Digital India initiative: The way to go ahead

  • 17 Mar, 2017 12:19 PM  
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Recently, Union cabinet has approved an ambitious e-governance initiative named Digital India project. To ensure that all government services are available online to the citizens up to date is the main motto of the project. Surely it will try to mitigate the dangerously increasing digital divide and help the people benefitting from the latest information and communication technology inventions setting adequate E-Infrastructure in all villages. The project,which has a total overlay of Rs 1 lakh crore, would be headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi intends to complete by 2019. A digital India Advisory Group will be formed and will be chaired by the Minister of Communications and IT.

The program is a transformed version of an already running project named National E-Governance Plan which began in 2006. Broadband highways, mobile connectivity, public internet access program, e-governance, e-Kranti (aims electronic delivery of services), information for all, electronics manufacturing, IT for jobs are the main thirst areas of the digital India project same as they were  fixed as a part of National  E-Governance plan .Anyway, apart from existing projects, the project proposes to restructure national informatics as the central system to roll out of IT programs in the government sector. The government will create positions of chief information officers (CIO) in at least 10 key ministries who will coordinate the various e-governance programs in concerned ministry or department. Department of electronics and IT (Deity) would be given the central role in making the right kind of arrangements for the speedy implementation of the projects.

Although, it is an old wine presented in new bottle, it has created a new sigma of enthusiasm among the industrial and corporate world. Over the last few months there was a much celebrated enthusiasm among Silicon Valley CEOs unveiling their interest to empower Indians and helping Prime Minister Narendra Modi government implement its Digital India Initiative. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is visiting the prime minister promised in bringing the internet, access to all citizens and providing affordable and universal online services. Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella, in his first trip to India assured his keen interest to partner with government and industry to help make the vision of digital India a reality. The internet giant Google announced that it would want to assist  the Indian government to make its digital initiative possible, including the plans, giving millions of women online access and building non English internet base. Anyhow Prioritizing internet access and universalizing the digital infrastructure is the need of the hour and the incorporation of the corporate sector is to be promoted at its best. Running the race knowing the finishing line is the suitable way to overcome the hurdles in the go ahead. This article tries to evaluate the previous efforts made in India in bringing the digital divide by multiple stakeholders including government and discusses the barriers and challenges in the way of going ahead.

Previous Initiatives and prospects

India is a country of plural society, both in letter and spirit. It is a multicultural, multi linguistic and multi religious country. A grand synthesis from various sectors is the main peculiarity of Indian society. Any attempt to bridge the lag in this complex synthesis is in need of continuous and holistic efforts by multiple stakeholders including the government. So an analysis of the past contributions in bringing the digital divide in India must evolve as the following:

  1. Role of infrastructure development (E-Infrastructure)
  2. Role of government programs  for e-governance.
  1. Role of community information centers
  2. Role of academic institutions
  3. Role of corporate companies and private sector


E- Infrastructure

E-Infrastructure comprises facilitating the tools and resources that are needed for the collaboration of various technologies such as internet broadband and grid based sharing resource, etc.  To meet the challenges of globalization a sustaining improvement of information and communication system is must do as a basic necessity. Access to universal telecommunication is the backbone of e-infrastructure. In India, it is a part of constitutional obligation to provide equal opportunity and equal justice for all. It cannot be fulfilled until the uphill task of universal coverage is to be completed.

Government of India celebrated 2013 as the 160th anniversary of Indian communication and telegraphy. At the independence time only 80,000 users have access to telephone service and they were mainly concentrated on government sector. But a significant improvement is noticeable during the course. The formulation of national telecom policy in 1994 and the corporatization of telecom sector in 2000 were the breakthrough initiatives by the government. It went to a high place of market liberalization in 1990s. Consequentially today Indian telecommunication network is the second largest in the world based on the total number of telephone users (both mobile and fixed) and it has the world’s third largest internet user base.

The recent steps undertaken by department of electronics and information technology (Deity) under the ministry of communication and IT which is the nodal agency for e-infrastructure are:

1-National Policy on Universal Electronic Accessibility (2013)

According to the policy the electronic products are to be used in all walks of life, such as education, health, employment, entertainment, banking, etc. it recognizes the need to eliminate the discrimination based on disabilities and adheres to standard concepts and guidelines in production.

  1. Information technology investment region (ITIR-2008)

It will setup self contained integrated township, which will accelerate the growth of IT. It would be a full-fledged institutional platform of the communication industry along with R and D facilities at international standard. Two of them were set up at Hyderabad and Bangalore.


All these projects helped to provide an exponential change in the socioeconomic fabric of Indian society. But still the rural, urban divide is manifold. Tele density in rural area is still 42 percentage while the urban sector has more than 75 percentage (as per 2013 data).Bringing this gap is the serious barrier in the way to attain the digital India perspective. Apart from bridging the gap between the rural and urban divide, achieving a full-fledged e-infrastructure in India is in immense need of building an adequate capacity in the areas of technical, institutional, legal and judicial, sectors. Making all information available online and popularizing the e-governance for an inclusive growth are other challenges.


Role of government programs  for E-Governance.

It can be identified of three distinct sectors in this area. These comprise Government to Government part (G to G), Government to Citizen Part (G to C) and Government to Business Part (G to B). Reliability, efficiency and quality of services are the common thrust of all these sectors. In Government to Government Part (G to G) which is the backbone of public governance involved sharing data and electronic exchanges between various agencies. Government recently decided to set up its own data sharing system under the guidance of national electronics informatics mission to give adequate protection to the data from any type of snooping. Setting up of the regular electronic attendance register is another innovative bureaucratic reform to empower the administrative system. The main aim of Government to Citizen (G to C) Part is to create a sing window system of interaction between the state and citizen to make informed, updated and transparent governing machinery. Online payments and online registration of the applications are the suitable examples.  The Government to business (G to B) Part includes both procurement of goods and sale of surplus goods to the public online. Collection of taxes and single window system for approvals are other ingredients.

E-Governing Initiatives

The first thing among the notable initiatives in E-Governance systems was the approval of the National E-governance Action Plan, which was prepared by both departments of electronics and information technology and department of administrative reforms and public grievances. The plan was an attempt to lay the foundation to the institutional mechanism for the E-Governing system at center, state and local level of administration. Its impetus remains assisting a long term growth of E- governing system for the better use of citizen centric administrative tools. Apart from giving the qualitative service at the right time, it acknowledged to outsource the service where ever it is feasible. It involves setting up of state wide area networks (SWANS), State Data Centers (SDCs), Common Service Centers (CSCs) and electronic service delivery gateways. A centralized initiative with decentralized concentration and public-private partnerships were the main themes of the project. As of August 31, 2013, about 1, 27,002 CSCs came into operation with different regional names delivering IT enabled governing service to citizens.

The other noticeable projects which were implemented by the central government in an attempt to reduce the digital divide The are as follows:

  1. Adoption of Information Technology Act, 2000. It provided the legal framework for electronic transactions. Major aims of the act are: recognize electronic contracts and prevent computer crimes.
  2. Establishment of national task force of information technology and software development in 1998.
  3. Developing E-Office solutions to various ministries and government agencies.
  4. In urban areas, it revolutionized the transportation and communication sector. In the rural sector up to a certain extent it assisted the various segments of agriculture. AGMARKNET -a project under DMI to provide better marketing facility for farmers is one of the noticeable endeavors.  A wide range of E-Applications were utilized in the sectors like disaster management, education, health and land record management etc.
  5. Open source software and cloud computing were proposed as the future technological instruments of E-Governance. Utilizing open source software is a strategic one. Cloud computing benefits for on demand self sufficient service, fast network access, suitable location independent resource and rapid elasticity. It is highly useful for data integrity and data storage.

Apart from the central government, various state governments were actively involved with several IT-oriented projects to bridge the digital divide, some of which are discussed as follows:

  1. CARD Project (Andhra Pradesh). Computer Aided Administration Department (CAD) facilitated each level of administration E-centric, providing them access to  computerized counters
  2. Sourkayan and E selva (Andhra Pradesh) It eliminated the bureaucratic hurdles and enabled the citizen to pay taxes online with various citizen centric online services.
  3. The bhoomi project (Karnataka). The main aim of the project was covering the millions of records of land ownership.
  4. The gyandoot project (Madhya Pradesh). As a part of tribal empowerment, each village in Dhar district empowered with the opening of information centers named Soochanalayas.
  5. FRIENDS Project (Kerala). Fast, Reliable, Instant and Efficient Network for Disbursement Services Project was launched with a view to mitigating the hardship of citizens and facilitating them in the medium for paying taxes. As of the result, it eliminated the middlemen culture, delays and long queues in front of government offices.
  6. Lokmitra, Smart Project (Himachal Pradesh). The government of HP has developed an IT Vision 2010 in collaboration with NASSCOM (National association of software companies). It led them to be a leading state in the distribution of e-enabled services.


Role of community information centers

Community information centers initiated by government, NGOs, Civil societies consider as the clear landmarks in the way of rural development. Each CIC comprised one server computer with less than five client configuration computer systems. E-Chaupals project, which was launched in view to equip the rural area with adequate E-Infrastructure in the year 2000 has been quite popular in rural areas of Maharashtra, MP, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. The role of libraries in promoting e-access is also praiseworthy. Several library projects were mainly concentrated in the digitization process. National Science Digital Library(NSDL), Vidya Vahini project, the Digital Mobile Library project was encouraging steps taken by government to bridge the digital divide through various streams of library networks.

Role of academic and research institutions

Some of the remarkable contributions of premier academic and research institutions are as follows:

  1. IIT Kanpur initiated an innovative project and developed a battery-powered information box named Infothela which is equipped with an internet and telecom service equipment specially arranged for rural remote areas. It was a successful wireless service which spreads information on various public information
  2. IIT Karagpur tried to reduce the gap of E-World between sightless and sighted. It enabled the blind to surf the internet, read the text and translate it to the Braille and vice versa to English.
  3. The Indian space research organization (ISRO) started a pilot project in 2002 with a technology demonstration in nearly 100 hospitals facilitating them the infrastructure for telemedicine treatment arrangement.

Role of corporate sector and private companies

Some of the business companies like Tata Council of Community Initiatives, Azim Premji Foundation have come up with innovative IT based models of digitalizing modules in various fields like health, school education, sanitation programs and environmental protection. Diary information System Kiosks (DISK) by corporate giant Amul, a rural connectivity program named PRAM by Oglivy and Mather Company and setting up of I-Shakthi rural kiosks by Hindustan Liver are noticeable ones in corporate sector. The reinvent the toilet challenge which was organized by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation showcased that how a sanitation program could be well managed by using IT enabled services.


The scope of corporate sector in bridging the digital gap has increased many folds with legalization of corporate social responsibility Scheme (CSR). it is a company`s sense of responsibility towards community and the environment.   Fulfilling the social needs became obligatory for the corporate sector with the upcoming of CSR. With effect from April 1, 2014, every company, private limited or public limited either has a net worth of Rs 500 crore or turnover of Rs. 1,000 crore or net profit of Rs 5 crore, needs to spend at least 2 percent of its average net profit on social responsibility activities.  

Challenges and barriers in digital India initiative

  1. Infrastructural barriers

Despite the incredible growth of internet base since 1990s, India still lacks a robust E-Infrastructure as it was available in many European countries. Lack of adequate funding, increasing rural, urban divide and culture of delayism creates serious problems. As per the vision paper for 2020 prepared by planning commission, in order to attain the network size of USA in 2001, India has to expand its number of operational telephone lines at a compound annual growth rate of 23.44 percentage between 2002 and 2020.An ambitious project named National Optical Fiber Network to provide broadband connectivity to over two lakh Gram Panchayats of India which is funded by Universal Service Obligation Fund(USOF) is yet to be completed due to the continued process of delays and ill will from both bureaucracy and political field. The speedy implementation of such projects would pave the strong base of Digital India Initiative.


  1. Literacy and skill barriers

Higher education and literacy programs are the cornerstone of E-Development. Yet now, India is far below in literacy rate advancement and higher education enrollment level. As per the population census of India (2011) India’s literacy rate is 74.04 percentages. A huge gap between male and female literacy level and big divide between rural and urban sectors are the main problems. No doubt, the free school education programs such as the right to education and setting up of new educational centers along with continuing education arrangements will make remarkable changes. The smooth implementation of the National Skill Development Program is another way to go ahead.


  1. Economic barriers

Inadequate access to the basic needs of human life is the main lacuna for the unreachable and unconnected areas. The lower income group does not have discretionary money to spend on cyber cafes or get internet connectivity. As defined by the RangaRajan committee 29.5%of the population of India is still below poverty line. An assured political will power towards the speedy implementation of poverty alleviation programme would be the basic foundation on which the project Digital India has to be built up.

  1. Language barriers

India as a country of multi cultural and multi lingual population is in the other side of English ruled internet service. As the Majority of the E-contents are prepared in English language a wide array of regional masses have no true representative reaches to the internet services. Attempts were made by independent software experts to make the content more inclusive, taking multilingual backgrounds in concern.

  1. Governance problems in internet world

Engaging in monopolistic governing practices at ICANN (which is the official body of internet governance) America is still is not ready to release its grip on internet governance. The global war for independent internet governance which India is actively a participant is going on without creating much needed results. Such a situation would automatically lead to the lack of adequate protection of data stored. Snooping, utilizing the personal information for the corporate interest or the ruling party interest and other data related issues would be the results of such a dangerous condition. An independent governing body headed by UNO is the main solution. Setting up of clear guideline for the protection of privacy is the need of the hour.

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