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Narendra Modi Mandate: Definite Boost For Digital India

The clear mandate that the citizens of this country have given the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), spells good news for the Digital India initiatives that the government initiatied and implemented over the last five years.

These initiatives include e-governance, Smart Cities programmed, the Government e Marketplace (GeM), e-Hospitals, e-Courts, Digi-Lockers, Common Service Centres, Make in India, Skills India, digital payments and the United Payment Interface (UPI) and the fillip to the home-grown electronic and startup ecosystem. Many of these programmes were ironically introduced by the former United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government but are now being taken to their logical conclusion by the current government.

Coupled with these is the NDA government’s recognition that India needs high-speed 5G networks as it enters the Internet of Things (IoT) era; that it needs advanced data analytics to harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) tools; and that it needs to hone the use of other digital technologies like blockchain for smart contracts to usher in more transparency and speed up financial transactions.

Moreover, Narendra Modi himself is bullish on technology, is an ardent fan of social networking sites like Twitter and even experimented with a hologram in May 2014 in his bid to address multiple rallies simultaneously.

However, Digital India needs funds. It was only on 21 May that the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) exhorted the Fifteenth Finance Commission, headed by Chairman N.K. Singh, to release funds for Digital India since the country was standing on the verge of a trillion dollar digital opportunity.

In its memorandum to the Commission, MeitY made some specific suggestions to ensure that the Digital India programme. Moreover, since the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) is not a centrally-sponsored scheme any longer, MeitY asked for separate funds for the NeGP Scheme. It also proposed continuous Union support for funding under CSS the implementation of the core ICT infrastructure such as State Data Centres (SDC), State Wide Area Network (SWAN), State Service Delivery Gateway (SSDG), e-Districts etc.

The Commission assured MeitY that it would take into consideration all the issues raised by the Ministry in making its final recommendations. Now that the Modi government is sure to be back in power, the funds are likely to be disbursed in a timely manner.

On the positive side, India along with Singapore and Japan is among the top 20 countries in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Readiness Index released by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and Oxford Insights on 21 May. India was ranked 19 in the AI readiness ranking, that examines 194 countries worldwide, assessing their governance, infrastructure and data, skills and education, and government and public services to measure how well these countries are prepared to manage the potentially transformative impacts of AI.

That said, implementing the Digital India vision is not without its share of challenges.

A case in point is Karnataka, a state that also houses India’s Silicon Valley—Bengaluru. The city can no longer be said to be the poster boy of technological progress given the state of its infrastructure and air pollution to name a few hurdles. Other metros like Delhi and Mumbai are in a similar dismal state.

In fact, according to a 22 May report by InterNations—the world’s largest expat community that identifies the best and worst countries to live a connected life–.

India is at the bottom of the pile when it comes to offering a digital environment to expatriates. In contrast, Estonia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and New Zealand are among the countries that offer the best digital environment. Expats in these countries are very satisfied with their unrestricted access to online services and the possibility to pay without cash almost anywhere.

India, according to the report, was ranked 65 out of 68 countries. The reason, according to the report, is that India is the world’s most difficult country to live in when it comes to getting a local mobile phone number. Expats complain about administrative issues like filling up of forms. Administrative procedures do not get any easier with a lack of government services online.

Expats in India also struggle with a lack of high-speed internet at home: almost three in ten (28%) are unsatisfied with their internet speed, which is twelve percentage points above the worldwide average (16%). The perception is not off the mark. Even as India talks about 5G, mobile calls drop routinely in Digital India. Not to mention that many people in villages still do not have an Internet connection or enough local language content.

Moreover, not much progress has been made on the Smart Cities front. It typically takes 30-40 years to build a city. Programs like Smart Cities and Make in India will require considerable investments in terms of manpower, technological upgrades, skill development, digital literacy and, most importantly, a plethora of standards to be laid out and adhered to. Besides, sensors and other IoT devices need to be interoperable with each other and policies around security and data protection need to be clearly defined.

The Modi-led government surely has its digital work cut out for it. It should not allow the resounding mandate for another five-year term go in vain.―Livemint

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