Opening The Floodgates
Opening The Floodgates
Digital India will deliver a real improvement in the quality of life of every citizen President Barack Obama's just concluded historic visit to India has laid the foundation for a relationship of hope and promise between India and the US. Among other areas, i believe this relationship has immense potential in the field of ICT and digital connectivity.Already 60% of India's IT exports, worth $50 billion, cater to the US market. US companies, many of which already have backend operations in India, have continually expressed interest in expanding. Digital India, a flagship programme, conceived within 100 days of the Modi government assuming office, has the potential to propel digital connectivity to new heights and reinforce Indo-US ties. What is Digital India? It is an obligation we owe to India and a gift which we must offer to posterity. It aims to tap and channelise the vast potential of India's fondness for technology, coupled with soaring aspirations of a young India. Digital India is designed to bridge the divide between the digital haves and digital havenots, between the poor and the affluent, rural and urban, literate and illiterate, employed and unemployed, and between the empowered and the disempowered.
Digital India weaves together a large number of ideas and thoughts into a single comprehensive vision. This vision is centred on three key areas: creation of digital infrastructure, delivery of governance and services on demand, and digital empowerment of citizens. It includes the ambitious programme National Optic Fibre Network (NOFN), aiming to link India's 2.5 lakh gram panchayats through over 70,000 km of high speed optic fibre in the next three years thereby enabling over 600 million Indians to harness the benefits of modern communication. NOFN has to be executed with the active partnership of state governments. I recently inaugurated our country's first high speed rural broadband network in Idukki district of Kerala. If 900 million mobile phones and 300 million internet connectivity can spring up in India without active government patronage, imagine what a far reaching impact a government backed programme would have if executed in a mission mode. A noteworthy feature of Digital India is that it is envisaged as a national non-discriminatory infrastructure available to all categories of service providers for wholesale bandwidth. Telcos, ISPs, virtual network operators and cable TV providers can all plug into this network for offering next generation services to citizens. Indians keenly observe the arrival of a technology and once they recognise its worth, they adopt it with enthusiasm.Digital India is designed to empower Indians with the power of technology . Digital India architecture would compel change in governance processes for delivery of services. Along with the need for faster and timely service delivery, it is important to ensure that benefits of development reach each and every citizen of the country in equal measure. I believe that broadband access to all will open a new world of economic opportunities for rural Indians in areas such as e-commerce, outsourcing and back offices, marketing of agricultural products and traditional handicrafts, amongst others. Domestically , India consumes up to $100 billion in electronics every year, most of which are imported, including products like mobile phones, computers, SIM cards, smart cards, set top boxes, LED lights, cameras, televisions, medical electronics and the massive electronic segment in defence manufacturing.
There is a need for manufacturing electronics in India for the growing Indian market. Government has announced the Make in India programme, which complements Digital India by encouraging local and foreign manufacturers to manufacture in India for the domestic market and for exports. Foreign companies should not restrict themselves to back office operations but instead look to manufacturing their high-end products in India. Make in India has conveyed to the companies that this scheme is more than a slogan it is a commitment. Government is backing the Make in India proposal with financial incentives. Catering to the necessity of expanding the talent pool of IT professionals the Cabinet has already approved setting up an Electronics Development Fund to encourage innovation, research and startups. Backing up this innovation is the government's programme DISHA, which focuses on the critical aspect of digital literacy so that even the poorest Indian can participate and contribute to this digital expansion. Floodgates of possibilities will open for the self-employed as well as small and medium enterprises. I imagine a scenario where gardeners, plumbers, drivers, shopkeepers, tutors, tailors can all find new markets through their mobile phones. We are in the process of finalising a policy on setting up BPOs in small and mofussil towns which will leverage digital connectivity and digital literacy to encourage employment and foster entrepreneurship. Empowered citizens will have the power to make choices, to save time, lower their costs, add convenience to their days and improve their health. The potential payoffs through this revolution can certainly be measured in numbers connections, devices, subscribers, downloads and so on but the improvement in the quality of life of every Indian is the real change our government wants to bring. This task is enormous, challenges are onerous yet we shall overcome, as India after May 2014 is a different country . The writer is the Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology.