Information technology and communication technologies have a huge potential to provide new opportunities as well as challenges to the developing economies. India’s digital consumer base is the second largest in terms of various factors such as internet subscribers, users engaged in social media, etc. In fact, the share of Indian adults with at least one digital financial account has more than doubled since 2011, to 80% in the light of the government’s mass financial inclusion program, Jan-Dhan Yojna. Additionally, according to Country Digital Adoption Score 2017, India is the second-fastest-growing country among 17 matured and emerging economies. It is estimated that India’s digital economy is envisaged to read US$1 trillion by 2025, a fivefold increase from the current $200 billion. This is in line with the Government’s ambitious vision to make India a US$5 trillion economy. The first step in this direction was Digital India in order to boost the pre-existing approaches along with newer targeted schemes.

Digital India was launched by the Government of India under the aegis of Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, on 1st July 2020, to increase the reach of e-governance through increased internet connectivity and making a digitally empowered India in the field of technology. It includes plans to connect rural areas with high-speed internet networks. The Digital India Programme consists of three key vision areas: the development of secure and stable infrastructure, delivering government services electronically and universal digital literacy.

The programme has been favoured by multiple countries including US, UK, Australia, etc. At the launch ceremony, top CEOs from India and abroad committed to investing US$3.1 trillion towards this initiative. They said that these investments would be utilized towards making internet devices and smartphones at a cheaper and affordable price in India which would help generate jobs in the country as well as reduce the cost of importing them from abroad. Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg showed his support by changing his profile picture which started a chain on Facebook and also promised to work on WiFi Hotspots in rural areas of India. Numerous multinational companies also supported the programme and showcased their trust in it. Google committed to set up broadband connectivity on 500 railway stations in India. Microsoft agreed to make India its cloud hub through Indian data centres by providing broadband connectivity to 500 thousand villages in India. Qualcomm announced an investment of US$150 million in Indian startups. Oracle intents to invest in 20 states and will work on payments and Smart City initiatives.

The programme in the last five years has been a huge success. The programme has transformed the entire digital profile of the country, with 99% of the Indian adults possessing digital identities in the form of Aadhar cards. Additionally, there are over 123 crore mobile phones, 49 crore internet subscriptions. One of the most successful outcomes has been the success of over 40 crores verified Jan Dhan accounts. Over 85% of Jan Dhan account-holders now use these accounts to access credit and savings products which have been fundamental in encouraging financial inclusion. 

The programme has also initiated the Bharat Net programme, that undertook the task of connecting 2.5 lakh gram panchayats by fibre-optic network and has been successful in setting up around 1,40,000 connections so far. Promoting digital inclusion is also a core component of the initiative, thereby having a network of 3.12 lakh Common Service Centre.

India being a home to 9,300 tech-startups which makes the country the third-largest tech startup ecosystem in the world, the initiative also focuses on tapping into the potential of the digital startup ecosystem.  The MeitY has launched programmes like “Technology Incubation and Development of Entrepreneurs”, promotion of “Electronics System Design and Manufacturing” Skill development and the setting of incubation centres to promote indigenous technology. The growth in the e-commerce market, which is estimated to be worth $54 billion in 2020 justifies the Government’s effort. 

What’s really exciting is that India’s digital transformation has just commenced and it has a bright future and various milestones to achieve in all the aspects. In the field of shopping, robots are starting to take over warehouses and drones are expected to be used for last-mile deliveries. In the second wave of digital payment adoption after demonetization, the payments industry has identified technologies such as NFC, QR code and tokenization for new solutions in the post-pandemic period. In the telecom sector, India is striving to become one of the early adopters of 5G technology, and its induction is expected to multiply possibilities and opportunities across the spectrum in ways that we cannot imagine now.

There is no doubt that the Digital India initiative has been a huge success in the first five years. Aadhar and UPI initiatives came in handy for the government during the pandemic. However, acceleration in digital adoption due to COVID is now spurring policymakers to not just strengthen the physical infrastructure that supports connectivity, but also align future initiatives with new realities. The next phase of Digital India has to be planned in a way that takes into account 60-cr people who are yet to use internet-based services. Investment in infrastructures such as cloud, supercomputing and quantum computing needs to match the efforts being put in by countries such as China. Moreover, there is a need for India to strengthen its cybersecurity frameworks and promote informational privacy of citizens on an urgent basis. It is time for India to forge digital policies that are tailored for the Indian scenario and tap into the vast treasure trove of technical competence at India’s disposal.

This article is written by Raunak for The Connectere.

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