india-cloud
Cloud Computing

A Digital Cloud for Every Indian

Lately, there have been a slew of policy announcements made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after taking over the reins of Indian government in May 2014.  Among the fresh initiatives announced, a digital cloud for every Indian has generated a lot of interest among various sections of the Indian population.

Rishi Bhatnagar, Head of Digital Enterprise Services at Tech Mahindra told us in a statement that the company is “excited” about the development. Bhatnagar added that with experience of implementing eGovernance in urban development bodies and other sectors, Tech Mahindra will be in a unique position to support and realise the digital India dream.

Not surprisingly, this organisation is not alone in hailing the initiative of digital cloud for every Indian. In fact, the entire IT sector is agog as it smells big money in the scheme. And while the exact figures are not available, the digital cloud for every Indian is part of the larger Digital India project for which the Government of India has put aside around USD 20 billion. There is no doubt that many people and enterprises will be waiting with palpitating hearts for the project to take off.

The history of digital initiatives in India

The concept of using the power of digital technology is not new to India. Some even claim that this initiative by Narendra Modi, is nothing but old tea in a new cup. In fact the cloud was launched earlier in February 2014 by the UPA government and was known as Meghraj. This literally means ‘King of the Clouds’ and the project was intended to improve eGovernance by utilising existing infrastructure.

A committee was set up under S Gopalakrishnan, an executive from another of the big tech powerhouses, Infosys. This committee also included heavyweights from various agencies, both government and private. Two reports, GI Cloud Strategic Direction Paper and GI Cloud Adoption on Implementation Roadmap were generated after consultation with various stakeholders. However, by the time these recommendations could be implemented, the BJP government had taken over and Meghraj, the king of clouds was dethroned.

Digital initiatives from the Indian government date back even further. These go back to the days of UIDAI or Unique Identification Authority of India. Named Aadhaar, this was a massive operation intended to provide unique identification to every Indian citizen.  Though there have been concerns about the security and issuance of bogus cards to outsiders, the project has been hailed as a moderate success.

On 11 September 2014, UIDAI received a shot in the arm when Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised continued support to the Aadhaar project and sanctioned USD 200 million for enrolling 1000 million Indians by the end of 2015. The new government is eager to support Aadhaar since it believes that its proper implementation would plug any leaks in their subsidy schemes.

What about the new scheme?

Having witnessed so many variations on the same digital theme, questions are being raised on the future of this new digital cloud. An important member of NASSCOM, National Association of Software and Services Companies, claims that this initiative will give a huge boost to the IT industry even if a fraction of the intended objectives are realised. Indeed, hope among industry stalwarts is high because this time around the objectives do seem clear and well defined.

Indian bureaucracy is outdated and still lives in the shadows of British Raj. Everyone is in agreement that the government machinery is corrupt and dishonest. As a result, billions in subsidies never reach their intended recipients but remain in the pockets of crooked officials. The digital cloud initiative intends to break this stranglehold of corrupt lower bureaucracy by digitising all documents and keeping them in a ‘digital vault’.

Once the scheme is implemented, there will be no need to carry hard copy certificates. This will kill two types of bureaucrats with one stone – those who delay processes due to innate tardiness and of course, corrupt officials. Government issued certificates like medical, school and birth will be digitised and stored in individual digital vaults, obviating the need to present paper documents. As some industry commentators suggest, the initiative by itself is not novel but needs to be implemented properly.   

Is it likely to work?

The digital cloud for every Indian looks good on paper but there are numerous roadblocks when it comes to implementation. India is still a rural economy and the majority of the population still live in villages. Many places don’t even have road connectivity let alone access to broadband and the internet.  

The government of India, through its digital India Project, intends to focus on three main areas. The first is to provide digital infrastructure in the cloud, the second is to provide connectivity through internet and mobiles and the third is to facilitate cashless and paperless transactions.  To achieve this objective, the BJP government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is providing the much required momentum to the project by offering communication services using National Optic Fibre Network. Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister for IT and Telecom, has promised to connect 2.5 million village administrations within two years.

Can there be any program or enterprise without the participation of social media? The government of India has invited lay citizens, who were till now excluded from participating in the decision making process, to provide their input through a portal MyGov.in. Interestingly, more than 200,000 people have registered their names. Hopefully this inclusiveness will lead to a more robust and viable digital cloud program.

All sectors within IT, be it hardware, infrastructure, software and related services, are already taking up battle positions. As one industry insider put it - big players will certainly claim a large chunk of the cake but there is scope to make money for the small ones too. The only fear is that corporate greed mixed with pliable government officials may spoil the party.

 

Sankarambadi Srinivasan, ‘Srini’, is a maverick writer, technopreneur and a geek. He writes on transformational social processes and technology trends which influence our daily lives.

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Sankarambadi Srinivasan

Sankarambadi Srinivasan, ‘Srini’, is a maverick writer, technopreneur and a geek. He writes on transformational social processes and technology trends which influence our daily lives.

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