[Sansad TV] India’s Leadership in Digital Public Goods (DPGs)


Why in news?

  • Digitization initiatives in India and the work with digital public goods have been extraordinary, said Microsoft chairman and CEO Satya Nadella.


  • India’s digital infrastructure has not only changed how Indians live and operate but it has also caught the fancy of other countries around the world.
  • In this article, we will focus on a global technology commons that has the ability to address some of the world’s toughest challenges which India has much to contribute.

What are Digital Public Goods (DPGs)?

  • Digital public goods are public goods in the form of software, data sets, AI models, standards or content that are generally free cultural works and contribute to sustainable national and international digital development.
  • Several international agencies, including UNICEF and UNDP, are exploring DPGs as a possible solution to address the issue of digital inclusion, particularly for children in emerging economies.

How is it different from physical public good?

  • Abundance: The nondepletable, nonexclusive, and nonrivalrous nature of digital public goods means the rules and norms for managing them can be different from how physical public goods are managed.
  • Everlasting: DPGs can be infinitely stored, copied, and distributed without becoming depleted, and at close to zero cost.
  • Inclusiveness: DPG is a good that is both non-excludable (no one can be prevented from consuming this good) and non-rivalrous (the consumption of this good by anyone does not reduce the quantity available to others).

Examples of DPGs

  1. Wikipedia
  2. DHIS2, an open source health management system.
  3. Free and open-source software (FOSS), since FOSS is licensed to allow it to be shared freely, modified and redistributed, it is available as a digital public good.
  4. Open educational resources, which by their copyright are allowed to be freely re-used, revised and shared.

Digital public goods in India

  • Aadhaar: Built on the foundation of Aadhaar and India Stack, modular applications, big and small, are transforming the way we make payments, withdraw our PF, get our passport and driving license and check land records, to name just a few activities.
  • Unified Payment Interface (UPI): To give an example, consider the surge in UPI-based payments in India. This kind of growth doesn’t happen with a few entitled and privileged people using UPI more and more; it happens with more and more people using UPI more and more.
  • DIKSHA Portal: The use of DIKSHA, the school education platform built on the open-source platform Sunbird, has followed the same trajectory — today close to 500 million schoolchildren are using it.

Key Indian initiative: ‘India Stack’

india stack
  • India Stack is a set of (application programming interface) APIs that allows governments, businesses, startups and developers to utilize a unique digital Infrastructure to solve India’s hard problems towards presence-less, paperless, and cashless service delivery.
  • The Open API team at iSPIRT has been a pro-bono partner in the development, evolution, and evangelization of these APIs and systems.

APIs included in India Stack:

The following APIs are considered to be a core part of the India Stack-

  • Aadhaar Authentication
  • Aadhaar e-KYC
  • eSign
  • Digital Locker
  • Unified Payment Interface (UPI)
  • Digital User Consent – still work in progress.
  • GSTN –Goods and Services Tax Network
  • BBPS –Bharat Bill Payment System
  • ETC – Electronic Toll Collection (known under the brand FASTag)

Why need DPGs?

  • Cost Effectiveness: The cost of setting up an open source-based educational infrastructure, to supplement the physical infrastructure, for an entire country is less than laying two kilometers of high-quality road.
  • Lower investment required: The investments required for transporting digital public goods are minuscule in comparison and there is no chance of a debt trap. Also, the code (platform) is highly reusable.
  • Instantly visible outcomes: Unlike physical infrastructure such as ports and roads, digital public goods have short gestation periods and immediate, and visible impact and benefits.
  • Faster service delivery: Processes get streamlined and wait times for any service come down dramatically. Issuances of passports, PAN cards and driving licences are such examples.
  • Plugging the leakages: It eliminates ghost beneficiaries of government services, removes touts collecting rent, creates an audit trail, makes the individual-government-market interface transparent and provides efficiencies that help recoup the investments quickly.
  • Wider outreach: Productivity goes up and services can be scaled quickly. Benefits can be rapidly extended to cover a much larger portion of the population.

Most significant utility of DPGs: Digital Diplomacy

 (1) Boost India’s Image as a leading technology player

  • It will take made-in-India digital public goods across the world and boost India’s brand positioning as a leading technology player in the digital age. 
  • India’s digital diplomacy will be beneficial to and welcomed by, all emerging economies from Peru to Polynesia, from Uruguay to Uganda, and from Kenya to Kazakhstan.

(2) Enhancing the productivity of emerging economies

  • Emerging economies are characterized by gross inefficiencies in the delivery of government services and a consequent trust deficit.
  • Digital public goods spread speed, transparency, ease and productivity across the individual-government-market ecosystem and enhance inclusivity, equity and development at scale.

Challenges associated with DPG Diplomacy

  • Privacy issues: Potential violations of privacy and possible weaponization of data is a primary issue related to such digital initiatives.
  • Increase in Inequalities: Success in the digital provision of services is dependent on many underlying factors, including digital literacy, education and access to stable and fast telecommunication services.
  • Cybersecurity threats: While channels and databases used by the Government for transmission and storage are usually secure, other players in the ecosystem may not possess the requisite expertise or security to prevent and respond to breaches.
  • Unserved remote areas: With digital services not being uniformly distributed, communities in remote areas often require on-ground staff to deploy and supplement digital tools.

Global liaison over DPGs: Digital Public Goods Alliance (DPGA)

  • The DPGA is a multi-stakeholder initiative with a mission to accelerate the attainment of sustainable development goals in low- and middle-income countries by facilitating the discovery, development, use of, and investment in digital public goods.
  • It is a UN initiative launched in 2019.

Way Forward

  • Data localization: India needs to ensure that digital goods diplomacy doesn’t become an exercise to gather data and provisions must be made for data localization.
  • Training of Individuals: Individuals across the countries need to be trained in cyber security for successful digital goods diplomacy. A lead can be taken up by CERT-In.
  • No Authoritative nature: India needs to ensure that data with the state doesn’t lead to authoritarianism in these countries. Decentralized and distributed storage using Blockchain technology can be used by India.
  • Ensuring Inclusivity: Digital ecosystems should be guided by factors of availability, accessibility, affordability, value and trust.
  • Citizen-Centralism: There is a need to ensure the design is citizen-centric and ensures inclusive access to services at the last mile will help drive adoption and sustain these ecosystems.
  • Data privacy robustness: Designing privacy-protection and secure databases are critical. It is, therefore, imperative that regulations governing any digital initiative must take into account provisions of the Personal Data Protection Bill.

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