Reviving the knowledge economy

Reviving the knowledge economy
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the first day of this month launched the Digital India week as part of a larger policy initiative. This is an effort by the Prime Minister to bring in more information communication technology (ICT) in the functioning of the government. The Digital India initiative was mentioned in the budget speech of the finance minister and was a logical conclusion to the appreciation of the every increasing role of ICT in enhancing the quality of governance. It was also a culmination of the forward thrust on technology that was a hallmark of the Modi campaign in the run-up to last year’s Lok Sabha elections. 

The ever increasing role of social media and the impact of a participatory approach facilitated via Twitter and Facebook could not be missed by a PM who started usage of such tools very prominently in his reach out to the citizens. Also with a billion plus mobile subscribers and 300 million internet users, there was a long way to go to connect the remaining 85% of the country’s population. The pertinent issue was how much of a transformative role for ICT he would envisage and the suitability and optimality of such a devised policy. 

Clearly it was a big bang inauguration with such a wide participation from all the stakeholders including the stalwarts of the private sector whose pronouncements on the podium were quickly calculated and put up by the PM in terms of an investment of 4.5 lakh crores rupees and 18 lakh jobs. As the nodal organisation, the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY) of the central government in collaboration with various other ministries and departments as well state governments will also be spending its own resources besides the various private sector investments. Already a few e-governance initiatives have been on since the last governments and they have been revamped and reoriented to align them with the enhanced scope of Digital India.

In terms of vision, the edifice of Digital India rests on three premises -(i) Digital Infrastructure as a Utility to Every Citizen (ii) Governance & Services on Demand and (iii) Digital Empowerment of Citizens. So the focus on infrastructure development, applications development and creating the right ecosystem for citizen participation is key. Amplified further the Digital India initiative aims to provide Broadband Highways, Universal Access to Mobile Connectivity,  Public Internet Access Programme,  E-Governance: Reforming Government through Technology, eKranti - Electronic Delivery of Services, Information for All, Electronics Manufacturing: Target Net Zero Imports,  IT for Jobs  and Early Harvest Programmes. Under Bharat Net, a high-speed digital highway to connect all 2.5 lakh Gram Panchayats of the country is envisaged and this will be the world’s largest rural broadband connectivity network based on optical fibre.

So the avenues for delivery and participation are huge and its implementation has to be undertaken on a mission mode much focused and faster than how the erstwhile National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) was implemented. Broadband penetration targets were missed and apart from a few flagship programmes like the MCA project and Passport project many programmes missed the bus. Likewise, while mobile and Internet subscribers increased, the quality of services went down day by day. Call drops are a common feature in every city, spectrum is becoming a serious issue and far-flung regions like North East India are perennially bogged down by slow connections and the intent to approach the business process outsourcing (BPO) potential in the region under the same initiative will never be realised without improving the connectivity infrastructure. Dedicated bandwidth to the region is critical to allow healthy connectivity. BSNL’s move towards next generation networks should is crucial to be able to feed the digital aspirations of the region. 

Likewise, while more and more people are connecting even from remote towns to the Internet, they are not lucky to be exposed to best and safe practices and are being constantly subjected to hacking and phishing attempts. The increase in cyber crimes has become a menace already and massive awareness campaigns need to be undertaken by the government and the internet and content service providers. 

The good point to note is that most of these issues find reflection in the initiative. All the current hot topics that have ramifications on the overall digital ecosystem like the internet of things, cyber security, data management and fostering electronic R&D and manufacturing have been flagged as action areas. As more and more devices and applications become internet enabled, the focus on management of the emerging digital society will also have to be simultaneously addressed. Along with that, emerging issues like net neutrality have to be addressed with an unambiguous approach. The recent move towards supporting the multistakeholder model of internet governance is an indicator of the government’s proactive approach to addressing these contentious issues. 

One of the initiatives in the form of ‘Digital Locker System’ has already been announced and  aims to minimize the usage of physical documents and enable sharing of e-documents across agencies which will be done through registered repositories thereby ensuring the authenticity of the documents online. While security concerns around this move have been doing the rounds, a writ petition has already been filed in the Supreme Court for making AADHAR as the mandatory document for service of digital lockers under the eSign framework. 

At the same <g data-gr-id="75">time</g> it will be very crucial to carry the state governments along. As applications for various services that the state governments provide vary significantly in terms of their conception and implementation, it will be pertinent to harmonise and support them and bring some priority sectors for a time bound digitisation. Citizen delivery applications of the state governments should be should be prioritised and tagged <g data-gr-id="57">alongwith</g> the Digitize India Platform (DIP) initiative of <g data-gr-id="58">DEiTY</g> for <g data-gr-id="59">large scale</g> digitization of records in the country. The MyGov.in implementation as a platform for citizen engagement in governance and its mobile version  through the ‘discuss, do and disseminate’ approach should be a seamless experience for the citizens irrespective of the government in context.

As technology and time proceed fast, the pace of work under the various facets of the Digital India initiative has to be monitored regularly so as to factor in newer possibilities and ensure availability of necessary resources. Rightfully the PM as the Chairman of Monitoring Committee on Digital India, will be able to keep the pressure on all the stakeholders to deliver the promise of a healthy knowledge economy and better governance. 
Subimal  Bhattacharjee

Subimal Bhattacharjee

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