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  1. Budget 2018: Does PM Modi’s ‘Digital India’ programme require going offline to connect more citizens?

Budget 2018: Does PM Modi’s ‘Digital India’ programme require going offline to connect more citizens?

Budget 2018 will see a bunch of announcements centred around the Digital India programme that will bring the feature phone users facilities to connect themselves to the Internet. Alongside, the 'Make in India' programme will also be a key highlight

By: | New Delhi | Published: January 29, 2018 4:21 PM
budget 2018, budget date, budget 2018 india, India budget, Union budget 2018, budget 2018 expectations Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will present Budget 2018 in the parliament on February 1 where he is expected to address the roadblocks in the way of ‘Digital India’ rollout

Budget 2018: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been quite bullish about the digitisation of the citizen services to move towards a paperless economy. The government has urged the citizens to adopt more paperless methods to connect with it and receive benefits without any intermediaries. In its efforts to boost the ‘Digital India’ programme, e-governance apps such as UMANG have been launched to enable citizens to access all the services at the ease of their fingertips. However, only a part of the population that’s connected to the Internet via smartphones and other electronic devices has been able to enjoy the services offered in UMANG app. The remaining population that still uses feature phones as their daily drivers has to make efforts to get access to the UMANG e-governance service. This is expected to change as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presents Budget 2018 in the parliament on February 1 where he is expected to address the roadblocks in the way of ‘Digital India’ rollout and elevate the e-governance services for that portion of the population.

Since the rollout of UMANG (Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance) app by the government last year in November, e-governance services such as ‘e-panchayat’, ‘eDistricts’, and ‘eOffice’ have become even more accessible to the citizens who spend most of their time online. However, a large share of the population is still reluctant to go on the Internet to access services but does not want the hassles of queueing up at the same time. In a survey conducted by research firm Kantar, out of the total 85 percent of the urban Indian population, 56 percent of this user base owns feature phones and only a mere 15 percent population intended to switch to a smartphone.

Read more: Budget 2018: As mobile industry pins hopes on sops, here is how government can effectively kickstart PM Modi’s ‘Digital India’ programme

According to a statement by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), the government is expected to begin the rollout of the UMANG app for feature phones without an Internet connection. This will be done with the help of USSD interface where a combination of certain digits will show the options that are currently seen on the UMANG app. This, believe industry experts, will enable bringing a large chunk of citizens unaware of e-governance services that the government offers into its fold, thereby improving measures to offer e-governance. ” [Budget 2018 should] include measures to improve digital literacy and provide high-speed Internet to every citizen and empowering them with access to mobile Internet,” says Kumar Abhishek, CEO & Co-founder, ToneTag.

Keeping in mind the population that is still not connected to the Internet, pushing out a USSD-based interface to access e-governance services will open a new horizon for them to step into the Internet-run ecosystem. The services in the UMANG app are offered in 13 Indian languages that range from 33 departments/ applications and 4 states. There are a total of 162 services offered to the citizens through the app, wherein a few are the core government services. These include Aadhaar, DigiLocker, Rapid Assessment System, and Bharat Bill Payment System. While all of these online services are offered in the app, only a few of them would practically be available via USSD interface on feature phones. This is an area where the government will have to focus so that nearly all the essential services are delivered to the citizens who own feature phones.

In the wake of the recent change in the mobile phone industry, even the feature phones made a grand comeback with the arrival of JioPhone. The JioPhone looks like a feature phone but has smart features like Internet, NFC payments, video calling, and more. In addition, the government should also consider redesigning the UMANG app, along with other apps that the government uses to deliver its services online, to the new feature phone ecosystem.

The ‘Digital India’ programme should include all the aspects of the technology and feature phones needs to be one of them. “Digital India seeks to realise this goal of inclusive development by using the tools of technology. The spectrum of India’s digital development ranges from digital delivery of services to rising digital economy powered by 1.3 billion people and reinforced by demographic dividend where 65% of them are below the age of 35,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, Minister for Electronics & Information Technology and Law & Justice, at the fifth Global Conference On Cyberspace.

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