The NDA government’s ambitious attempt to bridge the so-called digital divide by moving all services and entitlements online is fraught with serious hurdles from the word go, experts say.
Global evidence suggests that simply providing computers or cheap broadband will not automatically lead to greater usage.
“The big question is how do you do it? Do you cable up the entire country? The short answer is, it cannot be a homogenous platform,” said Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a Rajya Sabha MP, who as a former chip engineer at Intel worked in the team that developed 486 Pentium processor and also launched India’s first mobile services company, the erstwhile BPL Mobile.
Scarily enough, the government’s blueprint says the main driver of the programme, the National Informatics Centre, is not capable of undertaking a fraction of the task required.
Closing the digital gap in India will primarily mean “dis-intermediating” governance, Chandrasekhar said. India is still one of the most underserved countries, where the distance between government and citizens, in terms of access, is significant. Typically, middlemen take a cut for bringing government services to the doorstep.
“I don’t think we can have all of this purely as a state-driven exercise,” says Rahul Khandekar, CEO of E-Serve, a IT Services firm.
Experts say the country will also need a smart payment system that works for government services.
According to a 2012 report, 25% of attempts to book a ticket on the Indian Railways site end in failures. Some of the more difficult challenges are cultural: one-fifth of those who have a smartphone don’t think it is a reliable way to transact.