While the Indian government has been taking various steps to make India a digitally driven economy with some evident positive results, is it really ready to handle all existing micro challenges and penetrate digitisation into India’s remotest areas and roots?
“I was both amused and amazed when my vegetable seller connected with me over a video call to show me all the fresh produce he had just brought from the farm. I e-shopped my veggies for the first time! I wouldn’t have imagined grocery shopping in this fashion up until a few months ago before WhatsApp messenger introduced the option of video calling,” Beenu Verma, a homemaker residing in New Delhi shares with us. “I paid my bill through Paytm,” she exclaims!
And so it’s true, the world is a more connected place now, with the concept of “global village” making more sense than ever before. Those who don’t have the luxury of an iPhone or iPad, now have the messenger WhatsApp handy to video-chat and connect. Thanks to not just the advancement of user friendly applications (apps) and gadgets, but also internet connectivity that is slowly improving even though it still has a long way to go. While ladies like Verma are finding their daily dose of happiness and thrill in the improved connectivity that they never experienced before, the Indian government is making sure there is no break in the connection. And this is not just for the exchange of smiles that will surface across cities and even villages but mainly for the economic growth of the nation.
Towards better connectivity and commerce
It hasn’t been long since the Union Budget for 2017-18 was announced with an aim to promote digital economy by reducing cash transactions, bringing more economic activity into the formal sector and curbing corruption. And with all the plans already in action, the dream of ‘Digital India’ is not far away but is yet to turn into a reality. However, the basics are yet to be put in place with an access to reliable, stable and high-speed internet service provided all over India.
The government has already started taking steps in that direction. The government launched the National Digital Literacy Mission (NDLM) with the aim to provide digital literacy to every Indian and achieve making one person in every family digitally literate. An initiative of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it is part of the digital revolution that is slowly enveloping the country. The mission has been quite a success with it surpassing its target of training 5.2 million by 2018, by training 8.2 million people by 2016 itself.
Not just this, several branches of the government have joined hands with private players to achieve the target. The Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corp (IRCTC) in partnership with Google has made 120 railway stations internet-enabled and registered about 15,000 people daily who were using internet for the first time through this medium.
“Up-till now, internet has reached the first 100 million Indians or ‘India 1’,” Rajan Anandan, vice-president India and south-east Asia at Google Inc., said at a tech conference in New Delhi, adding that: “These are consumers who have high personal disposable income, they are well connected and well educated. Way forward, we will see problems being solved for ‘India 2’ and ‘India 3’—the next 200 million to 600 million Indians.” He also said that in two to three years, about 600 million Indians will access internet through broadband.
Industry body The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) would agree as it recently shared on its social media platform, that India’s internet base has already surpassed that of the United States of America (US) and today is second largest after China; and by 2020, India will have more than 200 million people transacting online. By then, 70 pc of e-commerce transactions will be happening via mobile phones, it says.
This data is also a confirmation that mobile has become the first source of accessing internet in India, skipping computers or laptops.
But while statistics and data show a hopeful image, the reality is that India is in dire need of an updated definition of broadband if it is to realise its dream of a digital India. According to a report by US content delivery network, Akamai Technologies, India is ranked 105th in the world when it comes to average internet broadband speed. It also has the lowest ranking in Asia-Pacific, with 14 countries including China having faster internet speeds than India. Reports show that India’s average speed is less than the global average at 5.6 Mbps. All levels of businesses and even government sectors face problems when they rely on the use of heavy interactive elements such as videos and real time communication to engage within or outside their organisations, making glitch-free e-communication a longing. So, services like e-governance, e-commerce, smart cities and mobile banking are still an advanced connection away.
Talking of mobile banking, last year, the ‘World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends’, pointed out that India had the most restrictive market regulation in retail finance and banking, but now defying this seems to be the top agenda of the present government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been working towards making India a cashless economy driven by technology and tech-savvy people. At the dawn of 2017, Modi launched a mobile app on the Unified Payment Interface (UPI). BHIM (Bharat Interface for Mobile) as the application is called, is common across all banks and financial institutions, making room for smooth transactions.
“Right now, business happens by the way of (currency) notes and coins. That day is not far when all business transactions will be conducted through the BHIM app,” the Prime Minister had said.
The BHIM app has been designed to empower the poorest of the poor, keeping in mind the various challenges that exist in the Indian technology and work environment. The app doesn’t even require an internet connection since it can also work on simple feature phones and can be accessible only by thumb impression.