It was Facebook that came to the rescue of Kiran Kumar, an engineering student from Jaipur, who was trapped in flood-hit Chennai, as water surged into his rented room. His worried parents had taken to Facebook to voice their concern about his safety, and within an hour, volunteers shifted him to a safer location. In another corner of the country, a distraught farmer from Maharashtra found a solution to his declining yields of cotton, thanks to a WhatsApp group of farmers, where they share information on farming practices. A group of students on a train running late, deprived of food, made a request to the Railway Minister’s twitter account only to be provided with food at the next station.
This is how “smart” India has become; she is rapidly turning “digital”. ‘Digital India’, the ambitious scheme that aims at empowering people digitally, seeks to take this dream forward.
Launched in July 2015 by Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi, ‘Digital India’ plans to create an IT (India Tomorrow) using IT (Indian Talent) and IT (Information Technology) by pursuing three core objectives: digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen, governance and services on demand; and digital empowerment of citizens. This essay attempts to examine if and how the scheme is a game changer and to this aim, examines specifically the following three key areas—(a) governance, since governing the largest democracy in the world is no small task;’ (b) agriculture, the backbone of Indian economy; and (c) education, the seminal force that shapes the country’s future citizens.
As far as a diverse and resource-rich country like India is concerned, good and prudent governance is the only key to ensuring equitable growth and development. Interestingly, Christmas for us is also Good Governance Day! E-governance—governance using information and communication technology to improve delivery of govt. • services and thus empowering the hitherto disempowered— can make a huge difference in India’s path towards evolving its own version of’ good governance. Digital India acknowledges e-governance as one of its pillars by taking up the National e-Governance Programme 2.0. The mission of the scheme is to fashion a Govt-wide overhaul by
delivering Govt. services “electronically to the citizens through integrated and interoperable systems via multiple modes”, also ensuring “efficiency, transparency and reliability of such services at affordable costs.” NeGP 2.0 revolutionises the governance mechanism in a threefold way. One, by moulding the plans in tune with the technological developments, if not trends. For example, all the applications are redesigned to enable delivery of services through mobiles, cioud computing is being brought in to help the departments roll out the schemes promptly and social media is effectively used in the implementation and evaluation phases. Today, we have mobile apps for digital locker account holders and e-sign facility enables an Aadhaar card holder to sign a document digitally. Two, by focussing on providing ICT infrastructure to all government departments, agencies and the public to help bring in an effective citizenship engagement platform. For instance, plans are on to digitise 1,30,000 post offices across the country and to ensure that highspeed Internet connectivity reaches every Gram Panchayat by December 2016. Cities with a population of over 10 lakh and tourist centres are also to be provided with Wi-Fi connectivity. Three, and perhaps the most noteworthy, is the provision for language localisation, i.e. all information and services in the e-governance platform are to be made available in the Indian languages as well. The combination of these three peculiar features will ensure a smooth transition from the erstwhile NeGP to NeGP 2.0.
Agriculture has always played a critical role in defining India’s growth story. Digital India aspires to address farmer’s issues using ICT. We shall touch upon three cases in point.
By bringing in a professionally managed ICT platform, the scheme strives to provide farmers with reliable agri-information regarding farming practices, machinery and marketing, thus eliminating the multiple layers of middlemen. For example, Krishidoot, a mobile-based agri-value chain portal, acts as the meeting place of farmer interest groups, farmer producer organisations and agri-market players. Second is the proposal to create an online National Agriculture Market to enable farmers to
*We present here the two FIRST PRIZE WINNING ESSAYS of the CSR Essay Contests—665 & 666, contributed by Ms. LaksJjnti P. and Mr. N. Mothi Krishna.
sell and buy products from across the country. This comes with a double advantage to farmers. They might fin,d alternate platforms to sell their produce and not incur losses. They Gould also get rid of middlemen, and thereby increase the profit margin. The final one is that of employing agri-information service to disseminate information regarding weather forecasts and market prices, which could help the farmers to revise strategies. This acquires more significance since climate change and its possible impact on agriculture are being debated across the world.
The World Bank has identified three key challenges with regard to India’s agricultural sector that hamper the country’s overall growth—raising productivity per unit of land, bridging regional disparities and alleviation of rural poverty and tuning of agricultural growth with food security needs. Any policy action in the agricultural sector should strive to address these key issues. ‘Digital India’ is a step in the right direction. By providing adequate and timely agri-information to farmers, guiding them to adopt the right strategies to increase yield, by ensuring digital connectivity in rural India and by providing the farmers with the scope to negotiate for better prices and acquire market access, coupled with suitable policy changes, ‘Digital India’ can kick-start the efforts to improve the share of agriculture in India’s economy.
That the Indian education sector needs a revamp is an oft-heard grievance. If Digital India succeeds in translating its ambitious e-education schemes into reality, then the refrain might cease to hold water once and for all. Consider e-Basta, an initiative of the Ministry of Human Resource Development that enables the students to download books from the e-Basta website for use in laptops/e-readers, thus effectively reducing the book load on students. Perhaps more impressive is the Nand-Ghar Project that extends the present Anganwadi system. Anganwadi teachers are to be trained in using e-resources and digital tools. By ensuring the availability of broadband and free Wi-Fi connectivity in schools and colleges, the digital divide that exists at present can be efficiently bridged.
Today, even a working professional from a remote North- East town can attend course on thermodynamics offered by IIT-Bombay, thanks to SWAYAM—Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds—India’s MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) platform. It has the potential to refurbish India’s learning culture. It provides the students the opportunity to avail themselves of free online courses offered by IITs, IIMs and Central Universities. A similar initiative is National e-Library, which will enable all the citizens to access books and resources. If effectively leveraged, this might be of immense help to students and teachers from remote areas. If Shaala Darpan is a scheme aimed at providing mobile update on child’s attendance and achievements to parents, GIS Mapping of schools attempts to identify infrastructural gaps in schools and provide more facilities.
Evidently, Digital India can bring in significant transformation in almost every field of governance. But one cannot overlook the multiple challenges that lie ahead. Consider the task of ensuring mobile network penetration in rural areas. Would spectrum allocation not be a possible challenge, especially so in the backdrop of increasing complaints about call drops? Can the ambitious target of net-zero imports in electronic sector be met by 2020? Will e-governance be productively utilised by the general public, especially by the over 147 million rural households? Do we have capable and skilled manpower to carry out the tasks? The questions are aplenty, yet are not without answers.
‘Digital India’ should work complementary to the other ambitious schemes unveiled by the Government lately. ‘Digital India’ cannot work without ‘Make in India’, ‘Skill India’ or ‘Start up India’. If ‘Make in India’ could ensure that India is self-reliant when it comes to e-manufacturing, ‘Skill India’ could provide skilled manpower to man the tasks at hand and ‘Start up India’ provides the sector with fresh entrepreneurs who can provide innovative solutions to the challenges, ‘Digital India’ can bring in the desired transformation. The ‘Smart Cities’ scheme that aims to build 100 smart cities across the country, when coupled with ‘Digital India’ can make the task of digitising the country quicker and easier. Only a convergence of all the existing schemes can endow India with the “Power to Empower”, as the motto of Digital India goes. Once India attains that power, Mahatma Gandhi’s dream of integrating the poor and the downtrodden into the mainstream and Jawaharlal Nehru’s vision oF rapid economic development of the country could be fulfilled, to an extent hitherto undreamed of. H3S