Digital India is much wider than NeGP: R S Sharma, DeitY Secretary

By Ibrahim Ahmad & Onkar Sharma

Digital India is an ‘Umbrella Mission’—covering many departments, weaving together a large number of ideas and thoughts into a single, comprehensive vision so that each of them is seen as a part of a larger goal, says RS Sharma, Secretary of Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY), Government of India. We spoke with him about the key goals of the Digital India plan and what it means for an average Indian.

Voice&Data: Is the Digital India plan an extension of NeGP of the previous government?

RS Sharma: The Government of India has approved the Digital India program with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Digital India is an ‘Umbrella Mission’—covering many departments, weaving together a large number of ideas and thoughts into a single, comprehensive vision so that each of them is seen as a part of a larger goal. Each individual element stands on its own, but is also part of the larger picture.

The National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) was approved in 2006 with a focus on electronic delivery of services. Twenty four (out of 31) mission mode projects under the NeGP are operational providing a wide range of services. It was felt that despite the successful implementation of several e-Governance projects across the country, it could not make the desired impact for delivering public services. Hence, a need was felt to enhance the scope and quality of e-Governance in the country by bringing in transformational government process re-engineering, focusing on integrated services, interoperable systems, and making best use of the emerging technologies. Therefore, ‘eKranti’ or NeGP 2.0 with a focus on electronic delivery of services was conceptualized.

Hence, the vision and scope of Digital India is much wider than that of NeGP. e-Kranti or NeGP 2.0 is one of the nine pillars of Digital India. Other pillars of Digital India include Broadband Highways, Universal Access to Mobile Connectivity, Public Internet Access Program, e Governance: Reforming Government through Technology, Information for All, Electronics Manufacturing, IT for Jobs, and Early Harvest Programs.

Voice&Data: What does Digital India plan mean for the average Indians?

RS Sharma: Digital India program is centered on three key vision areas, namely, digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen, governance and services on demand, and digital empowerment of citizens. The program would build holistic capabilities across the ICT infrastructure, electronics manufacturing, e-governance services, capacity building, and job creation.

Voice&Data: Where has the Digital India plan reached? What initiatives is your department taking as part of the program?

RS Sharma: Digital India would be implemented by the entire government with the overall coordination from the Department of Electronics & IT. Many initiatives planned under Digital India Program have gone live. The Department of Electronics & IT has implemented the following initiatives:

MyGov Platform: MyGov.in, a platform for citizen engagement in governance, has been implemented as a medium to exchange ideas/ suggestions with the government.

Biometric Attendance System: Aadhaar-based biometric attendance system is being implemented in the central government offices in Delhi to begin with.

JeevanPramaan Portal: About 46,000 pensioners have submitted their life certificate on the portal. The data has been exchanged with the pension disbursing agencies for necessary processing.

e-Greetings Portal: All the government greetings should be e-Greetings now. The number of e-Greetings sent is more than 605,900 till now directly from the portal.

eBook Platform: This platform for e-Books, also called e-Basta, has been developed. It is available at www.ebasta.in, wherein various e-Books are getting uploaded.

IT Platform for Messages to Elected Representatives (eSAMPARK): This platform has been made operational.

SMS Alerts for Weather Forecasting: This has also been made operational.

Digital Locker: This has been released in beta version.

National Portal for Lost and Found Children, National Scholarship Portal, etc: These are among the initiatives ready to be operationalized.

Revamping Exercise of Mission Mode and Other e-Governance Projects: Several e-Governance projects, viz., Transport, PDS, e-Prisons, National Scholarship Portal, Payonline, Checkpost online, etc, are being revamped. The objective is to get rid of redundant applications, which run in isolation within the same domain.

Policies & Guidelines: Various policies have been developed to help departments in speedy implementation of e-governance projects. These include the Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software, Policy on Open Application Programme Interfaces (APIs), Principles of Application Development and Re-engineering, and Guidelines on Publishing e-Book.

Voice&Data: How is Aadhaar, which will now be under DeitY, becoming an enabler for the Digital India?

RS Sharma: The Aadhaar-based digital identity, which is unique, lifelong, online, and authenticable is an integral part of Digital India. The government databases will be in a standardized form, leaving additional features to be added if required, with provision for Aadhaar number for each individual in the database.

Aadhaar platform will also be used for eKYC under various schemes. For example, it will be used under the Digital Locker and the e-Sign projects. e-Sign is a new initiative of DeitY that will allow every person to digitally sign an application form, document or certificate through a digital signature generated on the cloud using eKYC as the authentication mechanism. Aadhaar will also be part of the bank accounts opened under the ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana.’

Voice&Data: What are the challenges faced by the government in executing the programme?

RS Sharma: Some of the challenges include: lack of digital infrastructure; low degree of process re-engineering; weak standards and interoperability of e-Governance applications; weak monitoring and evaluation system; lack of last mile connectivity; and sub-optimal use of the existing core IT infrastructure.

Voice&Data: How are 100 smart cities aligned to the Digital India drive?

RS Sharma: Digital India envisages leveraging of information technology in smart city development across the country. Following are some important initiatives under Digital India for enabling smart cities:

Broadband for Urban Areas: The emphasis is on providing high-speed Internet connectivity by deploying ICT infrastructure, optical fibre, and last-mile connectivity options offered by wireless technologies in a manner that is affordable, reliable and competitive.

Public Wi-Fi Hotspot: Cities with a population of over 1 mn and tourist centers would be provided with public Wi-Fi hotspots to promote digital cities.
Wi-Fi in All Universities: All universities on the National Knowledge Network (NKN) shall be covered under this scheme.
Digitally Transformed Services for Improving Ease of Doing Business: Urban areas generally become hotspots for investors. Hence, it is important that an ecosystem for improving ease of doing business should be created.

Technology would be a great enabler towards urban development. Latest technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) communications could be leveraged for the development of smart cities. Some of the key aspects of smart cities where IoT may be leveraged are smart water management, smart environment management, smart health management, and smart waste management, etc.

Department of Electronics & IT, Govt. of India has developed several IT platforms and infrastructure, which could be leveraged for smart city development. These include GI Cloud Meghraj, Mobile Seva, PayGov India, etc.

Voice&Data: What are the steps your department is taking for the ‘Make-In-India’ drive?

RS Sharma: ‘Electronics Manufacturing—Target Net Zero Imports’ is one of the key pillars under the Digital India program. The focus is on promoting electronics manufacturing in the country with the target of net zero imports by 2020 as a striking demonstration of intent. The Government of India has taken several steps to promote manufacturing and investment in this sector, which puts India high on the list of potential places to invest.

National Policy on Electronics (NPE): Significant progress has been made by the Government of India to establish a strong foundation for the NPE (2012) framework. This will help in value-added manufacturing involving medium and high technologies. The highlights of the policy initiative taken by the Government of India include:

Subsidy of 25% of capital expenditure (20% in SEZs) is available as part of Modified Special Incentive Package Scheme (MSIPS).
Electronic Manufacturing Clusters Scheme provides 50% of the cost for the development of infrastructure and common facilities in Greenfield clusters (undeveloped/ underdeveloped) and 75% of the cost for Brownfield clusters (area where a significant number of existing EMC exists).

Land can be made readily available in several of the new electronic manufacturing clusters being supported by the Government of India. Currently, around 30 electronic manufacturing clusters are notified and GoI is targeting for 200 electronic manufacturing clusters by 2020.

Preference is being given to domestically manufactured goods in government procurement and the extent of government procurement will not be less than 30%. Around 30 electronic products are already notified under this scheme.
Electronic development funds for research & development and innovation in electronics sector is under active consideration to support start-ups in electronics and IP generation.

The government has accorded approval for setting up of two semiconductor wafer fabrication (FAB) manufacturing facilities in the country.

The Government of India will fund Ph.D students in universities across the country for research in industry specific needs. Nearly 3,000 Ph.Ds will be generated through this program in the area of electronics & IT/ITeS.
For skill development, the Government of India is providing 75% to 100% of training cost for industry specific skills for skilled and semi-skilled workers.

The Government of India has also announced a national scheme for providing financial support to MSMEs to promote manufacturing, to build quality into Indian manufacturing, and also to encourage exporters.
By when do you think India will have its manufacturing ecosystem developed?

Strengthening electronics manufacturing is an important component of the Digital India program. One of the important strategies for achieving this would be to encourage exports. Currently, India imports around $100 bn worth of electronic goods, which may reach to $400 bn by 2020. It has been decided to achieve net zero imports by 2020.

Voice&Data: Since you’re a technologist yourself, how challenging or easy do you find this role? And what is your vision or dream of Digital India?

RS Sharma: Digital India is a very ambitious program aimed at transforming the country through leveraging information and communication technologies in every sphere of economy and society. As the Department of Electronics and IT is playing a key role in this entire initiative by coordinating the implementation of the entire program, I find my role very challenging and satisfying.

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