It was in 2015 when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the start of a ‘Digital India week’ in New Delhi.
The idea was to connect rural areas with high-speed internet networks, improve digital literacy, and usher digital revolution that can propel faster growth, create more jobs and better services by expanding affordable internet access to all. In just about a decade, India has been successful at building digital infrastructure to improve services for millions of Indians.
The use of biometric IDs and mobile phones and linking them with the country’s unique identification code is benefitting a majority of the rural as well as urban population. In a country of 1.4 billion, more than 1.26 billion have officially registered in Aadhaar, which is a feat.
The Modi government understands the importance of harnessing the power of digital revolution and is doing well at strengthening the digital infrastructure in a country.
“Time demands that we understand this (digital) change, and if we don’t understand this change, then we will be left in a corner and the world will move far away and we will be left watching,” Modi had said at a packed stadium in capital city New Delhi in 2015 at the launch of Digital India week, and now years later, his government has been making significant progress on this front.
The economic growth of countries, arguably, is linked to adoption of information and communications technology and we are seeing that connect in case of India.
Digital India is powering a phase that unleashes new opportunities for growth of individuals, businesses, and economy on the whole. Along with Digital India, the Indian government has also announced several other initiatives such as Make in India; Start-up India; and innovative applications of Aadhaar such as JAM (Jan-Dhan Yojana-Aadhaar-Mobile trinity) and Digital Lockers.
Several steps have since been taken and India is well on its path to digitise its economy. Consider this: There has been a consistent increase in internet accessibility compared to just five years ago. In 2015, the internet penetration rate was around 27 per cent. The internet penetration rate increased to 50 per cent in 2020. An increased availability of cheap data plans along with various government initiatives under the Digital India campaign worked together to make mobile the primary internet access in the country. Notably, 4G networks were the most widely used across urban and rural India in 2019, according to Statista. With over 560 million internet users, India today is the second largest online market in the world.
JAM, in particular, has mobilised technology at the grassroots, and has successfully tapped into the country’s huge domestic potential. It is successful at increasing the net of financial services in a country that had a large unbanked population. The digital network has delivered efficiency to India’s social security benefit scheme and cash transfer programme — both of which were plagued by interferences by middlemen and corruption. The Indian government made around 2.6 billion transactions in the current financial year using JAM and credited more than $46 billion to beneficiaries.
In terms of investing in digital infrastructure, Modi government has been taking some important steps.
The PM recently launched e-Rupi — country’s new purpose-specific digital payment solution. e-Rupi is a cashless and contactless medium for digital payment based on QR code or SMS string-based e-voucher delivered to beneficiaries on their mobile phones. In a country where a majority of population is working in the informal sector, this could introduce some transparency and empower people to make and receive payments in a fast and efficient manner.
Another initiative at the federal policy level needs to a mention. The Reserve Bank of India is considering a ‘phased introduction’ of a central bank digital currency. The introduction of digital currency could mark a significant milestone for the country and open a world of opportunities.
In the last few years, India has been successful at building digital infrastructure that helped the country adapt to the challenges through by the Covid-19 pandemic. This includes a Unified Payments Interface, Aarogya Setu app, CoWin, Bharat QR, the RuPay card.
The public sector has been a strong catalyst in the country’s rapid digitisation, the challenge, however, is ensure equitable spread, ensuring that the benefits of digital revolution are accessible to all citizens, irrespective of their gender, caste, or geographical location. Rural population should not fare any less than the city dwellers.
Indians on the whole are avid consumers of technology. A majority of the population is accessing internet through their mobile phones and spend time on social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp. India, in fact, has the largest Facebook user base in the world in 2021. Despite this, many lack the opportunity to do the creative work that fuels its digital economy. We have seen a spectacular rise in the number of social media influencers, and swelling of gig economy, but to truly make good of digital revolution, India needs to train and upskill a section of the workforce whose livelihoods may be in danger because of automation. India has the resources it needs; it just needs the policymakers to start work on this front.
B Ramesh Babu, MD and CEO
Karur Vysya Bank
'Karur Vysya Bank, with over 100 years of experience, is one of the earliest banks in the country to achieve full networking of its branches under core banking solutions. We have always been a frontrunner in adopting and leveraging technology to offer products and services to its customers and were one of the pioneers in deploying ATMs, bunch note recycler machines, cheque deposit kiosks etc. moving towards self-service banking. We also set a blazing trail in implementing internet banking and mobile banking to our customers.'