSME-Samsung Technical School, with an aim to establish a total of 10 such schools for conducting joint training programmes across the country. Students will be provided trade-specific training in repair and troubleshooting for consumer electronics products like mobile phones, home theatres, televisions among others as well aseducation in soft skills to provide good customer service. According to MediaNama, Samsung mentioned that it will source a lot of parts and components of their products from Indian industries, especially MSMEs to promote ‘Make in India’.Companies like HP and Google have also extended their support to the project.

The Central government has also begun to implement infrastructural reforms in addition to the provision of high-speed WiFi;there are plans to launch an array of people-centric digital services including digital lockers, cloud sharing, electronic signature, WiFi hot spots and e-textbook projects, among other services.Niti Central on January 30 2015, quoted DeitY Secretary RS Sharma as having said, “Citizens can put copies of digitally verified certificates on public cloud system, called ‘Digital Lockers’. Each private locker will store all the important documents of the user, which are digitally verified by government. Instead of sending physical copies, users can share the link of that cloud folder having digital copies of verified certificates. In the soft launch, we aim to provide such lockers, having 1GB space each, to 1 million users soon.”

The Digital India programme in its objectives acknowledges that in the 21st century government and its services must reach the doorsteps of citizens and contribute towards a long-lasting positive impact., February 2015

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