It was aptly termed in tech circles as the year-end blast. We are referring to the slew of Digital India-specific announcements made by IT and communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad during the Good Governance week celebration in New Delhi. Out of nearly 23 initiatives, about half of them—Wi-Fi hotspots at Har ki Pauri, Haridwar and Dargah Sharif, Ajmer; setting up of NIC data centre at Bhubaneswar; launch of National Centre of Geo-Informatics; selection of private cloud service providers for government departments, among others—are expected to improve the existing digital infrastructure, connectivity and create jobs in tier-II and tier-III cities. As the minister put it: “The successful implementation of Digital India would help to transform India into a truly digitally empowered society and knowledge economy in the 21st century.”
Without doubt, when you talk to the heads of technology companies and consultants about the government’s ambitious Digital India programme, you come across general appreciation for the project. “This is not a government-only mandate, it’s a country mandate and the industry, academia and government have to work together. We need to make 2016 the year of real results to signal to the world that India is not just a land of promise and that we are capable of transforming the Digital India vision into reality,” says Debjani Ghosh, managing director, South Asia, Intel.
According to Rajesh Ramachandran, CTO, Rolta India, the pace of the progress has been a little slow. However, the plethora of new announcements and scope of existing ones being broadened are testimony to the fact that the programme is now moving from “definition to implementation”. Echoing similar sentiments, Jaijit Bhattacharya, partner at KPMG, says that the government has started moving forward and it is beginning to accelerate but much more needs to be done to accelerate the pace. “Focus should also be on big ticket items such as digital locker and eSign facility, as they could be game changers for digital enablement of India.”
The department of electronics and IT (DeitY) has announced MeghRaj policy to provide strategic direction for adoption of cloud services by the government departments. The aim of the cloud policy is to realise a comprehensive vision of a government private cloud environment available for use by central and state government line departments, districts and municipalities to accelerate their ICT-enabled service improvements.
However, projects such as the Rural ICT programme of India Post seems to be very promising. Imaging and IT solutions firm Ricoh India is partnering with department of post for implementing and operating integrated rural hardware solution for around 1,30,000 post offices across India. The Ricoh solution not only includes hand-held devices with camera and bio-metric facility but also includes set of solar panels at EDO level and network connectivity. In order to ensure smooth functioning of the devices, Ricoh will also set up services centres across India.
As shared by the senior officials during the launch of the project, these mobile terminals will facilitate all postal and financial transactions in the rural branch offices, and upload this data to India Post data centre. This service will not only improve the delivery of services in the rural areas but will also be an important tool to improve the quality of service, provide more value added services and achieve ‘financial inclusion’ of the un-banked rural population.
The Rural ICT Project is a part of the larger IT modernisation project being undertaken by the department of posts.
Among others, Firstouch has collaborated with DeitY to introduce native operating system integrated text-to-speech technology in regional languages to give wings to the Digital India movement.
Other key projects in which there have been substantial progress is launch of e-payment portal. The government was rigorously working on the framework for the e-payment portal. It is interesting to note that over the last one year, the number of e-transactions has gone up to 55 crore from 29 crore in 2014. With a e-payment portal now in place, all the government departments are likely to adopt the platform leading to making government transaction cashless.
Both people in the government and outside agree that addressing the challenge of connectivity is a key issue with the Digital India programme. The government has set up Wi-Fi hotspots at 500 places in 200 centres and plans to extend it to 2,500 by March 2016, but a delay in laying the fibre optic cable for National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) is yet to be addressed. The current rate is 500 km per day versus the required rate of 30,000 km per day.
India Inc is of the view that the digitisation of India is a must for development but it cannot happen without a very effective public private partnership. To fully realise the potential of this vision, the government and the industry need to come together and collaborate through robust public private partnerships like never before. “Industry is extremely willing to play a role and a strong PPP framework with clear expectations will help channelise the energy and enthusiasm into real action,” says Intel’s Debjani Ghosh.
* Government has set up Wi-Fi hotspots at 500 places in 200 centres
* Wi-Fi hotspot locations to extend to 2,500 by March 2016
* Launch of National Centre of Geo-Informatics and E-Payment Portal
* NIC Data Centre to be set up at Bhubaneswar
* Ricoh India to digitise 130,000 rural Post offices