3 years of Digital India – Here’s what has worked and what hasn’t
$1 trillion in GDP by 2025 – that is the potential addition to the economy due to a dozen disruptive technologies, according to a report titled “India’s tech opportunity” by the McKinsey Global Institute. In July 2015, the NDA government embarked on a flagship program to transform India to a “digitally empowered society and knowledge economy” with three vision areas: “Digital Infrastructure as a core utility to every citizen,” “Governance and services on demand” and “Digital empowerment of citizens.”
As the government closes in on the 3-year mark for its program, here’s a look at the areas of progress and focus.
A steady increase in the internet and mobile users
India's Digital Index rose by 56 percent during 2014-2017, from 18 to 29 on a scale of 1-100. This has placed the country second in terms of growth among 17 emerging and mature Digital economies, according to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).
There’s been a steady rise in the use of internet users in the last few years. From 375 million in October’15 to an estimated 500 million by June’18. “Today, over 35% of Indians have access to the internet, thanks to increased availability of mobile internet and smartphones,” says Rituparna Chakraborty, Executive Vice President, TeamLease. “Increased internet access, means increased opportunity for the private and public players to offer digital services – so, in essence, it means the digital economy will grow,” she adds.
“A large part of this credit goes to private sector players – who made the access to internet affordable and easy,” says Rituparna. The rise of Reliance Jio, which sparked a price war in the telecommunications sector significantly pushed the cost of data prices in the country. India may have the cheapest mobile data in the world.
The total mobile phone users in the country are pegged at 650 million, while only 300 million of them are smartphone users. According to Counterpoint research, over 175 million more smartphone users will be added in the next five years.
The sharpest divide in internet penetration is the urban-rural gap. As of December 2017, 64% of urban India was on the internet, while only 20% of rural India.
On governance and services on-demand
Despite the efforts taken by the government to improve e-governance, India ranked at 107th place (as of 2016) in the world in e-governance according to the UN e-governance index.
Aadhar, the unique 12 digit number used to validate identity has come under increasing public and legal scrutiny in the last few years. Experts argue that the data misuse undermines ‘Digital India’ ambitions. Access to the data on the portal and government agencies (including several states and CBI) putting out details online have caused security-related concerns.
The government introduced a number of initiatives including digilockers to share documents electronically and ‘Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM)’ app- the UPI based mobile app for digital payments and BHIM Aadhar. The success of some of the apps along with digital wallets by the private sector like PayTM rested on the demonetization drive. The ‘Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan ‘(PMGDISHA) was aimed at making digitally literate citizens. And efforts were also undertaken to make government apps available in regional languages.
The success of e-governance and ‘Digital India’ does not rest just with the central government. State and local governments also play an active role.
On the e-Kranti projects, at the central and state level, there hasn’t been a consolidated effort to accelerate the initiatives. There is a need to centralize state-level projects, says Dr. Niraj Prakash, Sales Consulting Leader - Digital India and Digital Enterprise, Oracle India.
“The current efforts by state governments are isolated” says Dr. Niraj. While some states are ahead on reforms, many others are still lagging behind. “State governments should be willing to accept the need for transparency and reform” write Kartikeya and Sarah Watson, experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Digitization initiatives policies, reforms in the third quarter of 2017
“Overall, there were a good number of initiatives, but as is the case always– good intent was not matched with good execution and follow-through,” says Rituparna. “we are still playing a catch-up game here – when compared to the rest of the developed world.”
Need for a robust roadmap for the future
Smart cities, a flagship program that is based on digital e-governance has seen a slow start with the launch of 20 cities out of the planned 60. “The complexity of the projects and implementation is tough, but there has been a fair amount of work,” says Dr. Niraj. “The next six months will be critical” he adds. While the long-term projects need a robust roadmap, there is a need to bridge the gap between urban and rural India.
“There is a need to focus and prioritize social impact projects, particularly in education, healthcare, and agriculture,” says Dr. Niraj
Commenting on similar challenge areas Rakesh Kaul, Partner- Government and Public Sector, PwC India says that “a comprehensive re-design of the education and health services delivery ecosystem using digital capabilities can fundamentally alter basic services architecture, which continues to be a big challenge and opportunity for our country.”
“India is still reeling with low literacy levels and rural electrification – which are impediments to achieving the egalitarian vision of the Digital India program. India has come a long way in digitalization, yet it has a long way to go to achieve the vision of Digital India,” says Rituparna. The focus and priorities of “Digital India” need to be aligned with the larger rural population, while a clear roadmap with execution discipline from the center and state government will give a much-needed reboot for the program.
As BJP-led NDA Government completes its 4th year of governance, this is the third article in a five parts series that discusses the impact of key initiatives. Watch this space for the next article!