By Vijay Darda | 06-07-2015
With over 10 million people working in the sector and capturing more than 52 per cent of the global share of 130 billion US dollars, India is the world’s largest provider of outsourcing in the information technology sector. It thus makes eminent sense for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to launch an ambitious Digital India programme that promises an investment of `4.50 lakh crores and jobs for 18 lakh youths. Considering that we have a knowledge based economy, this is surely the logical course to a better future.
The Prime Minister has a flair for the spectacular. Whether it is the International Yoga Day or the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and now the Digital India campaign, everything is done with an eye on building brand India. With all the top-line investors in the IT sector, the event was bound to be a success in so far as commitment for a giant push is concerned. It can be safely said that we have the right intent and commitment to usher into an era well encapsulated in these words of the Prime Minister: “I dream of a digital India where the government proactively engages with people through social media… I dream of a digital India where cyber security becomes an integral part of national security… I dream of a digital India where high- speed digital highways unite the nation, 1.2 billion connected Indians drive innovation.” As the people enthusiastically greeted him with the “Modi, Modi” chant at the Indira Gandhi Indoor stadium, the atmosphere was infectious with hope. No one can find any quarrel with either the hope or the enthusiasm.
But as a member of the parliamentary committee on information technology, and someone getting exposed to various aspects of the Digital challenge, I can vouch for the many hurdles that remain in this path. True, India has grown to a country with a billion mobile users. There has been a massive rise in our teledensity, but problems remain with the quality of connectivity. The digital broadband penetration is just 6 per cent as it reaches only 15 million of the 250 million households and the target is to cover 175 million by 2017 and 600 million by 2020. Over 17 lakh kilometres of optical fibre network has to be laid out before the national digital expressway can actually start functioning.
There are some encouraging signs like the C-DOT bringing out solar powered devices for digital networks in remote areas that have problems with the supply of conventional electricity. But as experts point out there are serious issues to be tackled not just in the domain of connectivity, but aspects like applications, data centres and platforms for the concept of a digital India to be fully realised. Take something as basic as birth certificates, police records, land records. Now if the entire country is to get digitised this implies that these British era paperwork based documents have to give way to new standardised digital records. So, the problem is not just digitisation, but also the introduction of comprehensive administrative reforms, judiciary reforms and process re-engineering. Otherwise, we shall have just a website for e-governance that hardly moves into the realm of m-governance as the Prime Minister promises.
However, some attitudinal changes are a must. It has to be recognized that the pioneering work for Digital India was done by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the 1980s when he took concrete steps like setting-up the National Informatics Centre on whose technological prowess the government’s computerisation programme now operates. It has to be also recognised that the Unique ID programme introduced by the previous regime and put in place by Nandan Nilekani that gave the Aadhar card as a citizen’s identity now covers 800 million people and is the biggest such programme in the world. It creates a digital identity for the citizen and enables the government in more ways than one. It is only in this spirit of national interest rising above partisan politics that we can hope to realise the dream of a Digital India. All the states have to come on board and devote their resources considering that language cannot be allowed to be a barrier in this programme.
A digitally empowered India also raises questions of net neutrality and the challenge of digital snooping. It is natural for the business sector to view this as an opportunity to make money and more money. For them the prospect of offering differential services to paying customers and vice versa is quite irresistible. The differences in services have been compared to five star hotels and roadside eateries. The question of differential services is also posed in a vein so as to suggest that there can be no objection if a company provides a better service to a paying customer? This indeed is the digital divide against which there is a need to be extremely vigilant. It is in fact much worse than the conventional rich poor divide, as Modi himself has acknowledged: “The digital divide can lead to far greater problems than the rich and poor divide.” For him the underprivileged need to be digitally empowered so they could be brought on a par with the privileged.
In so far as digital security is concerned in his dramatic style, he referred to the fears of a bloodless war in the context of the threat to cyber security. “Raktviheen yudh ke badal mandra rahe hain, somebody with education of Class 10 or Class 12, sitting thousands of miles away, can clean up your bank account with a click of mouse, the world is terrified by this… India has a big role to play in this. Can India play this big role? India has talent. Can India provide a shield to the world by providing innovative and credible solutions? Why should we not have such a confidence? We should accept this challenge to ensure that the entire humanity lives in peace.” Surely a Digital India needs to have this objective to play the cyber cop of the world.
Before I conclude…
The death toll in the Vyapam scam in Madhya Pradesh is rising fast. Within a week, three persons- a journalist investigating the scam, a dean of a medical college and a girl student- have died at three different places under mysterious circumstances. The only common link is their association with Vyapam- the examination cum recruitment body of the Madhya Pradesh government for admissions to professional colleges and selection for government jobs. More than 43 deaths have already taken place and another 1800 people are rotting in jails. There should be a collective effort to stem this rot, and for beginners the Supreme Court must step in with a CBI probe monitored by it.