Our prime minister has given his vision of Digital India to connect all Indians and empower them. It is a truly transformative dream which will remake India and create a digital society, removing disadvantages and distance. It will unify us, level the field and create a new generation that can compete in all respects globally. It has become even more critical now that we have demonetisation of 86% of our currency and a renewed drive to bring in digital banking for the masses.
Digital India is about empowering 127 crore Indians by connecting them to each other and to the internet through a smart device with low-cost data plans, thus creating one single virtual nation!
It is a mission which will enable every Indian to access all government services and schemes directly, through e-governance, thus eliminating intermediaries and the tyranny and corruption of low-level officials. Every Indian, irrespective of her status, will enjoy the same level of service. Most government services and schemes will be delivered electronically across India—creating a rich data base—in a transparent manner, with grievance redressal and assured time-bound delivery.
Every Indian will have access to full financial services through the India Stack on the mobile—accessing credit and bank accounts, and transferring money at very low costs. She will be able to get account information, make payments, get all benefits directly credited to her account (DBT). She will have life insurance, medical insurance, opportunities to invest savings and make investments electronically in the comfort of her house. Tax collections will increase and evasion will come down as electronic transactions increase. The transmission loss and corruption in government schemes will come down.
Every Indian will have her health records electronically available, be able to transmit her medical condition to specialists across India, get a diagnosis done, have a video conference from even remote places with doctors and access the best of health facilities, including emergency and hospitalisation services. Through the medical content on the web, she can learn about healthcare and the latest discoveries and treatments available. She can access health-services in any part of the country.
Every Indian child above the age of 10 will have a tablet pre-loaded with rich multimedia education content in a language of her choice, suited for the prescribed curriculum, with 4G and wi-fi. This will also create the ability to access all necessary content on the web from the best of teachers, participate in quizzes, watch documentaries and learn at their own pace and at their own convenience. Every student in college will have a tablet/laptop pre-loaded with curriculum-based content as well. This will enhance the educational experience and, to an extent, level the field. This will also create a generation which is digitally literate and aware. Also, schools, colleges and universities will be fully networked. The world’s best educational content in every subject—mostly available for free—will be available to every student. All text books will be converted to e-books and available for free, greatly reducing the cost of education.
India is a land of traditional artisans and farmers. Every self-employed individual, whether an artisan, a farmer or a service-provider, will have an individual web page and access to a payment gateway, bank accounts, the benefit of doing commerce directly with the consumer anywhere. This will reduce the middlemen in the value-chain, enable full price-discovery and considerably enhance incomes. This will allow the easy access of credit as full records will be available. This will create a new professional, self-employed class that is directly linked to markets. Every Indian will be able to access goods and services through e-commerce at reduced costs, through direct purchases and transparent price-discovery. An automated supply-chain promises massive savings to consumers. Job opportunities in the formal and informal sector will be known easily and asymmetry of opportunity will reduce.
Every Indian will have access to entertainment to enhance the quality of life on a global basis, through access to movies, music, folk songs, real-time viewing of plays, museums, talks, videos, etc, in various languages. A truly national audience will be available. As stored programmes will be available, a synchronous viewing will be easily possible. This will remove the drudgery of life and be both entertaining and educative. The archives of All India Radio and Doordarshan, which has very rich cultural content, will be available for free. All books, manuscripts, documents and the likes that are no longer copyright protected will be available to all for free. An enormous store of human civilisational achievements all over the world will be available to all Indians.
Every Indian will have the ability to create personal groups through various apps, communicate with each other, have a video conference with family either in India or overseas and maintain family memories through videos, photos, etc. Loneliness will be less for aged parents, children and for spouses who can now communicate freely at low cost. Every Indian will have the ability to listen to their leaders, including our PM, watch speeches on streaming services, communicate with the leaders and chat with them. Our leaders will get direct access to citizens, rich or poor. The poor and marginalised will be empowered due to this access. Democracy will deepen due to better communication, free flow of ideas, availability of information and choice.
The government will ensure that all disadvantaged citizens, including those in the BPL category (especially women), will be given a free smartphone in a scheme on the lines of the BPL LPG scheme that has greatly empowered women. All school children and students in colleges who are economically disadvantaged will be given the tablet and laptop free by the government so that this mission succeeds. Apps, content and all else to make this work is already available in plenty, with more on the way. A huge number of start-ups have the ability to deliver this today. The lack of adequate devices in the hands of citizens was a handicap which can now be solved by the government through Digital India. The cost of this is easily affordable and the funds in the USO or borrowing against future USO can be availed.
A Digital India Mission is needed to make this work over the next 2 years. The availability of low cost 4G data plans is no longer a constraint nor is the ability to scale up across the country, due to the entry of a large competitor. We can finally create one United Virtual Virtuous Nation of Indians through Digital India.
The author is chairman,
Aarin Capital Partners