Digital India Initiatives

Filling the physical gaps in India’s digital push

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : DIGIT

Mains level : Paper 3- Digital Public Infrastructure

Context

A lot has been written about the emphasis on “digital” in the 2022 Union Budget. But one aspect that hasn’t been talked about as much is the importance given in the budget to digital public infrastructure (DPI).

Significance of digital public infrastructure (DPI) in India

  • A global trendsetter: India is seen as a global trendsetter in the DPI movement, having set up multiple large-scale DPIs like Aadhaar, UPI and sector-specific platforms like DIGIT for eGovernance and DIKSHA for education.
  • Improvement in public service delivery: These DPIs have helped push the frontier of public service delivery.
  • Four key announcements in Budget: This year’s budget adds to the growing discourse on DPIs by making four key announcements:
  • 1] In health, an open platform with digital registries, a unique health identity and a robust consent framework;
  • 2] In skilling, a Digital Ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood (DESH-Stack) to help citizens upskill through online training;
  • 3] a Unified Logistics Interface Platform (ULIP) to streamline movement of goods across modes of transport; and for travel,
  • 4] In mobility, an “open source” mobility stack for facilitating seamless travel of passengers.
  • Analysis by the Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research (C-DEP) estimates that national digital ecosystems could add over 5 per cent to India’s GDP.

Suggestions

  • But important design considerations must be set right if we are to truly unlock the value of these platforms.

1] Differentiating between tech and non-tech layer

  • We need to differente between the “tech” and “non-tech” layers of our digital infrastructure.
  • While India seems to have made significant headway on the “tech” layers, the “non-tech” layers of community engagement and governance need a lot more work.
  • The combination of these three layers is what is critical to making tech work for everyone.
  • Together, they embody what we call the open digital ecosystems (ODE) approach.

2] Get non-tech layers right

  • To unleash the true potential of India’s ODEs, we need to get the “non-tech” layers right, by prioritising principles around data protection, universal access and accountability.
  • In this regard, three specific non-tech levers are critical.
  • 1] Data protection: Protecting the data of all users and giving them agency over how their data gets used.
  • The passage of a robust Data Protection Bill is imperative.
  • But we also need to go beyond the mere requirement of “consent”.
  • 2] Address digital divide: It is important to address the digital divide.
  • Research by ORF, for instance, shows that Indian women are 15 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone and 33 per cent less likely to use mobile internet services than men.
  • So, we need a “phygital” approach that provides services through both online and offline options and strong grievance redressal mechanisms.
  • 3] Institutional mechanism: As we push the frontier on digitisation, India must also focus on developing anchor institutions and robust governance frameworks.
  • Just as Aadhaar is anchored by UIDAI under an Act of Parliament, and the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission is anchored by the National Health Authority, every new ODE requires an accountable institutional anchor. 
  • These institutions are critical for setting standards, ensuring a level playing field and safeguarding consumer interest.

Consider the question “India is seen as a global trendsetter in the DPI movement, having set up multiple large-scale Digital Public Infrastructures(DPI). List the various DPIs in various sectors in India. Suggest the changes needed in the non-tech layers of these DPIs.”

Conclusion

From Aadhaar and UPI to DBT and CoWin, India’s tech stacks are grabbing global attention. It is now critical to bring the gaze on to the non-tech layers of the stack, so that the potential of these platforms can be unlocked for every Indian.

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