Dreaming of a Digital India

When Narendra Modi came into power as India’s prime minister, he brought along a sense of excitement and optimism for the nation. Upon taking office, he unveiled his economic vision for India which broadly speaking, can be summarized by the following key points: emphasis on good governance, development and transformation of the country’s infrastructure, and focus on “Brand India.”

Along this roadmap, the Modi administration has launched a number of various schemes, to include the “Make in India” campaign and the recently launched “Skill India” mission. Modi’s “Digital India” scheme, however, appears to be his most ambitious plan till date.

Officially launched this month, Digital India aims to make government departments and services electronically accessible to Indian citizens, thus reducing paperwork and red tape. With this initiative, the ultimate goal is to transform India into a connected economy, while at the same time creating new jobs and attracting investment. The campaign will consist of approximately nine programs, ranging from broadband highways to an electronic delivery of services (known as “eKranti”).

Recently, an integral part of the “Digital India” campaign was announced to great fanfare – that is, it will offer a cyber vault, or “digital locker,” allowing citizens to store their important documents, such as a birth certificate, on a public cloud. Upon announcing the new scheme, nearly a million individuals signed up.

According to Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s telecommunications minister, the Modi administration aims to have a smartphone in the hands of every citizen by 2019. The goal is to ensure that everyone has access to various government services via a cell phone. This is certainly an ambitious goal that if achieved, can bring in numerous opportunities for India.

If successful, the Digital India initiative will have a significant impact on the economy. A report by McKinsey predicts that with the adoption of key technology trends across sectors, the plan will boost India’s GDP by $550 billion to $1 trillion by 2025. There is also the hope that Digital India will help bridge the gap between rural and urban populations, facilitating the creation of jobs and increasing opportunities in education and healthcare in rural areas.

While Digital India holds a lot of promise, there are a number of obstacles facing the Modi administration. Achieving universal access to cellphones will be a major challenge.. India’s current cell phone network is incredibly stressed with users facing constant failed and dropped calls. As the number of mobile users increase, the networks will have difficulty keeping up.

There are also plans for “net zero imports” in electronics by 2020, which means that India’s imports should match its exports in value. To accomplish this, India has to aggressively ramp up its manufacturing and electronics industries. At present, India stands to import nearly three quarters of the $400 billion worth of electronics it plans to consume over the next five years. Critics of this program claim that putting top priority on manufacturing will slow progress in other areas, such as education.

If the Modi administration is able to overcome these hurdles, Digital India will certainly be a game-changer for India and its citizens.