During a high-profile launch of the ‘Digital India Week’ which saw a huge number of industrialists and CEOs from top Indian companies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, articulated his vision for the nation by saying that he dreamed of an India, where ICT enabled citizen-government interface is incorruptible, and governance is transparent. The Prime Minister also said that he dreamed of a digital India where the world looks to India for the next innovation, and 4.5 lakh connected Indians drive the nation. It is expected that the Digital India initiative will ensure jobs for 18 lakh people and enable investment of Rs 4.5 lakh crore.
The Prime Minister recently held a digital dialogue with friends across social media platforms and invited views and questions from them. He answered some of these questions and laid down his vision for a Digital India. The PM has described technology as a means to “discover, learn, evolve and implement.” He shared his thoughts during the Digital Dialogue, in which he talked extensively on technology, what it means to him and the way ahead.
Some edited excerpts:
What has been the response to the Digital India week? Has the response been encouraging and up to your expectations?
The entire nation has joined hands to make the dream of a Digital India into a reality. Youngsters are enthusiastic, industry is supportive and the government is proactive. India is yearning for a digital revolution.
When the Digital India initiative was launched, the fervor was unimaginable and unprecedented. The investment committed by industry towards a Digital India indicates their optimism and the positive effects will be felt for generations. Most notably, several job opportunities will be created for our people.
Never before has something been planned at such a large scale. I want to add that this dream will be fulfilled not by the Central Government or the private sector alone. Everybody (Centre, State Governments, organisations, corporates, people) has to come together and is working towards a digital India.
Several people wrote to me asking how Digital India will touch their lives. They shared ideas for citizen-centric services from the national till the Panchayat level. @RishiBagree highlighted an App on waste management. @rangats and @kumawatraj have talked about PDS improvement and electronic ration cards.
I want to tell everyone - our quest for a Digital India is all encompassing. It is going to touch your lives in several ways, making it easier. For instance, the Digital Locker and e-Sign will manage all key documents with ease and efficiency. Documents can be accessed at a click and that too without being inconvenienced. Take healthcare- eHospital would mean no more wasting time standing in hospital lines. Instead, there is online registration for appointment, online payment and online reports. @microrao asked me about an online portal where information and prices of drugs and medicine will be made available. He will be happy to know that DeitY is actively working on this. The National Scholarship Portal brings together all scholarship schemes under a single application form. Thus, you will have one convenient platform to search the right scholarship, filling several forms and tracking their progress.
The real strength of these initiatives will come when they are extensively used. More usage will enable them to become mature and world class. That is why, I urge everyone to use these innovative services as much as possible. For instance, think of paying the salary of your support staff from your mobile to their Jan Dhan accounts. Similarly, keep using these services in as many ways as possible.
What is your tech routine. In what ways is technology part of your life?
This is a question many people ask me when I meet them. They ask me about technology, what mobile phone I use, how often I check my mail.
Technology for me is- discover, learn, evolve and implement.
It combines 3Ss- speed, simplicity and service. Technology is fast, technology is simple and technology is a brilliant way to serve people. It is also a great teacher. The more we learn about technology and the more we learn through technology, the better it is.
Technology enthuses the world. I see technology as this vast ocean whose small droplets I have been able to touch upon. Of course, I want to know more and more about latest technology but due to my schedule it becomes very tough.
Yet, I am a curious mind when it comes to anything that facilitates public good and so, I try to learn more and more about how technology can ensure public good. I keep thinking about it and try to know as much more as possible.
Like any common person, I scan my mails and try to be as regular in correspondence (by my own standards I am still slow). Technology makes access to information a lot faster. I am able to access news on the go. I may be traveling in the hills, in the Northeast of in interior Chhattisgarh but thanks to technology I am abreast with what is happening.
I have been using technology for my work right from the days when I was doing party work. As a Chief Minister I made attempts to integrate technology in the working of the government and my efforts to do the same continue in Delhi.
A few months ago we launched PRAGATI, a technology based multi-purpose and multi-nodal platform where projects are monitored and people’s problems are addressed. On the last Wednesday of every month, I sit down with top officials during the PRAGATI sessions and we cover substantial ground in a wide range of sectors. We are already seeing the difference this can make.
Technology transforms people's lives. From mitigating poverty to simplifying processes, ending corruption to providing better services, Technology is omnipresent. It has become the single-most important instrument of human progress.
Technology is here to stay. The future of technology lies in its humanization. Technology on a day-to-day basis is getting adaptive to human emotions, preferences and choices. To me technology used wisely is a catalyst to magically transforming the way we live.
You are active on LinkedIn with a vibrant following. How has social media helped you connect better with people?
The future belongs to social media. It is egalitarian and inclusive. Social media is not about any country, any language, any colour, any community but it is about human values and that is the underlying link binding humanity.
A great example is the recent #SelfieWithDaughter trend. Through social media I read about this initiative in a district in Haryana and I thought I must talk about it during my ‘Mann Ki Baat’ and ask parents to share selfies with their daughters on social media. The rest is history. Worldwide and in India this became a trend.
People from Africa, Europe, the Americas, South Asian neighbours shared selfies taken with their daughters. When people were sharing selfies, they were not responding to the call of a Prime Minister, it was a connect between humans for a cause that is important for all of us and has resonance across the globe.
On Yoga Day the world could see what is happening all over due to social media. Physical distance was rendered irrelevant. Similarly, during the previous ‘Mann Ki Baat’ I asked people to share glimpses of #IncredibleIndia and I got lakhs of responses. One Vietnamese person shared his memories of India and I got an opportunity to talk to that person on Twitter. When a group of friends decided to clean the Ghats in Varanasi it created waves across the world. If this doesn’t indicate something then what does?
My being on social media has enriched me in many ways. After a long day at work, I log on to social media and it is very very refreshing. I am active on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Instagram. It gives me a pulse of what people think. I get a lot of feedback. For example, someone tweeted to me that during one of the speeches I spoke too fast. It acts as a mirror for all of us in our otherwise very busy lives.
I am a firm believer in the use of social media. It has given voice to the common man. This is an empowering platform and it should be used as positively and creatively as possible. That is when you will understand the power of that medium and you will be able to make a difference.
There is a sense that technology further empowers those who are already empowered. How can technology change the lives of people on the margins? Rural India needs better internet penetration, how can Digital India achieve that?
Technology empowers the less empowered. If there is a strong force that bring a change in the lives of those on the margins it is technology. It serves as a leveler and a springboard.
Take for instance the farmer. Technology can make agriculture productive, prosperous and profitable. We have seen this worldwide. I was happy to know that crores of Indian farmers have been receiving agriculture related information trough SMS.
Just recently, the Cabinet cleared the Scheme of Promotion of National Agriculture Market through Agri-Tech Infrastructure Fund. 585 regulated markets across India will be integrated with common e-platform. Farmers & traders can get opportunities to purchase & sell agricultural commodities at optimal prices in a transparent manner.
When a person can call for an auto rickshaw from the mobile yes, it makes life convenient for him or her but imagine the difference it makes in the auto driver’s life. Due to technology things like railway tickets have become easier to obtain. No need to take a day off from work and stand in line.
Small entrepreneurs not having abundant capital, get a chance to create value, through technology. Our handicraft workers who were dependent on seasonal tourist flow, can now sell their products across the world with a single click. Aggregators of various kinds have given a fresh lease of life to thousands of people across our country. Be it retail, tourism, transport, food industry, technology has given a new platform to thousands of people, most of who are on the margins.
I want to share a small story. As CM, I went to a tribal area of Kaprada in Valsad district for inaugurating a chilling centre in a dairy. Since there was less space to conduct a meeting at the centre itself, the programme was held 3 km away on a school’s ground.
Some 30-40 tribal women, who collect milk, were present at the venue. While returning from the venue after the function, I saw nearly three-fourth of the women clicking photos from their mobiles. I asked, “What will you do after clicking these photos from your mobile phones?” They said we will get the photographs transferred to a computer and later get the printouts. These are women who never attended school or college where they could learn what to do with photographs clicked with a mobile. But they know that the photo can be transferred to a computer and later be collected in the form of a printout from the computer. I was amazed. This is how technology has reached out to people on its own even at the margins.
As a digital entrepreneur I would like to know how does technology and India’s demographic dividend converge, especially for young women?
I think this is a natural convergence and India is the natural place for such a convergence. Yes, many parts of the world have technology but no other nation is blessed with a demographic dividend like ours. India offers the complete package.
The industrial revolution may have come late to India, but we are going strong in the current start-up revolution. I am told that we are currently the 4th largest startup ecosystem in the world and soon we are poised to be 2nd, only after USA. And the best part is- this is driven by the youth. This is drawing the interest of the world and has energized people across India. This is convergence for you.
Exuberance & Talent of our youth is finding an outlet of expression through technology. This is not only driven by demand side dynamics but is well complemented by our supply side potential as well. Hence technology is serving as a connecting bridge between our ever expanding consumer market and our demographic dividend.
Here, I want to point to our MyGov experience. It gives people the opportunity to contribute to Nation building through technology. Many of the ideas we have got through MyGov are brilliant. So, when @Priyanka_1512 (Priyanka Aggarwal) says, “please let youth like me (working in private IT companies) know how can we contribute to a Digital India” or when @thetakshakpai says, “how do you intend on encouraging fresher tech/engineering students to contribute to #DigitalIndia?” – I want to tell them and many others- go to MyGov and enrich the platform with your contribution.
Despite high penetration of Internet, many are still not digitally literate. How do you plan to spread digital literacy?
I don’t see it as being limited to digital literacy. The larger point lies in encouraging people to use technology. In some cases the problem is access. In some cases it is lack of adequate guidance. In some cases it may even be offering the technology the person needs. We are attending to all these challenges. Once we increase access to technology, the challenge of digital literacy will be mitigated.
I feel our emphasis on mobile governance will be a game changer as far as increasing technology penetration is concerned. A mobile is something every Indian dreams of having and is something every Indian even ends up having. We must make full use of this.
Giving our citizens a choice architecture, which enables them to choose technology led solutions through carefully calibrated nudges will help. A robust choice architecture implies producers are constantly innovating and consumers have a gamut of products and services to chose from. There will be something for everything.
It is important to harness technology in totality. In the past we have seen use of technology in isolation. The power of technology lies in convergence. Convergence brings convenience and this increases usage.
We want to give every Indian a unique digital identity. In the past, there have been too many digital identities for every person. Every service has it’s own requirement and every service has its own database.
All of this is happening due to the alternatives technology offers to our lives today. I am confident that Indians will be second to none in their embrace of technology in all aspects of their lives in the years to come.
What impact will technology and automation have on India considering a huge low skilled base?
Technology has time and again created opportunities for a whole new generation of Jobs and Industries.
I have been studying with great interest what is happening around the world. We are seeing the advent of a new generation of Machines. Some are calling it the next Machine Age. 3D Printing, Internet of Things, Intelligent Machines and Robotics will automate many Industries. While some see a threat I see an opportunity.
Let me explain why - we in India already have a natural advantage given our strengths in Software and Information Technology. Even as Technology and Automation may make low skilled jobs redundant in some sectors we have the natural advantage to learn new skills and lay claim to a whole new generation of jobs to manage all of this new age automation.
Hence my mantra is – don’t talk about "Digital India", "Make in India", “Design in India” and "Skilled India" in silos. All of them are interrelated. It is in the synergy across all three lies India's Opportunity for the 21st Century.
Your view on mobile governance and the NM mobile application
M-governance is empowered governance. It has the potential to make development a truly inclusive and comprehensive mass movement. It puts governance into everyone's reach. It puts governance in your hands 24/7.
I have been saying from Day 1 that we should be working towards a ‘Mobile First’ approach. You may have seen that all our websites are increasingly getting mobile friendly. Innovative mobile applications have been developed that deliver end-to-end services. We will have to take into account the popularity of mobile and smart phones while taking decisions pertaining to IT.
It also helps that mobiles are relatively easier to learn- a person may take time to learn a new operating system but he or she will master sending a WhatsApp message very quickly.
A decade ago and beyond, the pressing challenge was to take mobile phones to as many people as possible. Today, when already a large majority of people have mobile phones in the country yes, we do hope the number increases but the focus has shifted only beyond numerical reach of mobiles.
One small effort towards reaching out to the people on their mobile phones through the ‘Narendra Modi Mobile App.’ Launched a few weeks ago, the App is a one stop destination for all the latest news and updates from my side. It allows people to directly communicate with me and gives me an opportunity to hear their insights. It is also a repository of earlier news, my blogs, good governance initiatives of the government and the ‘Mann Ki Baat’ episodes; these episodes can be heard in 16 languages too. Infact, the radio programme can be heard live through the App. People can receive messages through me on the App as well.
The response to the Mobile App has made me very happy.
What is Digital India’s top priority? What role do you see universal access and the Internet playing within Digital India?
3As are important for a Digital India- Accessible, Additive and Affordable.
Access is key. We want our 125 crore citizens to be digitally empowered. We already have broadband usage across India go up by 63% in the last year. We need to accelerate this further. The government efforts must be complemented by similar energy and pro-activeness by other stakeholders. I would also like to see the private sector become part of the efforts to ensure broadband Internet has the widest reach across India.
Our digital India initiative is about value addition. It must enrich the lives of the people. It must offer something unique to everyone, which can make a positive difference.
Similarly, Affordability is the third key. A product can be accessible and additive but it will never leave the long-term impact until it can be affordable. Because, at the end of the day, who are we working for? Who will gain the most from these initiatives- the poor, the marginalized, the neo-middle class.
In terms of scale, extent and influence, our Digital India initiatives must be path breaking and all inclusive, laying the foundation for how we script India’s development story in the 21st Century.
What do you feel are the major challenges in the roadmap to achieve a digital India?
When we have taken up such an ambitious initiative and that too at such a large scale, there will be several challenges. But, we should neither underestimate these challenges nor should we get overwhelmed by them. We must be laser focused on our Mission and that is what we are doing.
I have already talked about access and affordable access.
The second challenge is Skills and Knowledge. We have to empower our Citizens with the skills and knowledge to use Digital Applications and Services. We also have to volunteer time and effort to share Digital Skills so our fellow citizens who have recently been digitally empowered get to know how to use this powerful medium and are able to get the maximum out of this medium.
The third challenge is reforming the citizen government Interface and the processes of governance. A digital first model of Governance will not only bring in efficiency and transparency but also will also dramatically reduce corruption.
The fourth challenge is Innovation and keeping pace with the latest in technology. Every day there are new innovations that is making some piece of technology obsolete. It is in this fast changing technology environment that we must realize the Digital India goals.
What is your message to young tech entrepreneurs who are creating start-ups?
Startups are the engines of exponential growth, manifesting the power of innovation. Several big companies today are startups of yesterday. They were born with a spirit of enterprise and adventure kept alive due to hardwork and perseverance and today have become shining beacons of innovation.
Thus, my message- keep innovating. Innovation is what will help us grow faster. The world is changing, quicker than ever before and we cannot remain oblivious to that. If we don’t innovate, if we don’t come up with cutting edge products there will be stagnation.
On the part of the Government, I assure absolute support. We are doing everything possible to make enterprise and innovation easier. We have covered substantial ground in the last 14 months and want to do a lot more in the future. We want India to emerge as the Innovation Hub where the next big ideas emerge, driven by the power of technology.