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The Digital India Week!- inside the launch

July 2, 2015

In computer science, the word ‘digital’ represents data as a series of numerical values (source: The Free Dictionary by Farlex). In broader terms, the term digital relates to numbers.

PM unveils Digital India Project

The irony is that when Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the much trumpeted ‘Digital India Week’ at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium on July 1, the organizers of the grand show grossly erred on the numbers!

The entry was by invitation, and the number of guests exceeded the stadium capacity.  Guests were invited from different states for the show. They came all on their own. Besides, attendance was made compulsory for many government officials from the concerned ministries.

Yet these invited guests could not be accommodated in the main venue. While screens were also put up at the neighbouring wrestling arena facing the main venue, a majority of those who could not enter the actual venue left with feeling humiliated on grounds that they could well watch the show on television in the comfort of their homes.

Obviously, Prime Minister Modi loves showmanship. He has proved it time and again by organizing grand shows at Madison Square Garden (in New York) and other venues. He has ubiquitously earned the sobriquet of a crowd puller. The Wednesday show was a grand affair – right from the installation of signage and banners on prominent Delhi roads to making it a big media event! The presence of some of the country’s top billionaires, too, made it very much loud and clear. The presence of the  Ambani brothers (Mukesh and Anil),  Tata group chairman Cyrus P Mistry, Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, Bhati Enterprises Chairman Sul Bhari Mittal, Vedanta Group Chairman Anil Agarwal andseveral other business tycoons on the stage said it all.

These tycoons shared the space with the PM and his other cabinet colleagues including Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on the dais, while a large area was kept for the ‘VIPs’ (read business honchos).

Yet, the organizers again erred in estimating the numbers of these VIPs, as they failed to fill up the VIP space and finally at the last moment, the general invitees from the overcrowded galleries were allowed to occupy the VIP space to save some embarrassment for the Prime Minister! (One such VIP invitee, who did not upset the expectations of the organizers, was the fallen veteran Lal Krishna Advani, who attended the function and was accompanied by his daughter, Pratibha. Giving a definite political tone to his attendance, none of the speakers except for Ravi Shankar Prasad, acknowledged his presence in the function!).

None can question the rationale behind the show. As it is, the event by itself was meant for the affluent —  a clever ploy to provide them a stage to make a commitment towards digital India. Modi too, was not disappointed on this count as in his very opening remark, given after all the top invited billionaires have spoken of their commitment, revealed that just before his speech, these tycoons had already committed collectively to invest a whopping Rs. 4.5 lakh crore and to generate 18 lakh new employment opportunities.

Modi and his government did achieve the purpose although it is obvious that these numbers could not be achieved immediately but over a period of a decade or more. Indeed this was a good beginning! However, what is required is a change in the mindset of the authorities that govern the system.

Modi’s Vision for a Digital India

E-governance is not a new term! Modi senses a whole opportunity of taking it to the next level of Mobile-governance. Making a digression from his extempore speech that was in Hindi, he chose to read out his  15-point digital dream  in English – obviously to address the foreign dignitaries present there including ambassadors and businesspersons. He said he dreamt of a digital India where

  •  1)  1.2 billion connected Indians drive innovation

  •  2)  knowledge is strength and empowers people

  •   3) access to information knows no barriers

  •  4) government is open and governance is transparent

  •   5) technology ensures that government and citizen interaction is incorruptible

  •   6) government proactively engages with citizens on social media

  •   7) quality education reaches most inaccessible areas and is driven by digital learning

  •  8) quality healthcare reaches right up to the remotest areas through e-health care

  •   9) farmers are empowered with real time information and connected to global markets

  •  10) we have mobile enabled emergency services to personal security

  •  11) cyber security becomes an integral part of national security

  •   12) “there is mobile and e-banking for financial inclusion

  •   13) “e-commerce drives entrepreneurship

  •   14) “the world looks to India for the next big idea

  •   15) “netizens are empowered citizens

Obviously, the PM charted out his vision of ‘Digital India” at an appropriate platform and in the presence of those who would be the drivers of the mission. Specifically speaking, the whole plan offers five products — Digitize India Platform, Digital Locker, e-Hospital, National Scholarship Portal and e-Sign. Besides, it has four portals/apps — MyGov Mobile App, Digital India Portal and Mobile App, and Aadhaar Mobile Update App, Swachh Bharat Mission App – to help people’s involvement with the government initiatives. The department of telecom’s projects to create BharatNet in 11 States, Wi-Fi hot spots across the country, and also the next generation network (NGN), too, are part of this mission.

At the Wednesday function, the PM also launched  an E-governance policy document and also the policy document on Electronics Development Fund to promote Innovation, R&D, Product Development and to create a resource pool of Internet Protocol within the country “to create a self-sustaining eco-system of Venture Funds”.

However, experts point out that for the real success of the Digital India initiative, the states need to be roped in more effectively.

How the government embarks on executing this blueprint would be of vital interest. Modi does seem to have passed the first litmus test during the launch by procuring the assurance of leading business houses for the mission. The PM in the process, also identified cyber security as a key area where India “should take the lead to prevent cyber warfare”. He said India should concentrate on “innovative ideas and products” to emerge as the leading provider of cyber security. (It is true that hardly governments and businesses alike have invested much in cyber security and it does have a vast scope following the growing trend of digitization across the globe).

The whole mission further requires, besides major investment in developing broadband highways, efforts to ensure universal access to internet as well as mobile connectivity to ensure e-governance and subsequently m-governance and electronic delivery of services.  This is an onerous task considering there are already many e-governance programmes of the Centre, State and local authorities that are languishing for a number of reasons.

Experts point out that in spite of the thrust on E-governance and despite the technology and available platform, the assured services and timelines were rarely met in the past and that how enforcing the system had remained a big challenge. Although the Digital India initiative was introduced last year, even this pet project of the PM had been hit by delays in the present National Optic Fibre Network (NoFN) project! Experts point out that as per the project, India needed to lay an additional 5 lakh km (kilometre) of optic fibre; and to meet the deadline of March 2017, it required to lay roughly about 30,000 km of fibre a month!  However, at present it was just achievinga rate of laying 500 km a month!

Indeed, it is not enough to launch programmes but it is equally important to build sustainable models around it. Although the Digital India mission is a commendable effort, the government also needs to ensure that it does not bite off more than it can chew. What is required is to develop a sense of proportion. The Wednesday event, despite its success, failed on that count by inviting more than it could entertain efficiently – it did bite more than what it could chew by overestimating the capacity of the venue! But is this just the beginning? One should better be cautious.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

I am a journalist, educationist and filmmaker with over twenty years of experience in the media industry. I have worked in different capacities in all formats (print, television and web) in prestigious media organizations in India and abroad. As a journalist I have covered social issues, natural calamities, successive state assembly as well as parliament elections since 1989, government offices, Indian political parties, state legislative assemblies as well as Indian Parliament.

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