Filling the physical gaps in India’s digital push
Image credit: The Indian Express
By Varad Pande and Rohit Kumar
Non-tech elements like community engagement and governance are important to realise utility for digital platforms
A lot has been written about the emphasis on “digital” in the 2022 Union Budget. But one aspect that hasn’t been talked about as much is the importance given in the budget to digital public infrastructure (DPI) — the idea that cross-sectoral “digital rails” like ID, payments and data exchanges when combined with open interconnected data systems in sectors like health, education and social protection, can transform service delivery.
India is seen as a global trendsetter in the DPI movement, having set up multiple large-scale DPIs like Aadhaar, UPI and sector-specific platforms like DIGIT for eGovernance and DIKSHA for education. These have helped push the frontier of public service delivery. This year’s budget adds to the growing discourse on DPIs by making four key announcements: In health, an open platform with digital registries, a unique health identity and a robust consent framework; in skilling, a Digital Ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood (DESH-Stack) to help citizens upskill through online training; a Unified Logistics Interface Platform (ULIP) to streamline movement of goods across modes of transport; and for travel, an “open source” mobility stack for facilitating seamless travel of passengers. These announcements are welcome. Research by Omidyar Network India and BCG shows that the creation of national digital ecosystems in sectors like health, jobs and skilling, agriculture and justice can lead to economic opportunities worth Rs 35 lakh crore by 2030. Similar analysis by the Centre for Digital Economy Policy Research (C-DEP) also estimates that national digital ecosystems could add over 5 per cent to India’s GDP.
But important design considerations must be set right if we are to truly unlock the value of these platforms. One way to think about this is by differentiating between the “tech” and “non-tech” layers of our digital infrastructure — while India seems to have made significant headway on the “tech” layers, the “non-tech” layers of community engagement and governance need a lot more work. The combination of these three layers is what is critical to making tech work for everyone. Together, they embody what we call the open digital ecosystems (ODE) approach.
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