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India and the digital revolution

India’s Policy Commission, the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) unveiled a comprehensive national strategy for India in 2022-2023. It is a detailed report of forty-one crucial areas, where it discusses the progress already made, identifies binding constraints, and suggests ways to achieve the stated objectives.

The ‘Strategy for New India @75’ was released as a document. The Indian Prime Minister said that it was put together by the NITI Aayog in an attempt to bring together innovation, technology, enterprise and efficient management.

For the digital revolution to completely revolutionise India’s social infrastructures, the Government has to put in place policies to break the digital divide. This will require overcoming current broadband connectivity limitations and the lack of digital access and literacy in rural India.

The report said that internet access is limited because of issues related to quality and reliability, outages, call-drops and weak signals. The current definition of broadband speed will not be able to satisfy the expected rise in demand in the future. Existing networks are strained by inadequate spectrum availability and usage, which has affected the provision of quality services.

To address this, the Government implemented the BharatNet (India Net) or the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) project. It aims to connect all the 250,000 village councils (gram panchayats) in the country with the provision of 100 Mbps connectivity.

Additionally, public Wi-Fi hotspots are being set up by BSNL at its 25,000 telephone exchanges in rural areas and Wi-Fi hotspots (choupals) are being set up in 5,000 village councils by Common Service Centres under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

Furthermore, during this year’s India Mobile Congress event, the Government launched the National Frequency Allocation Plan (NFAP) 2018. NFAP 2018 freed up a total of 605 MHz spectrum in the 5-GHz band for Wi-Fi services. Several spectrum bands for short-range devices and ultra-wideband devices are now license-exempt, benefitting the public as well as industry.

A significant portion of India’s population does not have access to electronic devices, including laptops, computers, and smartphones. Digital literacy is estimated to be less than 10% of the population.

The National Digital Literacy Mission is the proposed solution. It will focus on introducing digital literacy in all government schools. The document said that the multiplier effects of this mission will be realised when students educate their family members. Higher digital literacy will also increase the adoption of computer hardware across the country.

Other problem areas are the unavailability of digital content in Indian languages and limited access to e-services.

The report suggested that individual ministries and states should ensure that all their services are available and accessible to citizens over digital platforms. Digital platforms, that enable real-time data updates, will increase accountability, facilitate monitoring, quality checks and timely intervention by the higher administrative authorities. Organisations should also make these services reliable, safe and available in regional languages.

NITI Aayog said India’s regulatory framework for cybersecurity is inadequate. Hacking and denial-of-service attacks have led to disruption both in the Government and the private sector. The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology will need to develop a comprehensive cybersecurity framework for data security, safe digital transactions and complaint redressal.

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