(GIST OF YOJANA) Digital India-At The Heart of Poorna Swaraj [DECEMBER-2018]


(GIST OF YOJANA) Digital India-At The Heart of Poorna Swaraj

[DECEMBER-2018]


Digital India-At The Heart of Poorna Swaraj

The promise of freedom and true empowerment at national, organizational and individual level was the intent behind the freedom movement championed by founding fathers like Bhagat Singh and Gandhi. The absence of which was object poverty, oppression at every level and exploitation of the average Indian in British hands. Gandhi, in his wisdom understood that perfection of freedom is paramount and transcends the need for perfection of government.

“For me the only training in Swaraj we need is the ability to defend ourselves against the whole world and to live our natural life in perfect freedom, even though it may be full of defects. Good government is no substitute for self-government.” M.K. Gandhi, September, 1920.

Fortunately, India has understood this spanning parties and administrations. Over the decades, fundamental rights have been established. Systems are in place to empower every individual- to ensure equality and fairness in nutrition, health, education, law and order and right to livelihood via farms, business or MNREGA. But unfortunately, thought we have been successful at a massive scale, hundreds of million still suffer under the yoke of poverty and exploitation.

Digital India providing information equality to everyone is the final realization of poorna swaraj for every individual. Digital India spans three fundamental blocks- universal broadband, 100 percent digital services and Open APIs.

This information problem, this information asymmetry due to a few malicious actors in spite of the sweat of the toiling masses, good intentions of many of our elected officials and best efforts of our most of our administrative officer- is why we, as a nation, have been unable to overcome. Macro economically, the facts are devastating. According to India’s CEC in 2015, it was observed that the PDS was most effective at reaching the poorest and the masses.

Even in the PDS. Grains do not reach 25-50 percent of the poor. Other programs like fertilizer subsidy, electricity and water are far worse. The cause is quite obvious- a country as vast as India requires systems and layers of processes and people responsible for implementation. Typically these chains of responsible actors, both public and private, are 10 to 15 long. Even one bad malicious actor in this chain disrupts, destroying the good intentions and work of the entire chains. At scale, the entire system is tainted- where, we as a nation, along with our policy makers have lost faith.
Since Independence, India’s share of global trade has barely budged- we account for 2 percent of global exports, while India’s share of global GDP has declined to around 3.1 percent from the 4 percent it used to be at independence.

Three Blocks of Digital India

Reversing this trends, unleashing India’s vast potential requires a level of transparency, speed of operations and efficiency in implementation-including eliminating leakage- at a national scale. In parallel, we need to build so much confidence in our ability to trust the system that we give pure freedom to our professionals, innovators and enterprises to conduct business at a speed that makes them global leaders.

All of this is very much possible only with three blocks that constitute Digital India. The caution is digital India cannot be done piecemeal. If we fail to serve everything digitally or fail to ensure it reaches everyone, we make the problem worse by deepening the asymmetry and creating chokepoints. Universal affordable broadband at speeds of 10-15 Mbps for each person and home ensures that each of our 1.3 billion citizens is empowered. Delivering every service digitally dissolves friction while bringing transparency and trust at all levels. And every digital government service available as one Open API ensures uniformity of access, sparking a Cambrian explosion of services using governance services. Aadhaar, GSTN, eSign, UPI are all vibrant examples of this approach. Digital India’s Open APIs are solely responsible for India’s leadership position in the global Fintech revolution underway.

Era of Infinite Productivity

India’s potential, once we peer beyond our current systemic problems is vast. We are heading into an era of infinite productivity fueled by AI and robotics. Economies will shift from resources, capital and labor constraints to resources, capital and invention constraints. All successful large enterprises will be resource rich, invention rich or both. All others will diminish.

Every global economy will go through social upheaval as jobs disappear and people are left to fend for themselves. India is already witnessing this trend-where we are growing as an economy but formal jobs are not growing at the same rate. I use formal to mean measurable formal jobs with payroll. The World Bank has assessed that India will lose 69 percent of its existing jobs.

This new infinity economy has two sources growth for India. Innovation enterprise owned by Indian situated in India will be the primary source of India will be the primary source of Indian government revenue which fuels our social programs and defense. What is in the way is friction of doing business. This will disappear if we do implement all digital India fully in all three dimensions to create an environment of zero friction enterprise. These enterprises will be staffed by the best and brightest in the world, which Indian higher education produces in numbers. Such enterprises will no longer be $1 billion unicorns; they will be $100 billion singularities which even at that size will grow 20-30 percent CAGR. Singularity enterprise is a winner takes all game, the bigger ones accelerating even faster.

Singularity Enterprises

However, the number of jobs created by these singularity enterprises will be miniscule-less than 5 percent of the country will be employed this way at best. I am often asked what the rest of the 95 percent will then do. I struggled with this for a while and in my humility realized that Gandhi gave us the answer decade’s back-humble, local, sustainable work. India is also a country of 1.3 billion. India is also a country of about 160 million small and micro enterprises of which 80 million are known. And for every known micro-enterprise, there is a locally visible home business usually run by a woman. Universal broadband married with ease of access via digital services and Open APIs will unleash India’s true power. India will never be a center for factor labor, nor will we ever be a nation of white collar workers. When I first moved back to India in 2004, I happened to visit a large retailer to find that the checkout clerk could barely operate the machine, was slow in handling customers, was slow in handling customers, looked disinterested and dull-dramatic departure from counterparts in other countries. The same week, happened to visit a local medical store and asked for a silver cream. The fourteen year old who was the owner’s son with a bright same immediately recognised it was for a burn, found the medicine within 15 seconds and suggested what else could help minor burns.

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These 160 million small and micro-enterprises, if truly empowered. Will not just create self-sufficiency for themselves. At scale they will solve two nation scale problems. They will solve the problem of agriculture income by collaborating with farmers to augment farm produce with derivative products, where at least a third of the net value of farm output will vest with the farmer. An illustration with potatoes is important to understand in the digital context. As I write this article, potato is retailing at Rs 27/kg in Delhi. Today, farmers would be happy to get just Rs 6/Kg, a margin of Rs 1. This will increase by Rs 3/Kg or more if supply chains get digitized, quadrupling their income. Even then, they may not move firmly out of poverty into the middle class. What if the farmer and their local neighborhood small business cold turn a fraction of these potatoes into derivatives-like got chips- and sell via emerging digital commerce platforms- whose logistic networks are just starting to touch rural India but will soon be firmly enmeshed. Both these possibilities- higher fraction of final sale value of commodities via digital commerce and moving up the values chain of farmers led by local enterprise-will dramatically transform farm income and livelihood, perhaps reversing the trends of systematic abandonment of farms

In parallel, as 160 million micro businesses starts thriving, they will solve the employment problem at a massive, hyper local scale. An anecdote is relevant. Years ago, when I was studying value of information to the disaffected as Head of Products of Google India, we ran across this sunar in Calcutta who has almost run out of business as he was unable to compete with modern jewellery stores and the fad of fake jewellery. For a change of scenery he happened to visit his relative in Delhi and saw this carpenter using the internet to find cool furniture designs.

A hundred and sixty million entrepreneurs coming on to the internet will be a planetary event. It will impact the planet at a magnitude that the American industrial revolution did. We will leap from 2 percent of global exports to 20 percent in a span of two three decades. All we need to do is ring fence our enterprises, while ensuring broadband and every government service is delivered digitally via Open APIs reaching each Indian. The elite in India do not need to solve poverty. The average Indian as always and in everything, will do even this for themselves, if we just open the gate for them a little. It is possible. “Saare Jehan Se Accha- Ek Peedhi Mein” Cooperation on Digital Communication and Economy discussed between India and European Commission.

The Minister of State for Communication Government of India and the H.E. Mr Andrus Ansip, European Commissioner for Digital single Market and Vice President of the European Commission met in New Delhi to discuss cooperation on Digital communication, Digital economy and society. Both sides noted the importance of supporting global standards and welcomed the close technical cooperation between the Indian and European Telecom Standardization Development Organization-TSDSI and ETSI. India and the EU will work together to develop joint plans of action in the agreed areas of cooperation such as-future networks and emerging technologies including 5G, LoT/M2M etc. promoting R&D and innovation, network security, spectrum management, enhanced capacity development as well as policy and regulatory requirements among other.

EU expressed interest in strengthening cooperation in the areas of testing and certification by supporting the visit of India Government experts to the European testing and certification laboratories for telecom equipment, with a view to exploring the possibility of India recognizing EU certifications. EU side also discussed about basic custom duties on some ICT products. The India-EU cooperation dialogue on Digital Communications will take place annually through appropriate mechanism within the existing framework of the India-EU joint Working Group on ICTs which was set up in 2011. Both sides agreed to hold the next India-EU dialogue on cooperation in the field of Digital communication in the first half of 2019.

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