Rise of the Digital Citizen

DQI Bureau
New Update

There are 2 prongs of possibilities for digital citizenship and e-governance. One is achieving efficiency in running business as usual for the administration and another easing processes for citizens.


This is using the medium prescriptively: the technology solutions already exist, and it is a matter of re-engineering processes, people, organizations, and strategies to it.

It represents the simple adoption of the existing best practices and technologies for execution, for example, an ERP implementation in a government agency, or enabling millions of citizens to file their taxes online.

India has made giant strides in this domain ever since it launched its e-governance initiatives by improving public access to information and services, sharing data within and across organizations, and improving the efficiency of business processes.


The push in e-governance was aided by the swift growth in internet and telecom usage by Indians. In May 2012, India reached a mobile-density of nearly 77%, just ahead of China’s 75%. Although it is not at 100%, like in the United States, or Brazil, or Russia, at 929.37 mn mobile phone subscribers, India is the second-largest telecom market in the world, right behind China’s 1.341 bn mobile users.

Huge Scope for Internet Penetration

We have about 130 mn internet users, of which only about 20 mn are broadband users. This actually means we are grossly under-penetrated, and we have a lot to look forward to as we improve these numbers. In the recent words of a global CEO, “the sum of all that is this place is going to be rocking.”


The other prong is entrepreneurial, imaginative. It challenges us, the citizens, and the government, to use these same means creatively to spur innovation and chart successes hitherto impossible.

Startup Village, near Kochi, is one such exciting project. It is the country’s first telecom business incubator, representing the partnership between the National Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (NSTEDB), the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Technopark, and MobME Wireless.

The initiative, modeled on the technology incubators in the Silicon Valley, aims to incubate 1,000 start-ups over 10 years and start the search for a potential billion dollar company from a college campus by 2020. Or the e-choupal initiative, which aims to cover more than 100,000 villages–or a sixth of rural India–and create more than 10 mn ‘e-farmers’ who harness knowledge to enhance their competitiveness in the global market. The project has already reached more than 3.5 mn farmers.



As in anything in India, grand ideas tumble in the face of faulty execution, and the successful implementation of its myriad projects will be the cornerstone of India’s digital citizenship and the real test for our governments and our bureaucracy.

The e-governance plans remain incomplete without penetration or actual utilization.


Many of the service centers that have been setup in rural India must be refurbished, re-equipped, and training programs and propagation must be given weight to ensure full implementation of the e-governance initiatives.

Civilians to Play a Crucial Role

It is no longer about what the government can do for itself and its citizens, but how citizens are impacting their governments.


In large part, social media tools have ignited and channeled movements that have shaken political systems by allowing citizens to assert their expectations from the government.

Even the fourth estate, the all-seeing, all-reporting media, has enthusiastically embraced online social networking sites–most TV and radio channels, and publications, have twitter handles and Facebook pages that can report events as they happen, where they happen, and an interesting story becomes a trend in a matter of minutes thanks to millions of sharing, re-tweeting netizens.

The Government should Connect


There are opportunities for the government in turn to direct this relationship through social media itself and propel its governance agenda.

Digital citizens are all over social media. The governments must be there too to connect with them. The Planning Commission recently hosted a Google Hangout, a modern day town hall meeting, to address the 12th 5-Year Plan. And so did the finance minister after his Budget speech. Such tools are increasing the number of avenues for citizens to participate in the governing process. This is in line with the findings of the recent Accenture Digital Citizen Pulse Survey that found that nearly 1 in 5 Indians surveyed identified no barriers that prevent digital interactions with the government.

With more such initiatives, we can expect this number to go up.

India’s public policy must align with the needs and ambitions of its digital citizens or the increasing levels of their engagement with the government will suffer a setback. It is still early days in the legislation of internet and technology in India, and we are yet to draft a comprehensive, forward-looking internet policy.

But legal provisions such as ‘Section 66A’ of the Information Technology Act, which forbids ‘sending false and offensive messages through communication services’ and can lead to 3 years in jail, threaten to forge a divide between the progressive, informed Indians, and their presumably passé representatives. The mass outrage at the arrest of 2 young girls in Mumbai expressing their political sentiments on a social networking site was clear indication of the prevailing mindset; inelegant censorship of a free internet is unjust, encroaching, and amoral. This is not to say there is no need for regulation at all; but there should be an intelligent, evolving, minimal way to do so. The Mumbai Police recently established the country’s first social media lab in a police force, with the aim to monitor and learn trending topics so as to systematically plan for law and order. It remains to be seen which way the tide will turn with this new initiative, but one can hope for a positive outcome.