The Indian Government’s Digital Transformation Journey
Pratheekh Chandra – Student, Kautilya
India is an economically growing and quickly digitizing country, with over 75 Crore internet users and more than 65 Crore smartphone holders. This digital revolution had its origins in the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) of 2006. Digital India program, launched by the Government of India (GoI) in 2015, which aims to make India’s citizens digitally empowered and push towards a knowledge-based economy, i.e. a system of economy where knowledge and intellectual capital take precedence in a nation’s economic growth. It has brought in a number of benefits for its citizens, especially an increased ease in accessing government services – filing taxes, applying for tax refunds, passport, and other identity document applications, accessing financial products like credit cards and loans, etc. This digital access has made government institution’s work more transparent. The CPGRAMS has been doing an exceptional job in this regard, specifically regarding grievance redressal.
The progress made is noteworthy, particularly in financial inclusion and last-mile delivery of government services to the underserved sections of the population. With bank accounts and Aadhaar linkage, private firms have significant cost savings, as they now need not spend money on confirming individual identities. UPI, i.e., Unified Payments Interface, is an open-source fin-tech platform that aids digital payments. Payments made through the UPI Platform have crossed 10 Billion monthly transactions in August 2023, with a transaction value of INR 15.18tn ($204.77bn). This expansion of digital payments has also helped the growth of rural incomes and increased the earnings of the informal sector. A testament to the UPI being truly a common man’s tool is that the majority of the UPI payments are low-value transactions.
Regarding Infrastructure investment, the government has undertaken the Bharat Net Project. the world’s largest broadband connectivity program. It has connected lakhs of Gram Panchayats and led to increased transparency, empowerment of citizens, and ease in the delivery of digital education and telemedicine. After the pandemic, this has helped rural students access online education and learning platforms. A notable off-shoot impact has been the interest private players such as Airtel, Larson & Toubro, Cisco, etc. have shown in becoming stakeholders in the project. In rural areas, this project has led to an increase of 400% in data consumption between 2020-21. With the entry of private players, there are expectations of improved customer service and cost efficiencies.
The movement towards a fully Digital India has been steadfast. The government of India has launched the National e-Governance Plan 2022-2023 with an aim to digitize government services further and make them more accessible to citizens. Aadhaar enrolment has surpassed record levels, which attests to the increased trust and dependence on the Aadhaar ecosystem. This has enabled better delivery and targeting of government benefits to people in need via Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT). For example, the Uttar Pradesh government has saved over Rs.8000 Cr and removed over 75 lakh ghost beneficiaries in the past 9 years. E-Governance has also spread from providing online government services to E-Courts. E-Courts has enabled courts to transmit orders to ensure speedy justice delivery quickly and bail through the FASTER (Fast and Secure Transmission of Electronic Records) software system. For example, the Supreme Court transmitted bail orders electronically when it took Suo-moto cognizance that inmates in the Agra prison were not given bail despite bail orders about 3 days back. The additional benefit has been the court-ordered regional translation of judicial orders on their websites. More recently, the CoWIN online platform helped vaccinate millions of Indians and providing open-source access to this platform to over 50 countries has added to India’s global diplomatic goodwill.
However, this remarkable program also faces some challenges. Digital Divide refers to the gap between people with access to digital technologies and those without access. In this context, a vast portion of India’s population does not have access to the internet or a smartphone. This is particularly profound in rural areas and among women. Increasing dependence on digitisation brings related cybersecurity challenges with it. There have been increased data breaches, privacy breaches, etc. that reduce people’s trust in these platforms, especially financial platforms. The move towards digitising also demands an increase in digital infrastructure. As per an EY Report, India requires close to $23 billion in investment by 2025 to meet the unmet digital infrastructure needs. Almost all of the internet operates in English, and considering the moderate levels of English literacy in India, there is a need to localize online content. The presence of local language translations of websites and service portals becomes an essential step towards the complete digitisation of the country. Finally, as technology progresses with a rapid pace, regulations often lag behind due to the innate slowness of the legislative processes. This makes developing and adapting regulatory frameworks a challenge.
Despite the challenges, specific forward-looking steps can make Digital India a complete reality. Primarily, by improving Internet Connectivity and Access. The Bharat Net Project has already taken the right step in this context. The increasing government investment in this scheme, such as the recent infusion of Rs. 1.39 Lakh Crore, must be continued. Steps must also be taken to reduce the Digital Divide and improve Digital Literacy. The progress of the National Digital Literacy Mission has been slow and needs to pick up pace to ensure people’s safety and continued participation in this mission; there is a need to ensure cybersecurity through regulatory means.
India’s leapfrogging from the agricultural to the services sector has allowed it to expand its services sector widely. The globally experienced firms in India will be essential to give India the role of a leader in this technology and knowledge age. India is already sharing its digital journey experience with nations such as Armenia, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Antigua, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago. At the same time, if India focuses on Digital Innovations and Regulatory clarity, it can be a key voice, particularly of the Global South, on global discussions on digital governance.
*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.