Saturday, 21 March 2015


I have oft envisaged a time in our lives when digital governance would be the order of the day; where men and women would be equal drivers,part-takers and stakeholders towards the path of empowerment,reforms and progress in India's growth story.

In fact,I have even imagined that a time would also come when we would no longer be required to queue at government offices to avail customer-based services or file written complaints or suggestions.Instead,we would be sitting in front of our computers from any part of the world and filling up a standard procedural form or shooting an email to the concerned department that would suffice and promptly be attended to within 24 hours!

As hilarious it may sound to you at this moment,but I have also envisioned a scenario where my country would be the first to introduce e-courts! Court hearings would be streamed live through a password-driven website and everyone in the plaint would use their webcams and microphones to have their say in their pleas filed.And the judge/lawyers would be sitting in the chambers of their office or home giving judgments on the merits of the case as the lawyers of both parties would make their arguments on the defensive or offensive line of action.And what's more is that the dates of the next hearing would be alerted to the recipients via an email or a text message! Behold,justice would reign supreme in our country! Imagine the backlog of cases that would be cleared and the precious time it would save! 

Just imagine what would life be in a digitized India!
But as I wake up from that dream and rub my eyes...I realize,that we have a long way to go...we are yet to hit the marquee to call ourselves a Digital India!

According to a report(as of July 2014), in a population of 1.25 billion,we have just 243 million internet users in India,that's just about one fifth of the population using the internet!Have a look at the alarming statistics (see pics),you'd observe that there is a great disparity between the penetration of technology vis-a-vis the internet using population.  

And the dichotomy of the situation here is that an average man today doesn't even own a computer,laptop or a 'smartphone' let aside his brush with technology! And even if he owns one,he is yet to harness it's optimum potential.In fact,he would rather go to the customer desk to pay his monthly telephone or electricity bills than do it online! 

Taking my point a step further,I would like to start this discussion by citing a few examples from my very own home where in spite of owning a computer,there is yet a digital disconnect when it comes to our perception, application and approach towards doing simple things.

My mother has always been fascinated with technology just as a child who makes his debut at an amusement park and is in awe of all the rides he is yet to experience and imagine. However,in spite of coming across so many instances in her life where technology has marveled to which she has been a witness to,yet she is skeptical about using it and get attuned to the idea of implementing it in her day to day living.

Take the first instance -
Mom: [Complaining] Before I and Anne would bump into each other at the Big Bazaar during weekends when we picked groceries together and caught up with our chitter-chatter and gossips...but these days she is conspicuous by her absence.I wonder what's the matter with her.

(I am all ears at her complaints against Anne,our neighbor who lives just three flats away and want to know what happens next in this conversation.)

Mom: And just as I thought that I'd pay her a visit and enquire after her health,I saw a man deliver bags of vegetables and toiletries at her doorstep...I wish someone would do that for me too! And when I asked Anne on who does her shopping for her these days,she smilingly looked at her daughter.And look at you (hinting at me) never lending me a helping hand at the bazaars in picking fruits and vegetables, I have to do that all by myself and then tired as I am, I have to come back home and cook also! You know, Anne's daughter is so helpful,she makes one call or taps something on her mobile and the groceries arrive at their doorsteps the same this is called life!

Me: [In jest] Mom,come on...I also offer you all help possible but you like a good bargain which is not always I drop the idea of making a call or 'tapping my mobile'.  [smiling] 

Take the second instance 

Sometime back,I had to transfer money into my mother's bank account.However,since I was traveling on work and out of town for a few days,it inevitably slipped out of my mind. 
Here's a conversation I had with her.

Me: How are you mom? Hope you are fine? Did you take your medicines?

Mom: Beta, I'm fine. I hope you are not gobbling up on junk food now that you are stationed away from home. By the way listen, did you deposit the money?

Me: Okay, I'll do it right away...just give me five minutes and I'll get back to you.

Mom: Beta, today is a Sunday,do it tomorrow the first thing in the morning.

Me: (Chuckling with laughter!)

My mother,a domesticated house-wife has just had her brush with some aspects of technology when it comes to running her home or having her money transferred even on a Sunday! As she gradually familiarizes herself with newer concepts of the digital age like e-shopping/retailing,e-commerce and e-banking,you can well imagine her mirth when she discovers that there's so much more beyond her ken! Imagine what would her reaction be when she suddenly finds herself availing services directly from the government be it pension for senior citizens or tax benefits.

Take the third instance -

Our government's landmark initiative towards e-governance on giving subsidies and entitlements through cashless transfer to an individual's bank account on LPG, Urea, Pension, Scholarships etc. came into effect this year. 

Thus when the DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) on LPG subsidy was announced,it was abracadabra to my mother.At first,it didn't make any sense to me too as the subsidy figure that was to be transferred in the bank account was ambiguous.From all whom we inquired, everyone came up with different explanations,logic and figures about this it left everyone confused.

My mother simply remarked,"Wouldn't it have been simpler that I paid the amount of Rs. 425 to the delivery man and the balance would be transferred by the government directly into the LPG agency's bank account instead of making me pay double to start and then reimburse the balance into my bank account? It simply skews up my whole mathematical calculation because I now have to sit with my calculator before making payments!" what could I add here!In this case,the scheme that was a big step towards e-governance was somehow not communicated clearly.So,besides the digital disconnect, there was a bottleneck on the clarity of the scheme that was also a culprit in this otherwise flawless scheme (which I later understood) of ensuring that pilferage and slippages were reduced to zero when the subsidy amount was deposited directly into the beneficiary's bank account,thus eliminating any possibility on the practice of corruption.

Now what is to be understood here through these real-life examples I just cited above is that people have to first be attuned towards thinking digitally then only will they have the confidence to use technology to incorporate it as a part of their daily living. 

India can only move forward towards the path of e-governance when it's not just the young,but even the older brigade are schooled once again on the path of digital literacy.

And at the grass-root level in villages and smaller towns,digital literacy should trickle down as water. It all sounds very well,to give away computers and laptops to the poor in different schemes,but do they know how to use them? Does the skill of using the internet come easier to a villager than ploughing his farms?Then how did handing over a computer or laptop solve the problem or take the villager closer towards the vision of a digital India. 

If only the villager had some access to a computer and was trained to use one,let's say the village Panchayat would be proactive in taking the initiative towards getting the villagers trained by organizing a foundation computer courses every weekend,then only would he know how to use it to his advantage. Then would he learn about the concept of GM crops or hybrid seeds which would improve the output of his farm produce and be in the know-how about the latest developments and schemes introduced by the government towards agricultural reforms that he could avail to his benefit.

Another way,I imagine that digital training could be imparted would be where women of every house-hold were trained in computers and internet soft-skills.Then the wise age-old maxim- "Educate a woman,you educate a generation" would hold true and become a reality in the context of digital education in today's times!

I recently came across an advertisement by a leading bank in the front page of the newspaper whereby it has launched the Tech Learning Centers initiatives for their customers in different cities to get all their queries on e-banking answered for free.Now this move,would definitely arouse people's curiosity as they get interested in learning how e-banking works.And this knowledge of e-banking in the value-chain would entwine with yet another branch or functionary of e-governance in the future as well. 

If e-governance has to be a vision that's to become a reality pan-India and not just restricted to the urban tech savvy youth,then digital literacy is the need of the hour even before our government doles out a complete framework towards e-governance. Thus a paradigm shift from digital divide/seclusion to digital inclusion is mandated for optimal performance if e-governance has to become a success.

To make my point I shall cite the example of a car - You could not possibly give a car to some villager like say a farmer, potter or blacksmith and expect him to drive it without explaining him how it works,what are it's features,the costs involved in running it and how this car would better his life in the future. If the villager is literate,then yes-he would understand how it works and explore the vehicle before him and make sense of it on his own,otherwise not.

From the above example,I will now draw the analogy of a car with technology in the context of digital governance.Thus it is imperative to train people towards imagining the possibilities that set them thinking,comprehending and doing things digitally before you introduce them to technology and train them to use it as a vehicle of tomorrow.You have to account for the infrastructure and costs involved by way of maintenance of the machine, electricity and band-width.You have to introduce to them a world wherein he/she could be sitting in one place and yet be informed about the government's policies and avail the benefits/schemes at the click of a button! In all simplicity, you have to convincingly be able to sell the dream of a digital India to them! 

Take the former government's initiative on the UIDAI (Unique Identification Authority Of India) which resulted in the Aadhaar card, an identity and address proof where you can use it to not just open a bank account or get a mobile/LPG connection but also avail subsidies,wages(from the MNREGA), pensions, entitlements etc. that are transferred seamlessly into the beneficiary's bank account through a unique 12 digit number. 

Has it occurred that this data collated could also be used to run finger-print scans to nab accused in acts of murder,hate crimes and terrorism?Thus this tool of the UIDAI also aids yet another arm of our governing body i.e. the Home department in providing security, better governance and accountability to the citizens of our country.

The three magic words in today's time are Imagine, Innovate and Implement! Fortunately for us,we have subtracted one 'I' from this list and that is 'Invent'.We do not have to clock back in time to once again re-invent the wheel.Thus basing our innovations done by inventors in the past,the framework is now ready for rapid development and deployment for giant strides in e-governance.

We are living in the digital age and with the infinite opportunities, limitless possibilities and astounding wonders that technology can perform is the limit! 

Summing up my thoughts,all I can say is,“The template of the digital age is ready which we have to fill in with our imagination, innovations and implementation...the blueprint of a digital future now rests in our hands!”


This post was written for the #DigitalIndia campaign at Indiblogger in association with Intel

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