Emphasizing on transparency and an efficient interface between the government and citizens of India, the United Progressive Alliance launched the National e-Governance Plan in 2006. As it benefited only 18% of the middle class population, the National Democratic Alliance reinvigorated the same by addressing the major lacunae of digital empowerment and knowledge based economy under the umbrella program of “Digital India”. The government has tried digitizing almost all the sectors of the economy. Increased internet accessibility, mobile connectivity and banking facilities were brought under the ‘Digital Infrastructure’, transforming services and making them available online on a single window under ‘Governance and e-Services on Demand’. Participative governance was encouraged by universalizing digital literacy under ‘Digital Empowerment’.
Besides the services that will be electronically provided under e-Kranti, not only will the information of the government functioning be accessible online but a platform to engage citizens will also be initiated under the ‘Discuss’ and ‘Dissemination’ Approach. Coupled with making the government accountable to the citizens, it will enable the citizens to participate in the democratic framework of the country beyond exercising basic voting rights. The campaign for “Digital India” unfolded on 1st July, 2015. Before the announcement of the Union Budget 2016-17, improvement was observed in mobile manufacturing from Rs. 5.4 Cr. in 2014-15 to Rs. 11 Cr. in 2015-16. To give a boost to the same, Rs. 120,294 Cr. was allocated in the budget and duty advantage in comparison with imported goods were given to encourage the domestic manufacturing of components.
Under Bharat Net, the world’s largest rural broadband project using optical fibre, 250,000 gram panchayats were expected to be connected by high speed digital highway. By the end of 2016, the OFC pipe was laid from 2292 km to 124,797 km. 40 lakh people against the target of 52.5 lakh people were trained in the IT sector. This led to generation of employment with a net addition of 2 lakh people. As broadband connectivity, digital literacy and cashless transactions were the primary focus, the Union Budget (2017-18) saw heightened allocations in these areas. From the Bharat Net project being given Rs. 1000 Cr., initiatives like DigiGaon was launched to provide tele-medicine education and skills through digital technology. To boost digital transactions, two schemes to promote the usage of BHIM was launched– the Referral Bonus Scheme for Individuals and Cashless Scheme for Merchants.
200000 Common Service Centers (to provide public internet accessibility in remote areas with poor connectivity) had employed over 500000 youth by then. The 2018-19 Budget doubled the allocation on the Digital India program to 3073 Cr. rupees with proposals to set up five lakh Wi-Fi hotspots to provide net connectivity to five Cr. rural citizens and development of online marketplace by stipulating 372 specific business reform actions. The interim budget 2019-2020 released this year, praising India of leading the world in consumption of mobile data and monthly consumption of the same increasing by 50 times over the last five years. It has elaborated on how mobile parts manufacturing companies have increased from 2 to more than 268 providing huge job opportunities. To expand the unprecedented proposal of Direct Benefit Transfer, nearly 34 Cr. Jan Dhan bank accounts were opened.
On the flipside, internet usage has been close to 15% in India and people residing in rural areas find it difficult to afford. Although Bharat Net has been laying cables to ensure broadband connectivity, India remains stuck at the total of 15 million wireless users. India was ranked 20th in Mobile Data Speed with an average speed of 0.99 mbps. Mobile networks do not ensure working networks as 42,300 villages exist outside the reach of a mobile signal. Villagers claim of electricity unavailability in their areas, thus questions the establishment of the Saubhagya scheme which has been deemed successful by the government. In spite of the booming digital literacy initiatives, nearly 33% of the Indian population is illiterate and one-third of youth do not attend secondary education, according to the World Economic Forum report.
With 93% of the 475 million people engaged in unorganized labor and most of them being illiterate, how will the technology installed help them, especially farmers, to get real time price information, online ordering of inputs and online loan relief? When underlining electronic manufacturing as an essential component of digital economy, it was expected that imports shall match exports by 2020. India, today, stands to import three quarter of the $400 billion worth of electronic products it ought to consume in the next five years, whereas, the hardware exports are still under $10 billion. One of the major precepts of Digital India, proposes to train over 10 million students from smaller towns and villages for IT sector jobs. The quality of training is also largely questionable– 3 lakh service delivery agents needs to be trained for IT services and 5 lakh rural workers need to be trained by telecom operators.
India still ranks 91 out of the 138 countries on the Networked Readiness Index (NRI) of 2016, a measure by WEF on examining the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in driving information. On building infrastructure and level of skills among the population, India has been ranked 101. In comparison to 2013(UPA regime), India has fairly progressed. It is ranked 68 out of the 144 countries. Years succeeding 2013 observed scores changing marginally whereas other countries have been racing at a faster speed. With a comprehensive analysis being made among the Union Budgets, it signals that “Digital India” as a part of policy building program has been well nourished as an infant and is in the transitional phase of childhood. With the same conviction to nourish it in the path of success, days will not be far when it will lead to a smooth and healthy transformation to adulthood.
Picture Courtesy- Swarajya
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