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Digital India: How Far Have We Come?



2021 marked six years of the Digital India program. Launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1st July 2015, it aims to digitally empower the nation in the technological domain by enhancing online infrastructure and Internet connectivity. It focused primarily on strengthening the digital empowerment of citizens, bracing grassroots democracy through digital interventions, improving governance, providing services on demand, and providing digital infrastructure as a source of utility to citizens.


NINE PILLARS OF DIGITAL INDIA


Through technology-driven transformation, the government aims to thrust nine core areas of development, namely, the nine pillars. These include:

  1. Broadband Highways: The department of technology (DOT) envisions providing Internet access to approximately 2.5 lakh villages and gram panchayats along with urban areas through National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN).

  2. Universal access to mobile coverage: Even today, 55000 villages lack mobile coverage and Internet access. This comprehensive plan focuses on minimizing the connectivity gap in the nation as well as fostering network penetration.

  3. Public Interest Access program: 150000 Post Offices and 250000 CSCs would be transformed into multi-service centers to deliver government and business services and customized content through affordable Internet access.

  4. E-governance: Government processes would be reengineered through the use of Information Technology to make them simpler and more efficient. The guiding principles include making forms user-friendly and ensuring the collection of relevant information only. It also provides transparency in online application tracking and integration of services and platforms through open Application Programming Interfaces (API).

  5. E-Kranti: It aims to provide all the essential services electronically to citizens and digitally transform various industries like education (to connect all institutions through broadband services and use innovative technology to impart knowledge) and health (telemedicine facilities). It also includes delivering financial and banking services online.

  6. Information for all: Government seeks to proactively interact with the citizens through social media and online platforms. MyGov.in was established to foster two-way communication between the government and the citizens by exchanging details, ideas, and suggestions.

  7. Electronics Manufacturing: It focuses on driving up the manufacture of electronics within the country and meeting the target of zero imports through taxation, incentives on domestic production, economies of scale, and elimination of cost disadvantages.

  8. IT for Jobs: this pillar focuses on imparting technical skills to youth that are essential to secure a job in the information technology sector.

  9. Early Harvest Programmes: Short duration projects like Wi-Fi in all universities, secure email with government, public Wi-Fi hotspots, were to be implemented under this.




OBJECTIVES OF DIGITAL INDIA


With the motto of 'Power to Empower, the Digital India initiative comprises three core areas, digital infrastructure creation, rendering services digitally, and digital literacy. Its objectives are:

  • Enable all the gram panchayats to access high-speed Internet

  • Make Common Service Centers easily accessible

  • Amalgamate several ideas and thoughts into a comprehensive vision as a part of one significant goal

  • Restructure existing schemes to implement them in a coordinated fashion.



CHALLENGES OF DIGITAL INDIA MISSION

  • The country lacks the enormous investment and efficient infrastructure required to enable every village to access high-speed Internet.

  • Many Indian citizens, especially in rural areas, lack digital knowledge and do not possess adequate skills to use the Internet. The government needs to undertake awareness campaigns to tackle the digital divide.

  • Another problem is poor connectivity as we are currently equipped with only 31,000 hotspots though we need over 80 lakh.

  • Many small and medium scale industries would face an immense struggle to adapt to modern technology.

  • The Internet speed in India is plodding as compared to that of the developed nations.

  • India does not have adequate laws to protect the digital privacy of citizens, which proves to be a significant threat considering how vulnerable digital information is to cybercrime.


DEMONETIZATION: A BREAKTHROUGH MOMENT FOR DIGITAL INDIA


8th November 2016 was when the status of legal tender was stripped off the currency notes of Rs. 1000 and Rs. 500. How effective it continues to be a hot topic for debate even today. However, everyone would agree that had it not been for demonetization, the system of digital payments would not be soaring to its current heights.


The biggest impediment that it helped overcome was the resistance towards a change brought about by new technology. As long queues waited desperately outside the banks to exchange the discontinued currency notes, people found themselves in a severe cash crunch crisis. With no other option, an all-time high acceptance as well as the adoption of fintech services was witnessed. Paytm saw a 200% growth in 45 years old+ customer base and today, 40% of its customers are from cities that do not belong to Tier-1.

According to the Paytm founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma, earlier when they approached local vendors to opt for these options, they could not understand why they should include it as a method of payment. Today, however, 7.24 lakh street vendors are digitally active, and there are as many as 5.92 digital transactions each day.


Merchant discount rate fee, which used to be levied on digital transactions, was brought down considerably post demonetization due to competition and a drastic increase in fintech companies.



COVID 19 AND DIGITAL INDIA


As the pandemic ravaged the world and brought it to a standstill, it propelled digital transformation speed, which would otherwise have taken several years. The most profound driving factor was the "necessity to opt for tech solutions."

Apprehensions towards physically touching currency notes led to widespread adoption of contactless digital payment methods, as fintech companies widened their array of services.

Reliance on Artificial Intelligence, Information technology, and core technology system increased. It brought the biggest boom for Ed-tech companies, as schools shifted from pen and paper learning to online classes. Work from home triggered wide-scale adoption of virtual meeting methods as entire offices moved to the digital space.

Aarogya Setu, which has over 127 million downloads, was used by the government to check the spread of the virus. Bengaluru, the tech-hub of India, used drones to spray disinfectants, survey areas, and monitor containment zones, while Jharkhand used collaborative robots. State Governments regulated the demand and availability of ventilators and PPEs through the use of technology. Telemedicine emerged as a sustainable solution to bridge the gap between patients, physicians, and health systems.


The government has also introduced coding training for middle school students to equip the future youth with the necessary skills to take the nation forward digitally, reaffirming that the trend is here to stay.


Conclusion


As the Digital India initiative clocks in 6 years, India has emerged as the second-fastest digital adopter out of seventeen major economies, spearheading digital and technological innovations. There have been significant improvements in the digital arena (such as digital delivery and digital infrastructure) as the initiative propelled wide-scale adoption of technology-driven products.

Constraints on physical infrastructure compelled citizens to adopt alternatives, and with the world gradually returning to normal, it seems highly unlikely that people would abandon the robust technology that kept the world going in the apocalypse.

The government needs to collaborate with the private sector to expand networking to remote rural areas. According to experts, a digital economy can contribute $1 trillion to India's $5 trillion economy vision. To exploit untapped potential, the government needs to acknowledge the digital infrastructure with as much profundity as the physical infrastructure, in which 80% of its investment goes. It is only then that the ambitious vision of a Digital India would transform into reality.


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