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India and Japan recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to enhance cooperation in the field of information and communications technologies (ICTs).

The MoU was signed by the Indian Minister for Electronics and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasad, and the Japanese Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications, Takeda Ryota. The agreement was exchanged through a video conference on 15 January.

According to a press release, the Indian Department of Telecommunications and the Japanese Ministry of Communications will enhance mutual cooperation for 5G technologies, telecom security, spectrum management, smart cities, high-altitude platforms for broadband in unconnected areas, and disaster management and public safety.

Japan will also help develop a submarine optical fibre cable system for the islands of India. It has been agreed that apart from Ministry-level cooperation, Indian governmental organisation such as C-DOT and ITI Limited, along with industry partners from Japan, will also be a part of this cooperation.

Speaking at the ceremony, Minister Prasad highlighted the timely execution of connecting the Andaman and Nicobar Islands with submarine optical fibre cable as a great example of cooperation between India and Japan. He also mentioned India’s rapid adoption of technologies during the COVID-19 pandemic. These included the AarogyaSetu app, employing the Aadhaar-Enabled Payment System for the doorstep disbursement of cash by the India Post, digital hearings in Indian courts, and the development of digital payments.

He further added that during COVID-19, due to policies like Postal Life Insurance (PLI) and the Scheme for Promotion of Manufacturing of Electronic Components and Semiconductors (SPECS), a large number of investments have come to India in the field of electronics manufacturing. He urged the Japanese electronics industry to invest in India and avail of the benefits of the new technologies.

He also explained the potential that India holds for Japanese investors in the field of 5G and 5G-based services, the Internet of things (IoT), and digital health technologies. Minister Ryota expressed the commitment of the government of Japan towards mutual cooperation and investments in India.

In October last year, the two sides signed a memorandum of cooperation (MoC) in the field of cybersecurity. As OpenGov Asia had reported, the agreement promoted cooperation in 5G network and artificial intelligence (AI).

It also included capacity building in the areas of cyberspace and the protection of critical infrastructure. It aimed to promote cooperation in capacity building, research and development, and security and resilience in the areas of critical information infrastructure and IoT, among others.

The countries committed to work together on emerging technologies and to share information on cybersecurity threats, incidents, and malicious cyber activities. The nations would develop and exchange best practices to counter cyber threats and create joint mechanisms to mitigate cyber risks for ICT systems.

Through the MoC, the sides also affirmed cooperation in the international arena including in the United Nations; discussing and sharing strategies to promote the integrity of the supply chain of ICT products; strengthening the security of ICT infrastructure through government-to-government and business-to-business cooperation, and continuing dialogue and engagement in Internet governance.

The National Informatics Centre (NIC), the Ministry of Electronics and Information Communication Technology (MeitY), and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) are launching the CollabCAD software.

It is a collaborative network and computer-enabled software system that provides engineering solutions for students and faculty of the engineering graphics curriculum. The solutions include 3D product part/assembly design, 2D drafting and detailing, scripting, importing/exporting CAD data, numerical control, visualisations, simulations, content management, and workflow and enterprise resource planning.

CollabCAD runs on Linux and Windows OS-based desktop systems and is available in both stand-alone and client-server modes. The collaborative mode of CollabCAD enables multiple designers to create and modify part data across a network and concurrently access the same design data for storage and visualisation. It also offers an interactive design environment through audio and video conferencing, allowing participating designers to communicate online.

The portal provides facilities to build and edit entities in virtual 3D spaces using basic geometry such as lines, arcs, and conic sections. Collaboration during design/assembly facilitates rapid product visualisation and drastically cuts down the time for requirement specification, modelling, review, and analysis.

According to a press release, NIC, CBSE, Atal Innovation Mission (AIM), and the country’s think-tank, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) will also release a comprehensive e-book on CollabCAD 3D-modeling. This e-book 1.0 is ready for public release through the CollabCAD portal and will guide CAD students, beginners, and professionals in understanding and using CollabCAD software. It is designed and authored by the CollabCAD Group of NIC, New Delhi.

CBSE will introduce the CollabCAD Software for engineering graphics for classes 11 and 12. The release explained that CollabCAD will be used for practical assignments as part of the subject curriculum, which includes making different types of 3D designs and 2D drawings. Students from over 140 schools across the country, along with schools in the Middle East (affiliated with CBSE) will have access to this software.

NIC and CBSE will sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for CollabCAD software support and train the students and faculty of engineering graphics in CBSE-affiliated schools. The MoU, which is valid for ten years, aims to develop human resources and skills around CollabCAD software and popularise CollabCAD among the students and faculty, the release noted.

The software was initially launched in April last year and in tune with the requirements of the ‘Tinker from Home’ campaign for students from over 5,000 schools across the country. A CollabCAD 3D Design Challenge was announced by AIM two days after the launch for students to create 3D digital models using CollabCAD geometric modules.

CBSE has been introducing advanced technology courses in its schools. In July 2020, CBSE integrated an Artificial Intelligence (AI) course in the curriculum for classes 11 and 12. The course was structured around a framework for students consisting of AI basics (its history and applications); skills (design thinking, computational thinking, data fluency, and critical thinking); and values (ethical decision making and bias). The course was made robust with problem-based learning outcomes and assessment methods.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) recently announced that the Payments Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) has been operationalised to create three million new touchpoints every year for digital payments in Tier-3 to Tier-6 centres.

According to a news report, in June last year, the RBI unveiled PIDF, which intended to subsidise the deployment of payment acceptance infrastructure in Tier-3 to Tier-6 centres, focussing on the north-eastern states.

In a statement, the central bank said an Advisory Council (AC), under the chairmanship of RBI Deputy Governor, BP Kanungo, has been constituted for managing the PIDF. It will be operational for three years, starting from this month, with a possible extension of two more years.

The fund aims to increase the payments acceptance infrastructure by adding three million touchpoints every year – one million physical and two million digital payment acceptance devices. The fund will cover multiple payment acceptance devices/infrastructure that supports underlying card payments, including physical PoS, mPoS (mobile PoS), GPRS (general packet radio service), PSTN (public switched telephone network), and QR code-based payments.

RBI explained that as the cost structure of acceptance devices vary, subsidy amounts will accordingly differ by the type of payment acceptance device deployed. The government will offer a subsidy of 30% to 50% of the cost for physical PoS, and a 50% to 75% subsidy for digital PoS.

However, payment methods that are not inter-operable would not be considered under the PIDF. The objective of PIDF is to increase the number of acceptance devices multi-fold in the country. The scheme will benefit the acquiring banks, non-banks, and merchants by lowering the overall acceptance infrastructure cost, the RBI said.

The initial corpus of the PIDF has to be substantial to initiate pan-India terminalisation and to cover the pay-outs in the first year. Contributions to the PIDF will be mandatory for banks and card networks.

RBI noted that card-issuing banks will also contribute to the corpus-based on the card issuance volume (covering both debit cards and credit cards) at the rate of IN 1 and IN 3 per debit and credit card issued by them, respectively. It aims to collect contributions by the end of January.

The report noted that besides the initial corpus, the PIDF will also receive an annual contribution from card networks and card-issuing banks. The PIDF is on a reimbursement basis and accordingly, the claim has to be submitted only after making payments to the vendor. The maximum cost of the physical acceptance device eligible for subsidy is IN 10,000 (including one-time operating cost up to a maximum of IN 500). The maximum cost of the digital acceptance device eligible for subsidy is IN 300 (including a onetime operating cost up to a maximum of IN 200).

The implementation of targets shall be monitored by the RBI with assistance from card networks, the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA), and the Payments Council of India (PCI). Acquirers must submit quarterly reports on the achievement of targets to the RBI. Acquirers meeting or exceeding their targets well in time and/or ensuring greater utilisation of acceptance devices in terms of transactions will be incentivised. Those who do not achieve their targets shall be disincentivised, by scaling up or down the extent of reimbursement of subsidies.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Maharashtra Metro Rail Corporation (MAHA –METRO) are working together to conserve water and protect the environment by installing DRDO’s eco-friendly biodigester units (a non-sewer sanitation technology) in its facilities.

According to a press release, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was inked on 5 January between MAHA-METRO and DRDO through which DRDO will render technical support for the implementation of its advanced biodigester Mk-II technology for the treatment of human waste (night soil) in the metro rail network.

DRDO is a premier research organisation and MAHA-METRO is a joint venture company under the central government and the government of Maharashtra. DRDO’s biodigester is an indigenous, green, and cost-effective technology and has one of the largest numbers of DRDO-licensees (ToT holders).

The Indian Railways has already installed about 240,000 biodigesters in its fleet of passenger coaches. For MAHA-METRO, the technology has been revamped and further improved in a bid to save water and space.

A customised version of this MK-II Biodigester, suitable for treating human waste generated from houseboats in Dal Lake, was successfully demonstrated by the DRDO to the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) Administration. The Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LWDA) of the J&K Administration has initiated the process to procure 100 units of Mk-II Biodigesters for civil habitats around Dal Lake to minimise water pollution. The implementation of Biodigester MK-II in Srinagar is being monitored by a committee of experts constituted by the High Court of J&K. When fully implemented, this green technology will significantly reduce the Dal lake pollution.

This technology is upgraded through improvements in the bio-degradation efficiency, design modification, and addition of secondary treatment modules. The new reactor is designed to provide more path length with increased biological reaction time, thereby enhancing the biodegradation efficiency of the system. This technology was primarily developed for the armed forces in high-altitude Himalayan regions, including Leh-Ladakh and Siachen glacier.

India is pushing to be one of the largest green energy producers in the world. According to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, as of October 2020, India’s total renewable energy installed capacity had reached over 89.63 GW.

A news report explained that during the last six years, India has witnessed the fastest rate of growth in renewable energy capacity addition among all large economies, with renewable energy capacity growing by 2.5 times and solar energy expanding by over 13 times. Renewable energy now constitutes over 24% of the country’s installed power capacity and around 11.62% of the electrical energy generation.

Further, including large hydropower, the share of renewable energy in electric installed capacity is over 36% and over 26% of the electric energy generation. Large hydropower has about 45 GW hydro installed capacity and 13 GW capacity under installation, bringing India’s total renewable energy portfolio of installed and in-pipeline projects to 221 GW, the report said.

Around 49.59 GW renewable energy capacity is under installation, and an additional 27.41 GW capacity has been tendered. This makes the total capacity that is already commissioned and in the pipeline about 166.63 GW.

The goods and service tax (GST) e-invoice system has been active for three months and has facilitated the smooth transition of taxpayers onto the new platform. It has enabled more than 37,000 taxpayers to generate over 168 million Invoice Reference Numbers (IRNs) since the National Informatics Centre first inaugurated it.

Initially, in the first month, October, the system registered 49.5 million inputs. In November, the generation of e-invoices increased to 58.9 million, and 60.3 million in December. According to a press release, the response of the system is good and the generation of IRNs has been hassle-free during the period.

However, there have been common errors such as repeated requests on the same document number, simultaneous requests on the same document number, or requests with validation or calculation errors. Proactive measures have been taken by the NIC Help Desk, including communicating with taxpayers about the issues through email, telephone calls, and by suggesting corrective measures. This has brought down the number of errors. NIC has also started sending daily updates to IRN users about the number and value of the IRN generated by each user.

Currently, there are three modes of generation of IRNs in the NIC system. The first is the direct API interface of the ERP system of the taxpayer with the NIC system. The second is the API interface of the ERP system of the taxpayer through GSP with the NIC system. The last is using the offline tool for the bulk uploading of invoices and generating IRNs.

The government has reduced the aggregate turnover cut off to INR 1 billion per annum for the generation of IRN by the taxpayers from January. NIC has already enabled the API and offline tool-based sites for these taxpayers. The release added that NIC is also geared up with adequate infrastructure to handle the generation of e-invoices from these taxpayers from January. The NIC portal facilitates the big taxpayers, whose turnover is more than INR 5 billion, to enable direct API access to their suppliers and clients from their systems.

Keeping the requirements of small taxpayers in view, NIC has developed the offline Excel-based IRN preparation and printing tool, called NIC-GePP tool. This application will allow the taxpayers to enter the invoice details, prepare the file to upload on the NIC IRN portal, download the IRN with a QR code, and print the e-invoice with a QR code.

Data from a State of Tax Justice report showed that India is losing over IN 75,000 crores in tax, due to global tax abuse. Implementing e-invoice will help mitigate this tax evasion, keep track of fake invoices that are issued, and ensure a common database is available to tax authorities, which will help in driving tax compliance, a news report has said. Further, e-invoicing can help bridge the gap in data reconciliation to reduce mismatch errors and data entry errors. It will also be possible to track invoices prepared by the supplier on a real-time basis, which reduces audits by the tax authorities since the required data will be available at the transactional level.

E-invoicing will also help address concerns regarding data reconciliation and issues that the taxpayers have been facing, since the implementation of GST. This will also help in interpretability and readability of the invoice formats, irrespective of the software that is used, the report said.

To sustain its momentum in its digital transformation, the Philippines is set to partner with another Asian economy to drive growth in its technology and banking sectors. Department of Finance (DoF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III announced in a statement that he has been in talks with Indian Ambassador to the Philippines, Shambhu Kumaran, to strengthen the two countries’ economic ties in improving digital technology and developing infrastructure. 

Speaking through a virtual courtesy call, the two officials were one in saying that both countries are “poised to bounce back” from the economic impact of the pandemic. They also agreed that the benefits of strengthening the two nations’ economic cooperation are many. 

The ambassador expressed India’s interest to solidify its existing cooperation with the Philippines, particularly in the field of banking and finance. This is in line with goals earlier set by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte of attaining financial inclusivity for Filipinos. To do this, he explained that India can assist the Philippines in setting up and improving its national broadband network. India is also intent on providing tech assistance to the Philippines once the latter rolls out its national ID system. 

The Finance Secretary showed interest in the planned cooperation with India and encouraged Indian businesses to invest under a cyber defence framework designed to streamline operations of state-run banks and other subsidiaries in the Philippines. 

The Secretary also showed appreciation for India’s offer of assistance in accelerating the Philippines’ digital transformation. He added that with these services, the Philippine government will be better equipped in fostering financial inclusion, in upgrading delivery of frontline public service and in putting a stop to corruption. 

The tech assistance services offered by the Indian government will be in line with the Philippines’ initiative to boost its broadband services. As previously reported by OpenGov Asia, a big chunk of the Philippines’ budget for 2021 has been allotted for the development of the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) National Broadband Programme (NBP). 

Of the PHP 4.5 trillion (US$ 93.7 billion) national budget this year, the funding for the NBP was recorded to be at PHP 1.9 billion (US$ 39.5 million). This was a significant increase from the initial PHP 903.19 million (US$ 18.8 million) budget allocation for the NBP. 

Investments in infrastructure 

The Ambassador likewise said that more Indian firms are looking at investing in the Philippines and taking part in the government’s “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) programme. However, he was quick to add that these potential investors still need more information regarding possible business ventures that are available to them under this infrastructure modernisation plan. 

To address this issue, the Finance Secretary and the Ambassador agreed to launch a webinar or a virtual workshop. Through this platform, the Philippine government will be able to lay down investment opportunities available to Indian companies. 

To point out some of the key opportunities for investment in the Philippines, the DoF said that an Indian firm is already in partnership with the government under the Build, Build, Build Programme for the Mactan Cebu International Airport and in the Clark International Airport (CIA) projects. 

The BBB programme aims to address the infrastructure backlog in the Philippines by improving public infrastructure spending from 2.9% of the gross domestic product (GDP) to 7.3%. The government is estimating costs in implementing this framework to be at around PHP 8 trillion to PHP 9 trillion (US$ 166 billion to US$ 187.4 billion) from 2016 to 2022. Projects under this programme include Phase 1 of the CIA expansion and the New Clark City Food Processing Terminal and International Food Market 

Technological advances are often termed as ‘disruptions’, but this year they helped India overcome the big disruption to a great extent, said the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind. The nation’s president made these observations while virtually addressing participants on the occasion of the Digital India Awards 2020.

Coronavirus has changed the world in terms of social relations, economic activities, healthcare, education and several other aspects of life. Yet, life has not come to a standstill – thanks largely to information and communication technology.

India was not only prepared to minimise the adverse impact of mobility-restrictions but also utilised the crisis as an opportunity to march ahead in various arenas. This was was only possible because the digital infrastructure has been strengthened in recent years.

From the judiciary to healthcare, scores of sectors switched to virtual mode. Even education at all levels could be continued as most institutions started offering lessons online fairly quickly.  He said the role of our digital warriors has been commendable in helping the country overcome challenges posed by the pandemic.

For the government too, information technology was one of the most crucial tools to deliver a variety of services to citizens and keep the wheels of the economy turning. Due to cutting-edge and innovative digital interventions, India was able to ensure operational continuity of important government services during and after the lockdown. Proactive implementation of platforms such as Arogya Setu, e-Office and video conferencing services backed by a robust ICT infrastructure has helped the country reduce the pandemic hardships.

Digital India Awards reflect the overall vision of the government to empower citizens to achieve their aspirations and make India a digital superpower. President Shri Nath Kovind

The president urged the nation to keep exploring innovative solutions for the functioning of government.  A paperless and contactless context is good not only for the security and benefit of citizens but will help in making administrative processes more eco-friendly. The country must continue to leverage technology and ICT-driven innovative solutions to aid economic inclusiveness and social transformation even in the remotest corners of our country.

A large segment of our population is still not able to derive the benefits of digital devices and services. The number of such people needs to be minimised by extending digital access to them through effective innovations. This will make India’s digital revolution more inclusive. The Digital India initiative of the government will continue to strive towards reducing the digital divide.

Quoting the famous adage that information is power, the president acknowledged that sharing information with people not only enhances transparency in society but also empowers citizens and civil society. This is highly necessary for informed citizenship, which is the cornerstone of democracy.

With this ideal in mind, the government has started putting different kinds of data sets and data resources in the public domain.  The National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy too envisages a participatory model of governance in which citizens can access non-strategic information from public authorities and become partners with the government in various reform processes.

The government of India has consistently been deploying innovative digital solutions to enhance the quality and reach of government services to citizens. With the rapidly growing spread of internet and mobile, citizens are empowered to gain from government services using any digital devices, anywhere, any time.

Across India, government entities at all levels – centre and state – continue undertaking various initiatives to provide accessible information and services. With each passing year, Digital-Governance initiatives are demonstrating the power of ICT in improving the ease of living for all citizens.

The Digital India Awards is an initiative of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to honour exemplary initiatives and practices in Digital-Governance. It offers a national platform to showcase such initiatives. Instituted under the aegis of National Portal of India, the awards serve the purpose of bringing to the fore innovative digital solutions, thereby inspiring emulation by all government entities.

The 6th Digital India Awards 2020 was presented in six categories – Innovation in Pandemic; Excellence in Digital Governance – Ministry/Department (Central); Excellence in Digital Governance – State/Union Territories T; Excellence in Digital Governance – District; Open Data Champion; and Exemplary Product.

The government’s Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC) has unveiled an official e-Commerce site, eKhadiIndia. The website catalogues over 50,000 products under more than 500 varieties and various categories of locally-made Khadi and village industries products.  The portal is a step towards building an ecosystem that enables micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to help achieve the Prime Minister’s goal of “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” or a self-reliant India.

KVIC Chairman, Vinai Kumar Saxena, during the launch function, explained that the site is a first-of-its-kind government online shopping platform to boost the rural economy. There has been a steady rise in the demand for Khadi and village industries products over the last few years, 2018-2019 alone witnessed a 25% surge. He added that the move is mainly intended to make natural Khadi India products easily accessible to new-generation consumers. The products range from apparel, grocery, cosmetics, home décor, health and wellness products, essentials, and gifts.

According to a press release, key components of the site include:

  • It exclusively focuses on khadi and village industry products.
  • Authentic khadi trademark products are available only through this portal.
  • The website is on par with any other modern technology-rich e-commerce portal.
  • The portal allows bulk orders and direct sellers registration.
  • It has customer care facilities and an all-refund policy.
  • More than 50,000 users can use the portal at the same time.
  • It is compatible with social media.
  • The portal is available for both website and mobile app versions.
  • Digitised payment ecosystem.
  • It has a pan-India reach-1.2 billion people from over 2,400 cities and towns.
  • It has a wide range of more than 1,500 products across various consumer verticals.

KVIC is one of the biggest sources of employment in the country and is bringing to life the government’s vision of Digital India through its various innovations. KVIC envisages emerging as a new-age digital marketplace for weavers, artisans, craftsmen, farmers, and the MSME entrepreneurs of India.

The government also offers indigenously-produced products on its government e-marketplace (GeM). The e-marketplace, which functions under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, is used for the procurement of common-use goods and services by ministries, departments, and central public sector enterprises (CPSEs).

GeM offers end-to-end solutions for procurement needs. Apart from government departments, it also caters to autonomous institutions and local bodies. It leverages technology and is working to make procurement contactless, paperless, and cashless. It aims to promote transparent public procurement while providing fair opportunities and a level playing field to all vendors.

As per a news report, the marketplace has 1.76 million listed products, 900,000 sellers and service providers, and 11,543 product categories. In 2020, per month, the marketplace was able to add 40,212 new sellers on an average and 486 new product categories. It added over 100,000 sellers in November and witnessed the average daily order value increase by 282%.

Amid growth in the number of sellers and order base, the government had recently taken note of the possibilities of fake or inferior quality goods being sold online. The Commerce Minister cautioned sellers against selling such goods or charging high prices, he said that these sellers will be blacklisted not only from the GeM portal but from the “entire government ecosystem.”

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