7 years of Digital India – How far Have We Come?

Even five years back, nearly all transactions, from paying school fees to buying medicine, were primarily cash-based. But today, even the roadside vegetable vendor has a QR code or mobile number linked to a digital payment account. Such is the great strides taken in India’s digitalization benefiting its citizens. According to a report by ACI Worldwide, India was at the top spot globally in 2020 with 25.5 billion real-time payment transactions.

From enhancing the country’s online infrastructure and making most government services digital to increasing high-speed internet access, especially in rural areas, the digital transformation program is powering inclusivity (both economic and financial) through the Digital India program.

Consider this, as on June 2021, nearly 99 percent of the Indian population hold an Aadhar card, a landmark boosting the Indian bid to push its Digital India initiative. Aadhar is a 12-digit unique identification number issued by the Unique Identification Authority of India on behalf of the Indian government. This is a good benchmark to assess the success and strides made towards the country’s digitalization since Aadhar enables access to important government digital services.

Back in 2006, the seed of Digital India was planted in the form of the National e-Governance Plan comprising 31 Mission Mode Projects related to government services in general fields, including health, agriculture, police, and commercial taxes. Digital India, the digital transformation program, is an amalgamation of initiatives brought about by multiple government ministries into a single source of truth – creating a digital India.

And as we complete six years of this ambitious program, how far we have really come is worth looking into. The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has been responsible for easing off the Digital India online work by streamlining digital payments and transactions between bank accounts of buyers and sellers. Introduced in 2016, the digitize India platform of UPI has seen a significant rise of 27.9 billion transactions in 2016 to 37.9 billion transactions in 2021. Following the ideology of digital payment, India has witnessed other digital technology initiatives such as e-KYC, DigiLocker and Electronic Signature System. Besides this, the Digital India movement also played a huge role in connecting Jan Dhan, Aadhar and Mobile, which has also been responsible for enabling the massive vaccination drive for COVID-19. Here are some interesting stats:

Interestingly, the number of active Internet users in India is expected to increase by 45% in the next five years and touch 900 million by 2025, according to the IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE 2020 report.

The Road Ahead: What are the possibilities now?

Since its commencement in 2015, the journey of Digital India hasn’t exactly been smooth, from concerns on data privacy to questioning the need for having an Aadhar card. Digital India’s aim was to spur growth to nine pillars: Broadband Highways, Universal Access to Mobile Connectivity, Public Internet Access Program, e-Governance: Reforming Government through Technology, e-Kranti – Electronic Delivery of Services, Information for All, Electronics Manufacturing, IT for Jobs and Early Harvest Programs.

Today, six years on Digital India has managed to bridge the gap between Bharat and India (the population living in its villages ‘Bharat’ and those residing in urban cities ‘India’) to a certain extent.  The Digital India program has made the working and data management of various departments and ministries of the Indian Government easier and quicker. The reduced amount of paperwork and more systematic arrangement of data has smoothened processes as well fast-tracked government services and reduced accompanying hassles, thereby benefiting citizens.

As India progresses in its journey to becoming a fully digital economy, one thing is certain – the government will remain at the center of its transformational efforts. But a public-private partnership can fast-track efforts and help iron out implementation setbacks that have beset some of these initiatives.

Following are some concrete steps that can further fuel the movement of digital transformation of India while furthering its aspiration to become a 5-trillion-dollar economy:

  • Emphasis on gamification – According to recent market research conducted by Deloitte, the online gaming industry of India is booming up at a rapid pace. The online gaming industry of India might expand to $2.8 billion by 2022, thus showing signs of compound annual growth rate of 40 percent. By upskilling the people, gamification can be made significant for the education sector, bridging the gap between people speaking different languages.
  • Making smartphones more affordable and accessible – There needs to be a focus on ways to bring down the costs of smartphones and make affordable smartphones and services accessible to people, especially those below the poverty line. This can be done by putting more emphasis on the local production of smartphones and their components.
  • Implementation of 5G technology – The Digital India movement was initialized to make 4G internet connectivity accessible to the masses. However, the times have changed in the last seven years. With the world moving towards 5G internet connectivity, the next challenge is to work on its implementation. For this, mobile operators of the country need to be encouraged to roll out 5G services as soon as possible, and that too, at affordable rates.
  • Creation of secure cyberspace – Almost 50,000 cases of cyber frauds were reported in India in 2020, which have acted as barriers in the speeding growth of the Digital India movement. To make sure that people trust the online services and make them believe that they are fully safe, secure cyberspace needs to be created. This can be done by creating better perimeter defense with enhanced routers and firewalls at the initial points of a sub-network and introducing stricter cyber laws with stringent punishments or penalties.
  • Transformation of urban cities into smart cities – Under the Smart City initiative, the Indian government, both at the center and states, is already working on the transformation of several Tier-1 and Tier-2 cities. The movement was started to make these cities more advanced and improve the standards of living with access to better technologies and facilities. The Digital India programs like Aadhar, DigiLocker and the computerization of land records have been key drivers in the data management of the Smart City Project. This systematic recording of data has helped in making various developments easier and quicker.
  • More awareness in rural areas – There are still several remote villages in India, where along with the basic internet services, the lack of basic education has been a significant issue in the acceptance of the Digital India initiative. These areas need to be developed with more investments and better access to basic education, mobile phones and internet services.

The Digital India story is compelling and a beacon of optimism for the rest of the world about what a determined nation can achieve. As India gears up for Industrial Revolution 4.0, its government, bureaucracy, citizens and corporates all have a significant role to play in the next chapter of Digital India.