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Reforming Governance through Technology: A Commentary on the Digital India Policy



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1. Executive Summary

  • Coordinated by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeITY) the program is estimated at ~INR 11.3M.

  • Public internet access has implemented the Common Services Centre scheme in rural as well as urban areas of India reached 4.3M, though the distribution is inequitable across different population groups.

  • 73% of the proposed 45 projects under e-Kranti have gone live; with limitations due to limited interoperability.

  • 3511 out of 5000 seats to establish BPO/ITES operations in NE regions have been allocated, while most tier 2 cities have had inadequate access to capacity building.

  • Digital transactions in India have gone up from 38.9 B in 2020 to 53 B in 2021, however this has not addressed the literacy of banking and online transactions.

  • Monthly transactions on BHIM have gone from INR 0.02B to INR 77.34B over a period of 4 years at a CAGR of 420% but the private sector still dominates technological innovation.

  • The drawbacks across the program include inconsistencies across ministries in transparency, format and communication, difficulty in conducting transaction and privacy and data concerns. These drawbacks have been addressed in the policy recommendations.

2. Forward

  • The Digital India Policy, introduced in 2015, is a flagship programme focussed on empowering and transforming India across all digital impact areas. We aim to evaluate the macroeconomic Impact, whitespaces, areas of improvement and roadblocks in the policy.

  • The authors of the paper have attempted to create a holistic understanding of the Digital India Program focusing on the most influential pillars and their sub-parts.

  • The paper introduces the already implemented Digital India Program and discusses the major whitespaces of the program ranging from a general distrust of any online platform to inconsistency across digital services.

  • The paper analyses overall macroeconomic impact because of either one or a combination of pillars. These are seen to be most noteworthy in the healthcare, employment, and agriculture sectors.

  • The policy’s roadblocks, i.e., the areas which limited the possible impact of the program include low digital adoption and digital infrastructure, operating in silos without private sector support and transparency not meeting the changing requirements

  • The drawbacks of the policy include limited alignment within ministries, and limited focus on privacy and user-friendly approaches to technology.

3. Whitespaces of the Digital India Program


Over the past ~30 years, India has been one of the forerunners in the global participation of the digital economy; across manufacturing to consumption, India has been a key participant in the structure that enables digital advancement globally.

Due to systemic inefficiencies, the rapid evolution of technology and India’s large and fast-growing population; the Indian government launched the Digital India policy to transition India into a position of global leadership in the 21st century. India had begun to incorporate a digital pillar to every upcoming policy, but in 2015, rolled out the Digital India Flagship Program that would create a base for technology inclusion and advancement at a national level.


The program is coordinated by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeITY) from the remit of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. The estimated lifetime expense of the program is ~INR 11.3 M.


3. 1 Broadband Highways, Universal Access, and Mobile Connectivity


Description: The government aimed to provide broadband connectivity to 2,50,000 villages, improve urban connectivity; integrate communication networks, and cloud infrastructure in the country to provide high speed connectivity and a cloud platform to various government departments via National Information Infrastructure (NII)

This initiative focuses on network penetration and filling the gaps in connectivity especially in regions which are economically, geographically remote. One segment has a special focus for increasing digital connectivity in the north-east with a sub programme called Digital North-East 2022.

Progress Update:

  • There has been an increase in Internet subscribers from ~687M in March 2020 to ~825M in March 2021, registering an CAGR of ~20%.

  • Active social media users also grew by ~20% in the same period.


Whitespaces:

  • There are 106 internet connections per 100 people in urban areas compared to just 30 in rural areas: implying an internet penetration gap across gender, class, and age groups

  • Adoption of 5G technology needs significant infrastructure investment and with current telecom operators facing financial issues, a clear roadmap needs to be laid out to reach the goal.

Image 3.1.1: Digital Usage Statistics

Image 3.1.2: Device Ownership with respect to the population


3. 2 Public Internet Access Program


Description: Common Services Centres (CSCs) are a strategic cornerstone that allow access points for delivery of various electronic services to villages in India, thereby contributing to a digitally and financially inclusive society. The policy aimed at increasing the number of CSCs to 250,000 i.e., one CSC in each Gram Panchayat. A total of 150,000 Post Offices are proposed to be converted into multi service centres.

Progress Update:

  • The number of centres within the Common Services Centre scheme across rural and urban areas of India reached ~4.3M (2021)

Whitespaces:

  • Right to internet access and digital literacy is now a fundamental right, more models need to be explored with increased involvement of the private sector to bridge gaps in infrastructure and connectivity

  • Creating a robust internet access space, that evolves in line with technological advancements, enabled through market-friendly government regulations.

3.3 e-Governance and e- Kranti


Description: e-Governance aims to simplify and make government processes efficient for effective service delivery to citizens – done by focussing on user friendly UI/UX, efficient application tracking, document repositories, and seamless integration of all government portals/online services.

e-Kranti aims to ensure a government wide transformation by delivering all government services electronically to citizens through integrated and interoperable systems, while ensuring efficiency, transparency, and reliability of such services at affordable


Progress update:

  • 73% of the proposed 45 projects under e-Kranti have gone live, but are pending completion

Whitespaces:

  • Lack of interoperability and last mile connectivity have been recurrent failures of the policy

  • Limited evaluation systems and undefined monitoring protocols have hampered the attainment of the planned goals


3.4 IT for Jobs (focused on NE-India)


Description: IT for Jobs focuses on providing skills required for availing employment opportunities in the IT/ITES sector. The target beneficiaries of this scheme are citizens in small towns and villages in India and the North-eastern states.


Progress Update:

  • Under the North-East BPO Promotion Scheme (NEBPS) scheme, 3511 seats with respect to establishing BPO/ITES operations in NE regions have been allocated to private corporations out of 5000 seats envisaged by the MeitY (Aug’21)

Whitespaces:

  • Due to lack of incentivization in the policy for private players to set up IT/ITES operational units in the remote regions of the Northeast, diversification is limited to different major cities in the NE. Therefore, citizens of Tier 2+ cities are left out of skill development measures and capacity building exercises in IT/ITES.

3.5 e-Hospitals


Description: The e-Hospital programme enables online delivery of citizen centric services like registration, booking appointments, availing diagnostic reports, checking availability of blood types online and payment of fees in primary government healthcare institutes.


Progress Update:


The hospitals onboarded under e-hospital initiative has gone from 322 hospitals (2018) to 700 hospital (2022). Since inception in 2015, ~23 crore transactions have taken place on the e-hospital app (as of Jan’22).

Image 3.5.1 Modules of e-Hospital

Image 3.5.2: Building blocks of e-healthcare


Whitespace:

  • The scheme fails to address the issue of data ownership and privacy, especially regarding the extent of location tracking prevalent during COVID.

  • While there is clear intent from IRDA, Digital India initiative is yet to automate insurance claims in the e-hospital initiative.

  • There is a lack of interoperability of applications with private healthcare and other initiatives within the Digital India policy.

3. 6 Jan Dhan, Aadhaar, Mobile


Description: The JAM trinity captures the government’s strategy for financial inclusion. The foundational digital infrastructure laid by AADHAR played a significant role especially for poor and marginalised sections in the country by enabling opening of bank accounts without any additional documentation.


Progress Update:

  • This framework of banked accounts linked with a national identity number helps a large volume of G2P and P2G payments. The value of digital transactions in India has gone up from ~INR 38.9B in 2020 to ~INR 53.55B in 2021

  • AADHAR enabled DBT encompasses subsidies and benefits, both in cash and kind, wherein benefits are directly transferred to the resident’s bank account. Popular amongst these DBT applications are deployment of LPG subsidies.

  • While such a system has obvious benefits of transparency, accountability, scheme delivery and real-time governance through connected systems, it has also significantly reduced leakages and frauds.

A total of ~310 MRuPay debit cards have been issued (2021) to PMJDY account holders.

Image 3.6.1: DBT Scheme for Subsidy Disbursement

Whitespaces:

  • The scheme fails to address the problem of mismatch in mobile-linked AADHAR cards where mobile numbers were ported or were allocated to another individual on account of irregular use

  • Lack of a banking literacy initiative within the JAM initiate to make people aware about banking and DBT services

3.7 Smart Cities


Description: Cities today are not only a physical platform but is also a digital ecosystem. Smart City means integrating human and social capital, traditional infrastructure and disruptive technologies for sustainable and inclusive urban development ensuring high quality of life through participatory governance.


Progress Update:

  • The focus is to initially develop compact areas by selecting cities through the “Smart City Challenge,” allocation of funds based on rounds and bands in which the city was selected and undergoing development by creation of replicable models which function as lighthouses to other aspiring cities.

Image 3.7.1: Key infrastructure elements of Smart Cities Mission

Image 3.7.2: Fundamental Principles of the Smart City Mission


Whitespaces:

  • The process of citizen engagement is absent from the smart cities mission

  • Lack of action, delays in projects and backlogs are prevalent across states; multiple projects are stuck on account of the pandemic

  • Lack of clear guidelines on the integration of digital and infrastructural resources

  • Limited clarity to prevent cities from choosing well-serviced pockets for development under the initiative

3.8 BHIM UPI

Description: BHIM stands for Bharat Interface for Money (BHIM), which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 30th December 2016. It was set up and developed by National Payments Corporation of India. The purpose of setting up BHIM was to bring financial inclusion to the nation through its use by citizens and enable the society to be digitally empowered in terms of conducting financial transactions. Currently there are ~203 banks on BHIM.


Progress Update:

  • There has been growth in value of monthly transactions from ~INR 0.02B to ~INR77.34B over a period of 4 years at a CAGR of ~420%

Whitespaces:

  • Limited customer incentives (e.g., cashbacks) vs. private competitors

  • Private competitors continue to lead innovation across features (BNPL, credit card linkages etc.)


3.9 Government e Marketplace (GeM)

Description: Government e-Marketplace (GeM) is a digital interface, which enables procurement of common goods and services for all government departments/organisations and PSUs. It aims to bridge the gap between demand and supply through usage of tools like e-bidding, reverse e-auction, and demand aggregation.

Progress Update:

  • There has been growth in number of sellers from ~20K to ~3.5L over a period of 4 years at a CAGR of ~100%; corresponding growth in number of buyers from ~21K to ~48K over a period of 4 years has just been at a CAGR of ~25%

Image 3.9.1: Fundamental Principles of the Smart City Mission

Whitespaces:

  • There has been limited adoption of GeM among states, PSUs, and public sectors; driven by standardized process of offline procurement, obtaining tenders, and maintaining files

3.10 E-Pathshala


Description: An online educational platform called E-Pathshala was developed by NCERT. It is a repository of all educational resources in digital format available through website and mobile app. educational resources include a diverse set of knowledge in the form of e-textbooks, audios, videos, journals and periodicals and other print/non print materials.


Progress Update:

  • E-Pathshala app has had ~4.5M downloads, published ~4000 e-Resources and has earned 4.4/5 app ratings


Whitespaces:

  • Large disparity in technology access among rural and urban areas

  • Gender gap in technology and education has not improved under this pillar.

Image 3.10.1: e-Pathshala Activities / Schemes

3. 11 E- NAM - National Agriculture Market


Description: Pan-India electronic trading portal which networks the existing APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities. The aim is to promote uniformity in agriculture marketing by streamlining of procedures across the integrated markets.

Progress Update:

  • e-NAM aids in price discovery for farmers and provides facilities for smooth marketing of produce.

  • e-NAM has resulted in ~45% avg. YoY-growth of traded quantity and ~60% avg. YoY-growth of gross trade value of varied commodities

Whitespaces:

  • Limited internet penetration amongst farmers: Despite mobile phone penetration being high in rural India, there is a significant gap of internet penetration and operability of digital platforms amongst farmers.

4. Macroeconomic Impact of Digital India


4. 1 Agriculture

  • Digital India is a stepping-stone in the much needed ‘income revolution’ for farmers, by shifting the focus from productivity to income.

  • Schemes including the Prime Minister Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) worth INR ~750M p.a. are being implemented to increase the income of farmers.

  • The government has focused on implementing transparent pricing to reduction the control of traders and commission agents on different APMC

  • Increased technology awareness driven by e-NAM has impacted ~1.75M stakeholders using the application out of which most of whom are farmers (~98%).

4.2 Healthcare

  • Digital technologies in healthcare have enabled wider accessibility; Aarogya Setu App has ~190M users (Jan 2022) and has helped track COVID cases in real time for better governance and management.

  • Considering the low doctor-patient ratio in India (1:834), optimising delivery of healthcare facilities through technology, enables greater efficiency in hospital operations; particularly skewed towards urban areas

  • The storage of digital records of patients’ health check-ups, blood reports and medical records paves the way for establishment of a robust healthcare system with inter-connectivity between insurance, pharma, and other healthcare providers.

4.3 Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

  • By the end of 2020, contribution by India's digital economy to GDP was around ~8% and is estimated to rise to 20% by 2025, indicating an increase by ~12% from the value weighted in 2020. In value terms, the digital economy is estimated to boost GDP by $1 trillion

  • India has been one of the faster economies in digital adoption as per the World Bank, and this has been accelerated by the pandemic, though the expansion has been inequitable.

Being 46th on World Digital Competitiveness 2021, India has tremendous potential for enhancing the digital economy.

Image 4.3.1: Value contribution by core digital sectors to GDP in billion $

4.4 Employment

  • Digital India created direct and indirect employment opportunities across sectors, enhancing the quality and speed of service delivery, providing access to healthcare and education, and improving social and financial inclusion for all classes.

Image 4.4.1: Share of Service Sector

  • An estimated overall cost of ~INR 1,000B in ongoing schemes and ~INR 130B has been demarcated for upcoming and proposed schemes, Digital India had aimed to create ~17M direct and ~85M indirect jobs by 2021.

  • The initiatives towards training and digital literacy by the government and private sector players such as NDLM- National Digital Literacy Mission, have been successful in reaching out to millions of people, with the NDLM alone approaching ~6M people for IT training.


5. Roadblocks to implementation


When the Digital India policy was implemented, it failed to account for the rapid growth in the field of technology and the difficulty in mass adoption of any form of change. These prevented its implementation from being as successful as it could have been. These roadblocks can be more clearly be identified as the following:


5.1 Siloed Approach to Digitization:

  • The Digital India policy encompasses numerous pillars, with each pillar contributing to solve for a specialised whitespace; due to varying strategic goals, resource needs and priorities the sum of the parts is less than the whole.

  • A systematic mechanism around harmonization across these various pillars needs to be built to implement the policy effectively.


5.2 Digital Adoption:

  • The Internet penetration in India stands at ~29%, leaving ~700 M Indians still in digital darkness. Therefore, the adoption problem will function as a major constraint to the policy impact.

5.3 Lack of adequate Infrastructure:

  • India suffers a large infrastructure deficit compared to other regions such as the Middle East, Spain etc.

  • India’s fibre deployment (in kms) to population ratio stands at a ~0.09%.


5.4 Private Sector Competition:

  • In many of the focus areas, the aligned innovation in the private sector creates a large gap for adoption across different levels in the economy.

  • Increasing adoption of new age technologies and alignment with the global market will reduce intra-economy disparities.

5.5 Inconsistent Transparency:

  • Transparency is not maintained uniformly across the different pillars, thus creating different preferences of utility between users and organisations.

  • Transparency and moral/ethical security rules need to be implemented equitably across all focus areas and updated regularly to go along with any data protection policies.


6. Drawbacks of the policy


The commonality in every well-written and implemented policy is the ability to not only address the problems of today but be able to estimate the need for regulation in the future. Anything short of this is usually, and in this case accurately, what aligns the drawbacks of any policy. We investigate the major drawbacks as mentioned below:

6.1 Ministry-to-Ministry Consistency

Individual government bodies continue to offer data on their own websites. The Farmers’ Portal, run by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, has information ranging from the number of fertilisers available to the health of farm animals. The ministry also sends text messages with weather updates and farming tips and runs mobile apps for everything from calculating crop insurance premiums for a particular farm to looking up real-time crop prices within 50 kilometres. This extent of involvement does not exist in parallel sectors, for example water supply to aid in irrigation, or climate prediction and other impact areas.

6.2 Open access to information

The government is gathering detailed data on retail sales and other transactions through its Goods and Services Tax Network, a digital system that registers retail sales and calculates value-added taxes owed by shopkeepers and service providers. The network has recorded five billion invoices since the tax took effect in July 2017, but for now the data are unavailable to the public.

In many cases getting access to data is still a huge roadblock in what should be open and easily accessible. This is one of the major pain points of the digitization process, where filtering what needs privacy and what needs to be open is hard to differentiate. This leads us to our next drawback.


6.3 Privacy in data protection


Concerns about data protection and privacy are legitimate and must be addressed. The Indian Supreme Court in 2017 ruled that privacy is a fundamental right of every citizen. Laws and policies on data privacy will continue to evolve in India, as in the rest of the world. Recognising the importance of data protection issues, India’s government constituted an expert committee, whose report and draft Personal Data Protection Bill are open to public consultation. Government also needs to take the lead on cybersecurity. It can make sure that the Computer Emergency Response Team India (CERT-IN) has adequate resources to combat cyberattacks, which rose at a compound annual growth rate of 6 percent from 2014 to 2016, when they exceeded 50,000.


6.4 Ease of transaction


The very ambition of Digital India is to alleviate the suffering caused by excruciating transaction processes in the physical world when it comes to availing goods and services. However, government backed platforms aimed at the distribution of public commodities are not design or user centric. The number of loopholes in workflows of these platforms and inferior user interfaces of these platforms restrain people from using them. The problem also points out at a larger Implementation hitch in the policy.



7. Policy Recommendations

7. 1 Increasing digitization in the government

  • It is imperative to make all Digital India initiative applications – citizen and consumer centric, user-friendly for easy access. The applications should incorporate latest technological developments (e.g. Advanced Analytics, AI/ML, voice-to-text etc.) as part of the user experience through chatbots, digital agents for faster resolution of queries etc.

    • This would include a PF system that is digitized, a ration card system that has minimal human participation and documentation that can be submitted online instead of via post, would assist a faster transition from the government's part.

    • Multiple government agencies are unable to operate and maintain internet applications, making it difficult for a large segment of the Indian population to make a shift to digital.

7.2 Focusing on Public Private Partnerships in the short and long run

  • The government should further promote stacking of private sector services on public goods (e.g. as done in UPI, JAM); for example – including premier private hospitals under e-hospital initiative, integrating insurance companies etc. while ensuring data privacy and security

    • Encouraging labour force participation due to subsidies, generating start-ups and revenues.

    • Encouraging constructing infrastructure with a focus on users of different sectors.

    • Encouraging internet connectivity in the private sector and unilateral growth across different sectors.

7.3 Investing in digital infrastructure

  • This leads us to our next major recommendation. Invest more in digital infrastructure and the digitization of government operations

    • Focussing on promoting home-grown platforms for optimizing cost and operations across the public and private economy

7.4 Including an online depository

  • Creating a common platform to register all devices will help maintain transparency and eliminate the need for multiple databases

    • Intellectual property ownership and authenticity needs to be defined to further fuel innovation

    • Interoperability can be ensured by implementing use-cases of successful initiatives in other upcoming or pre-existing programs, for e.g., DBT has multiple use cases across Digital India platforms

7.5 Creating a service focus

  • Approaching the adoption by focusing on digitising organisations and institutions enabling a faster digital pivot; further redirecting government focus towards consumers

7.6 Increasing awareness at a local level

  • Increasing digital awareness and digital education to help increase entrepreneurial opportunities

  • Adding education modules on topics relevant to digital initiatives are necessary for fuelling growth.

  • Focus on youth and technology education will create scope for innovation in both the public and private sector.

8. Conclusionary Remarks


Though the policy has been criticised as well as applauded on many platforms, the one main advantage of having such a policy is the road it paves for future reliance on digital infrastructure for all aspects of the economy and society.


Though this paper briefly touches on the pillars and progress of the program, it is the primary purpose of the paper to create awareness for any avenues of improvement that can allow future implementation to lead India into a prosperous future.



Meet The Thought Leaders


Shatakshi Sharma has been a management consultant with BCG and is Co- Founder of Global Governance Initiative with national facilitation of award- Economic Times The Most Promising Women Leader Award, 2021 and Linkedin Top Voice, 2021.

Prior to graduate school at ISB, she was Strategic Advisor with the Government of India where she drove good governance initiatives. She was also felicitated with a National Young Achiever Award for Nation Building. She is a part time blogger on her famous series-MBA in 2 minutes.


Naman Shrivastava is the Co-Founder of Global Governance Initiative. He has previously worked as a Strategy Consultant in the Government of India and is working at the United Nations - Office of Internal Oversight Services. Naman is also a recipient of the prestigious Harry Ratliffe Memorial Prize - awarded by the Fletcher Alumni of Color Executive Board. He has been part of speaking engagements at International forums such as the World Economic Forum, UN South-South Cooperation etc. His experience has been at the intersection of Management Consulting, Political Consulting, and Social entrepreneurship.


Karan David is a mentor at GGI and a management consultant at Bain & Company's India office. He graduated from St. Stephen's College, Delhi with Honours in Economics. Outside of work, KD is a travel enthusiast, a connoisseur of good food and enjoys listening to music and playing video games in his free time.




Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)


Shravishtha Ajaykumar after studying psychology and economics moved on to finish her Master of Arts in Urban Policy and Governance from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. After her masters she moved into working in policy research and advocacy, where her main areas of expertise range from Urban policy to Technology and geospatial policies. She also has a keen interest in human anthropology and sociology and incorporates this in her different fields of work.


Keshav Agrawal is a Mechanical engineering graduate from BIT Mesra. He has experience of working as Consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers and as BDA at Byju’s. Passion for Education and social impact, drove him to lead an NGO that provides primary and secondary education to underprivileged children and also prepare for world’s toughest test UPSE CSE.



Rushabh Shah is a Chartered Accountant with an All India Rank 31. He has done his graduation from University of Mumbai. During his course of Chartered Accountancy, he interned with one of the big 4 global auditing firms where he was part of statutory audits of listed companies and private entities along with related certifications and reviews. He is currently associated with an FMCG major as a Management Trainee gaining exposure in diverse functions of finance. Apart from his profession, Rushabh has his interest in sports, binge watching and meditation.



Graduated as Bachelor of Business Administration specialized in finance, Ritambhara gained experience as a US Taxation analyst at EY where she worked for US investment management companies for reporting and tax compliance under mutual funds practice. Currently, she is a part of a European audit firm as an advanced analyst under US Tax practice in real estate and corporation. Besides professional domain, Ritambhara takes keen interest in public speaking, poetry, dance, and meditation.


A Chartered Accountant by profession, Mansi interned with one of the Big 4 firms during her articleship in their direct tax department. Post qualification, she gained extensive experience in sell-side equity research while interacting with multiple very-high net worth investors. Currently, she’s working as a Consultant with the Quality Council of India in their PPID division. Apart from work, she is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and an animal welfare enthusiast.


Param Veer Singh serves as a Strategic Advisor in the Internal Secretariat of the Capacity Building Commission, Government of India. The commission aims at bringing civil services reforms in India. Prior to this, he worked in EY as Consultant in their Business Transformation department on various Change management and internal strategy projects. An engineer who has majored in Computer Science, Param always strives to bring a technological furnish to his work products in roles which are more strategic in nature.



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