The prime minister recently announced the exciting Digital India programme (DIP).
However, there are three things: one, there is nothing new except that it is repackaged into one brand name; secondly, it should have been called “Digital Bharat” rather than Digital India; thirdly, we at Digital Empowerment Foundation felt elated that two of its three words—digital and empowerment—have been used in the programme details several times.
First of all, what is DIP? The official material says, “Digital India—A programme to transform India into digitally empowered society and knowledge economy”. It further claims, “Digital India aims to provide the much needed thrust to the nine pillars of growth areas, namely: Broadband Highways, Universal Access to Mobile Connectivity, Public Internet Access Programme, e-Governance—Reforming Government through Technology, e-Kranti—Electronic Delivery of Services, Information for All, Electronics Manufacturing, IT for Jobs, and Early Harvest Programmes”. Out of nine, four are about the Internet and access, which also means that universal web access must be a human right.
In fact, my understanding is that unless I have access, I cannot exercise any of my existing rights.
Among its three vision areas, the first is “Infrastructure as Utility to Every Citizen”, which pledges to deliver: high-speed Internet in all gram panchayats; cradle-to-grave digital identity; mobile phone and bank account; and shareable private space on a public cloud.
My take is that this may not happen as long as BSNL is one of the players—remove it, or change the entire set of employees on the ground, or hand over laying of National Optic Fibre Network to the private sector. Besides, broadband to all can happen overnight, if Internet Service Provider (ISP) licences are given to very small entities, including non-government organizations at the grassroots.
For digital identity, I would suggest UIDAI work with all similar entities gathering citizen information, including all telcos. We’re already moving to make every mobile a bank account, so financial inclusion is soon going to be complete.
For “shareable private space on a public cloud”, I would suggest compelling every elected official to join the virtual space and open that up to public access and scrutiny.
The second vision area of DIP is“governance and services on demand”. This is not possible unless we have access for all—even with mobile, no more than half the population has access. Besides, all mobile networks have to become at least 3G-capable. The decision to make all government departments and documents digital must create space and scope to create rural business process outsourcing at block and tehsil levels. The third vision of DIP is “digital empowerment of citizens”, which includes universal digital literacy; making all digital resources universally accessible; all government documents/certificates to be available on the cloud; availability of digital resources/services in Indian languages; collaborative digital platforms for participative governance; portability of all entitlements for individuals through the cloud.
This is like a dream come true but won’t happen if the approach is populist. For example, free distribution of gadgets won’t bring universal access or digital literacy, but may bring in some votes. Most appropriate approach could be to target institutionally. All 3 million elected panchayat members, all 7 million teachers in government schools and all 2 million health workers and municipality staff must be made digitally literate at first. The Rs.100 crore budget for making one million people digitally literate is just not enough.
However, making all government entitlements available on the cloud is a great move if it is multilingual and mobile-enabled.
I would urge the private sector to read the DIP document and see how it can align its corporate social responsibility with the targets. Otherwise, DIP will remain a pipe dream.