Our current government has taken the initiative to digitise India in a way that has never happened in the past. Yes the promise of ‘Digital India’ is indeed a big dream but with it come challenges which need to be overcome. One of the earlier programmes focused on digitization and e-governance was the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) prepared by the government in 2006. Although the early years of the plan did not receive much traction, it laid down the foundation for building a technology-enabled knowledge economy.
Significant progress has been made subsequently. For example, the Ministry of External Affairs set up an e-passport seva portal that provided an integrated interface for different steps of the passport application process. The upcoming wave of rapid growth in the economy would involve extensive adoption of technology in all areas of the economy. Digital India aims to empower citizens to avail services with more ease and to conveniently interact with the government. The initiative is expected to not only boost economic growth but also to improve the lives of the citizens.
The vision of Digital India would be supported by 9 key pillars that cover projects such as National Optical Fibre Network, National Knowledge Network, Smart Cities, etc. Below are the details of the 9 pillars of digital India prepared by Deloitte and Assocham.
250,000 villages, various government departments, universities, etc.
State Wide Area Network (SWAN), National Knowledge Network (NKN)
and National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN)
|2||Universal access to mobile||To provide mobile connectivity to about 42,300 villages|
|3||Public Internet Access Programme (PIAP)||
|4||E-governance||To use business process re-engineering to transform government processesand make them simple, automated and efficient
|5||E-kranti||To use technology for service delivery such as e-education, e-healthcare,Technology for planning, farmers, security, financial inclusion, justice, etc.
|6||Information for all||
through online platforms and social media
|7||Electronics manufacturing||To target net zero imports by 2020, through various actions in areas suchas taxation/incentives, economies of scale, skill development, government
|8||IT for jobs||To provide necessary skills and training that enable the youth to avail jobsin IT/ITes sector
|9||Early harvest programmes||To focus on execution of project within short timelines, such as IT platformfor messages, e-greetings from the government, biometric attendance,
Wi-Fi in all universities, etc.
The challenges involved in fulfilling of Digital India:
An initiative of this scale has never been conceived before and, apart from little availability of skilled manpower, execution has been a challenge. Hence, the vision cannot be realized without tackling such looming challenges. Some of the challenges are detailed below.
NOFN Infrastructure Setup
The effort to connect about 250,000 villages through an optical fibre network has seen significant delays in the past. Just about 1% of those villages are connected to the internet through NOFN. Providing last-mile connectivity would be a challenge in the future since it is unaffordable for most Indians.
Adoption of Internet
Apart from infrastructure installation, adoption of the internet remains a concern. Internet penetration has remained close to 15% in India while in China it is nearly 46%. Moreover, people in poor areas would find it difficult to afford internet through broadband or mobile. Low literacy level, lack of content with regional relevance, lack of appropriate access devices would also hinder the adoption.
Data speed is another area where India faces a big hurdle. India is ranked 20th in mobile data speeds, with an average speed of 0.099 mbps. In comparison, Canada, the top ranked nation, has average data speed of over 4.5 mbps.
With cybercrime on the rise, the idea of putting information of about a billion citizens online seems like a risky move. Hence highest levels of security measures and protocols would need to be taken to ensure a safe environment for the citizens.
Coordination and Standardization
Various government departments such as DeitY, DoT, Law, Finance, etc. would be involved in creating systems and operational standards for a seamless integration. Such involvement would require significant levels of coordination to ensure proper flow of information.
Private Sector Participation
In order to meet the expected timelines, participation of private sector players becomes quite crucial. Whereas, private sector players have shown limited involvement, this needs to be boosted quite rapidly.
Skilled manpower is, perhaps, the biggest challenge of all. India has nearly 475 million people engaged in labour, out of which about 93% are engaged in unorganized labour. Skilled manpower is essential for the development and effective adoption of new technologies. Creating a system to train and provide gainful employment to so many people is an immense challenge.
Lastly, the fact that a project of this scale has never been completed in India before is, in itself, a major challenge. Effective execution is critical for success and several ambitious projects proposed by earlier governments have not been completed. The reasons behind these are numerous, but corruption, bureaucracy and apathy are some major reasons that ambitious projects have fallen apart in the past. The current government has shown vision and intent in conceptualizing the Digital India programme, and has proactively pursued policies that will enable such initiatives to fall in place.