Digital India: Bringing the state closer to citizens

R.S. Sharma, Secretary, DeitY, at the Ministry of Communications & IT, explains what lies ahead for cities and citizens and how can accessible and participatory governance help

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In reference to cities of the future, the word “smart” is often used interchangeably with “technology-enabled” or “powered by technology”. When it comes to improving the quality of life of citizens, a lot of progress has already been made, via e-governance, ably led by the Department of Electronics and Informa­tion Technology (DeitY). Now under the broader umbrella of Digital India, e-governance has done a lot to bridge the gap between and within govern­ment departments, while bringing public services and State benefits closer to citizens in a transparent, efficient and speedy manner. What lies ahead for cities and citizens and how can accessible and participatory governance help? R.S. SHARMA, Secretary, DeitY, at the Ministry of Com­munications & IT, explains the government’s vision to BWSC in this May 2015 magazine interview. BW Smart Cities: What next for e-gover­nance and Digital India? R.S.SHARMA: The vision of ‘Digital In­dia’ is based on three key areas: digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen; governance and services on demand; and digital empowerment of citizens. Through the Digital India programme, high-speed internet and mobile connectivity would be en­sured to the citizens for the anywhere, anytime availability of a wide range of online services and information. All schools would be connected with broadband and Wi-Fi for ensuring the availability of digital content to revolutionise the way education is provided. Cities with a population of over 1 million and tourist centres would be provided with public Wi-Fi hotspots to promote digital cities. Easy access to Common Service Centres, a front-end delivery point for services to citizens, would be ensured across the country to facilitate easier access of services to the citizens. Besides this, digital resources and services would be made available in all officially-recognised Indian languages. Government of India would provide a ‘digital locker’ to citizens that will greatly improve citizens’ convenience and usher in pa­perless transactions across the entire ecosystem of public services. The De­partment of Electronics & IT (DeitY), Government of India, has launched the Beta version of the Digital Locker System in February 2015. Under the Digital India pro­gramme, one crore students from smaller towns and villages will be trained for IT jobs in the next five years. One member of every family would be made digitally literate. BPOs would be set up in all the North Eastern states of India to facilitate ICT-enabled growth. DeitY has recently launched ‘MyGov’ – a digital platform to facilitate collaborative and participative governance. BWSC: As we prepare to build 100 smart cities, what technologies, according to you, will be the key game changers for gover­nance in the next few years? RSS: The key game-changing technologies may include wireless technologies to provide internet access, mobile, cloud computing, big data analytics, GIS and the Internet of Things (IoT).   BWSC: India is embarking on an unprec­edented urban makeover. What are some of the key prerequisites in the area of digital infrastructure that need to be in place? RSS: Some of the key prerequisites in the area of digital infrastructure include high-speed telecom and data networks; high-end control and man­agement software; cloud computing; Internet of Things; intelligent data analysis and operation centres; GIS framework; and provision for a next-generation ICT network.   BWSC: What kind of expansion in the IT and services industry’s role or participation do you think is required to meet the govern­ment’s long-term vision? RSS: Given the scale of requirements under the Digital India programme, it is imperative that the private sec­tor plays an essential role in imple­menting its various components. IT services providers may strengthen their domain expertise in the area of e-governance to help the government in building state-of-the-art applica­tion software using cutting-edge technologies.   BWSC: Technology can be a great equaliser. How do you make digital resources univer­sally accessible, in a country with such vast income and socio-economic disparities? RSS: Citizen-related documents would be available electronically. Govern­ment departments may access the documents issued by other govern­ment agencies. Documents issued to the citizens would be available to them anywhere, anytime in a standard format that can be shared with an authorised entity. The documents may be available in local languages as well. Documents would be accessible to citizens through web portals and mobile applications. The Government of India would provide a Digital Locker to all residents that can greatly facilitate paper­less transactions through easy and authentication-based access. Citizens can store government-issued digital documents and certificates and share or submit them without having to use physical copies. Government documents can be issued in verifiable electronic format and made available in federated e-Document reposito­ries. Digital Locker and e-Document repositories will greatly improve citizen convenience and usher in pa­perless transactions across the public services ecosystem.

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BWSC: States have been showing the way and often leading in the implementation of transformative ideas. What are some of the successful models that have worked in the IT sector that might be scalable and/or replicable? RSS: It has been observed that the timeliness of implementation, quality of service and the impact created on the stakeholders has been much better in some of the projects implemented on public-private partnership (PPP) mode or on an outsourced model. The MCA 21 and Passport Seva projects are examples in point. Considering this, it may be necessary to formulate an appropriately-designed PPP or outsourcing model.   BWSC: You’ve successfully been at the helm of the world’s largest unique identity project, and are now leading initiatives that seek to leapfrog millions across the digital divide. What are some of the most crucial components of success, according to you? RSS: Proper planning and design are the most important components of a project that determine its success­ful implementation and sustenance. DeitY has issued several policies and guidelines to help central ministries, departments and state governments plan and design their e-governance projects holistically to achieve the desired outcomes.   BWSC: Citizens’ expectations are a moving target, and technology innovation is often at breakneck speed. How do governments keep up? How can citizens deepen their engagement and help? RSS: To exchange ideas and sugges­tions with the citizens, the Gov­ernment of India has launched an electronic platform called – for citizen engagement in governance. There are nearly 9 lakh registered members on this platform who are actively contributing to discussions and exchanging ideas and feedback.   BWSC: The recent earthquake in Nepal has underscored the need for an integrated na­tional disaster response system yet again. How can technology help both in disaster preparedness and quicker responses? RSS: Appropriate technology-based interventions are extremely im­portant in dealing with natural disasters. Mobile-based emergency services and disaster related services on real-time basis can be very helpful so as to take precautionary measures well in time and minimise the loss of lives and property. Recently, the Government of India has launched a service for SMS-based weather information and disaster alerts. The GIS platform (being built under the National GIS Mission Mode Project) may also be leveraged for disaster management and specialised needs of public safety agencies. - Via email

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