Tuesday, December 23, 2014

No real 'Digital India' without including Panchayats

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “Digital India” won’t come true without including Panchayats, a senior government official has said.

Addressing a conference on ‘Digital India’ held as part of the 37th Skoch Summit here, N. Ravi Shankar, Secretary, Ministry of Personal, Public Grievances and Pensions, highlighted the importance of roles to be played by individuals and Panchayats in transforming the overall digital culture in the country.

“Time has come now when the Public Private Partnership (PPP) should be known as Public Private Panchayat Partnership (PPPP),” Shankar said. He said rural India has been looking for it for long and greater convergence would be effective for empowerment of the masses.

The comments came in the backdrop of the government’s plan to connect 50,000 Gram Panchayats this fiscal and 100,000 in the next financial years and a similar number in 2015-16.

A daylong conference on ‘Digital India’ brought to the fore the key nuances of the government’s recently launched “Digital India” programme. The conclusion emerged through the experts and citizens’ views that while the newly launched “Digital India” has path-breaking potential – but the earlier launched programmes too were helpful for India in charting out an important journey of a technology intensive economy in the wake of economic reforms.

Albeit this time around, the focus has to be laid upon to remove the possible flaws from the new digital drive in offing– with carefully taking into account, the implementation specific lapses of previous programmes as ‘key learning’.

Notionally it sounds fine. However, the reckoning should be zeroed at how the missing gap in eService delivery has slowed down the digitisation efforts of the previous governments and eventually caused for lesser impact than their actual potential.

Hence, the “Digital India” platform shall be carried like national roll-out of application rather than reinvention – with keeping in focus, effective application and citizen centricity.

As the fog is still not clear how exactly the new policy scheme will work, the discussions must go further with spotting the criticality of outcome based governance in the current scenario where the technological changes are fast-paced and hardly belittling with any bound. So, the “Digital India” shall make citizens empowered and key stakeholders that only can remove the hassles of procedures, those blocking the free flow of information and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Hitherto missed, but now the technology required for the specific policies have to be made India specific, as inevitably it has to cope with an uniquely diverse populace and culture – also the eWaste has to be dealt on priority basis to control the environmental hazard, it unrelentingly offers.

The close overtures between the government and industry has been seen and noticed in recent years, so it is irrational to call any longer the existing technology stakeholder, a ‘vendor’. As lately, the realisation should be at commonplace that they play game-changing role in handling various schemes and making them meeting with the aims targeted.

Technology is fast changing and it is really hard for any system to keep the pace in its accordance. So, the government has to be emphatically proactive to meet with the imminent challenges. Among those challenges, the new time will see “Agile Governance” – and that agility will come from the industry and citizens, not alone from the government.

Apart from these legitimate challenges, the “Digital India” mission may face hurdles within the government. Some of insiders are not convinced with the whole framework behind making it on mission mode so soon. Among them, one is Rahul Khullar, chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). In a recent interview to ET, he said the plan is short on specifics. He added, "Is it possible to get a birth or a death certificate online in Delhi? If not, what sort of applications are we really talking about?”

Principally, the vision set forth for “Digital India” is concentrated in three areas: digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen – digital identity, mobile phone and bank account, safe and secure cyber space, and governance and services on demand; services available in real time on online and mobile platform, making financial transactions electronic and digital empowerment of citizens; and all documents, certificates available on cloud.

Indeed, a lot more thinking and resources must be devoted to release these applications instead of rushing to launch e-based programming for critical core areas like education and health. Experts believe that the current bandwidth of 100 mbps per Panchayat is not sufficient. They opine on condition of anonymity that it should be at least 1 gbps given that it serves three villages of around 10,000 people and videos are in HD (high definition) now.

As a matter of fact, one can't keep laying new fibre and the current architecture does not allow for the bandwidth to be revised.

So far, the views aired by the experts from the different walks of life on the “Digital India” are to an extent in conformity that the great convergence in India will come through actual digital revolution – not merely by another policy initiative. The new digital policy has to pass the acid test – it seems mandatory.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)

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