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India’s Digital Public Infrastructure

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

In an address to the G20 Digital Economy Ministers virtual meet, Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India's digital public infrastructure offers "scaleable, secure & inclusive solution for global challenges." This statement holds true in the 21st century. Digital Public Infrastructure is truly an innovation to solve the 21st current challenges. The idea is to enforce digital democracy so as to make technology accessible

and leverage its potential to bring about robust growth and development in the country.


An illustration on India's Digital Public Infrastructure

Illustration by Geostrata


Digital Public Infrastructure refers to the set of digital systems, and technologies designed by government agencies to provide essential services to citizens and businesses, its functions include service delivery, data management, and cybersecurity. The significance lies in digital inclusion, efficiency, transparency, innovation, and, enhancing government-citizen engagement and economic growth.


The idea of Digital Public Infrastructure is built upon easy-to-use digital products, people-centric mechanisms, and essential private service delivery that focuses on collaboration, commerce, and governance.

This includes easy access to government services, making digital payments and receiving real-time disaster management, providing digital healthcare, education, and developing skills, especially for the underdeveloped regions of the country.


Moreover, it can also contribute to the development of Smart City initiatives on aspects like transportation and public safety. Digital Public Infrastructure is one of the key drivers of achieving sustainable development.


THE STORY OF INDIA'S DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION


The Indian digital public infrastructure can be cost-effectively integrated into the systems of emerging and developing economies. India’s Digital Public Infrastructure is the new vehicle of change in new India. According to Chief Economic Advisor V. Anantha Nageswaran, India’s DPI can add around 60-100 basis points to the country’s potential GDP growth rate. This is important for digital governance in India boosting the idea of inclusive and socio economic development in India.


The Indian Government’s digital infrastructure known as the Indian stack refers to the digital platforms such as Aadhar, Digital Locker, UPI, and other platforms through the development and collaboration between the government, private sector, volunteers, startups, and academic institutions. The story of India's digital infrastructure can be understood through the following success stories:


1. India’s digital payment revolution, Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has led to a radical transformation in the digital space. This had a revolutionary impact on the informal transactions that make up around 85% of its economy. UPI has supercharged India’s ambition of growing into a cashless economy.


The growing digital ecosystem has been a boon for growing businesses and startups. Currently, 40% of all payments done in India are digital. In January 2023 alone, 8 billion transactions took place worth $200 billion. This is an important aspect of India’s ambitious digitisation project.

For example, Estonia’s X-Board has streamlined citizen-government engagement. The growth of the digital economy in India is being boosted by the UPI. Around 76 crore bank accounts have been verified using Aadhar eKYC which is a remarkable step against terror funding and money laundering.


2. Aadhar issued by UIDAI: The Indian Public Distribution System has for a long time faced the issue of black marketing and bureaucratic delays. However, this has been changing due to digitisation. The Aadhaar program serves as a digital identity and is used for authenticating individuals for various services including financial services.


The Aadhaar has become one of the world’s largest biometric databases having a nearly complete coverage rate which has the potential for providing government services free of cost and with speed. Nandan Nilekani, author of the book, " Rebooting India '' in her own words, ‘rebooting’ rather than revolutionizing the benefits of Aadhar in digitized India.


The Aadhaar linkage with MGNREGA has led to easy transfer of entitlements and services including the MGNREGA scheme. Recently, the government’s program called the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and Systems integrated with Aadhaar for better identification of criminals, which however has a potential for abuse if not handled cautiously.

3. The Digilocker program is a digital locker that enables the sharing and storage of documents online. It is a secure app to access important documents like Aadhaar, PAN,e-rupi, e-way bill, and other licenses. Digilocker has become the one-stop document hub for everything from Income Tax Returns to EFPO Statements. This digital repository is expanding on a large scale to include Voter IDs and passports. It currently has 2311 issuers on board and is aiming to include all government departments.


4. The DigiYatra is an initiative launched to provide a seamless travel experience to air passengers. This includes a wide array of digital services like self-bag drop, e-boarding pass, and biometric verification.


5. The BharatNet program aims to bridge the rural-urban digital divide in India to extend the benefits of this infrastructure in the remotest corners of the country. The success of India’s digital platforms is visible for Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana for bridging the gender divide and Open Network for Digital Commerce.


6. DIKSHA: This facility is already used in the education sector like Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) and financial institutions. It has currently over 174 million registered users and 5.62 billion issued documents.


7. Digital Public Health Infrastructure: India's digital public infrastructure includes telemedicine and mobile health apps which are truly revolutionising the health landscape. India also has the potential to export the These are aimed at ensuring universal health access to everyone regardless of their socio-economic status. Under the Health Working Group of India's G20 Presidency, India, representing the Global South, is aimed at innovating solutions for tackling the global health crises. This would also strengthen the resilience of India's healthcare system to tackle any future health pandemics or endemics as well.


The 2022-2023 survey reported that penetration of the internet in India's rural areas has grown considerably. This has also increased the applicability of the DPI.

The data protection initiatives include the latest cyber security policy, Cyber Swachhta Kendra to secure digital networks through the provision of free tools and security solutions. These initiatives are aimed at consolidating the security infrastructure of the Digital Public Infrastructure in India.


INDIA'S DIGITISATION GOES GLOBAL


The digital public infrastructure is a key facet of India's diplomatic outreach to the developing world. This has the potential for India to become the leader of the Global South in the field of the latest technology. The SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) has recently adopted India’s proposal for the development of digital public infrastructure which signifies India’s effort to promote inclusive digital growth on a global scale.


India is currently working with multilateral forums including the United Nations and the G20 for certification, testing, registration, and benchmarking of Indian Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) and Digital Public Goods (DPGs).

Some of the successful government DPIs are CoWin, Unified Payments Interface (UPI), Digi locker, and Diksha. CoWin has more than 1.1 billion registered users due to its easy usage. It has been effectively used by countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Jamaica.


The Government's Diksha app has more than 500 million learning lessons during the pandemic-induced lockdown. Aadhar is one of the world’s largest and most sophisticated digital identity platforms. The Philippines and Morocco have become the first two countries through the ongoing adoption of the open-source technology architecture of Aadhar to build their unique identification system for their citizens.


The export of payment platform UPI has grown exponentially and has partnered with countries including the UK, UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, and Nepal. Currently, UPI has partnered with more than 350 banks on its network with over 260 million unique users.

CHALLENGES


The EY estimates that the annual DGP market will reach around $100 billion by 2030. However, there are varied challenges associated with the digital public infrastructure. The Supreme Court of India has raised concerns about data privacy and security concerning Aadhaar. The biometric Aadhaar payment system has been the most susceptible. There are ongoing legal and regulatory challenges related to the data protection of the citizens.


The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) reported the challenges in the expansion of Internet access to rural areas. The National Critical Information Infrastructure Protection Centre (NCIIPC) reported a significant increase in the rise of cyberattacks on India's critical infrastructure especially military and government Infrastructure. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) highlighted the interoperability concerns in the digital payments space in its annual report 2019-2020.


The issues of unreliable machines in PDS shops. There are many challenges to the Digital Public Infrastructure in India. It currently requires substantial investment in the R&D of DPIs to make them more equitable and inclusive.

Secondly, there are challenges to the development of long-term sustainable infrastructural development. Thirdly, there are risks like privacy infringement and security breaches. Fourthly, the challenge of accessibility, namely the digital divide, in the remotest corners like the gender divide, caste divide, and the urban-rural divide. There have been issues of a complex legal nature such as data protection, intellectual property rights, and liability for data breaches.


THE WAY FORWARD


Recently, the G20 digital ministers responsible for the digital economy agreed upon the proposed framework for Systems of Digital Public Infrastructure. The framework comprises interoperable and reusable digital systems for various sectors, governance standards for the protection of personal data, accessible and transparent grievance redressal systems, and community for greater collaboration of private sector and civil society actors.


There is a need for investment in cybersecurity measures for building digital systems from cyber attacks and regular audits to identify the vulnerabilities of the system. The Outcome Document and Chair's Summary envisions the building of robust, inclusive and human-centric, and sustainable Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI).

The potential of India's digital infrastructure will require an adequate amount of investment in this sector. The recent Budget 2023-24 has put India on the right track to harness the potential of digital India and take us closer to the dream of $5 trillion dollar by 2024-25. This also includes investment in emerging technologies like AI, the Internet of Things, and Blockchain Technology.


Digital power and digital democracy are essential facets of digital governance in India. Moreover, taking into account the gender divide in the usage of digital technology is key to the development of India's digital public infrastructure. For expansion of the internet connectivity to the remotest corners, innovative technologies such as satellite broadband, and Gigamesh networks.


The creation of user-friendly digital interfaces and creation of local language applications would be a step toward combating digital literacy. Digital literacy can be a game-changer in women-led startups. A holistic framework including the regular cyber audit for smart cities is needed. There is also a need for balance in the security of the state and the individual's fundamental right to privacy. After all, the main idea is also to reinforce digital democracy.


There also needs to be a collaboration between the various ministries and departments. The public-private partnership can pave the way for driving innovation in the DPIs. There is a need for greater R&D in cybersecurity. Initiatives include the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) in collaboration with the Cyber Surakshit Bharat has the potential to strengthen the public cybersecurity ecosystem.


This has also a lot of scope for cross-border data for combating global issues. According to Harvard Business Review, Digital DI can unlock economic value which is equivalent to 3-13% of GDP. The Budget of India has boosted the digital infrastructure, for example, the Indian tech industry has opened up a lot of opportunities for Indian IT giants and MSMEs.

The National Digital Literacy Mission is a step in the right direction to address the digital divide. The budget 2021-22 has also been allocated INR 1,500 crores for the promotion of digital payments. The analysis by the Centre for Digital Economic Policy Research estimates that national digital ecosystems have the potential to contribute around 5% to India’s GDP. India has also recognised the issue of security in the digital economy. The Government is also aiming for the development of the National Digital Library and also a digital epigraphy museum.


There is also the need for pioneering digital literacy programs in rural areas, for example, the mission mode implementation of the Aspirational District Scheme. Thus, India’s DPI has the potential to drive its digital transformational journey in the 21st Century. Behind India's digital success story, lies the collaboration among the government, private sector, volunteers, and academic think tanks.


Technology has been an important aspect of India's foreign policy. Recently, India also floated the idea of 'One Future Alliance' to build a league of like-minded nations to achieve the aim of equitable, accessible, and sustainable Digital Public Infrastructure. Moreover, India’s G20 Presidency has a critical role in stewarding an inclusive approach to digital transformation and strengthening multilateralism in the current world order.


 

BY SOURISHREE GHOSH

TEAM GEOSTRATA

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1 commentaire


Sunil B Pant
Sunil B Pant
13 déc. 2023

what a nice article

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