Technology is increasingly demonstrating its ability to solve problems in critical socioeconomic areas such as financial inclusion and healthcare. Data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and India's growing digital footprint have resulted in a plethora of products and services for ordinary Indians. It is critical for Indian policymakers to facilitate and accelerate this technology adoption to the grassroots.

The Indian digital story has evolved based on a strong hold of Information Communications and Technology (ICT), with the foremost aim of making technology “inclusive”, “affordable”, “transformative” and “accessible” for all. Government initiatives such as Digital India, Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), Government e-Marketplace (GeM) aim to actively transform India into both a knowledge-based economy and a digitally empowered society. As less-affluent states leapfrog to catch up with more-affluent states, India's digital divide has been decreasing rapidly. Seven of the ten states with the fastest growth in internet subscribers have per capita GDP lower than India's average between 2014 and 2018. Uttar Pradesh alone added 36 million internet subscriptions over this time span, accounting for 12 per cent of India's total incremental internet subscriptions. Similarly, eight of the top ten states with the most gram panchayats covered by Common Services Centres (CSCs) had a lower GDP per capita than India as a whole.

In today's India, financial inclusion is at the heart of its social-security system. In India, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana resulted in a massive increase in financial inclusion. Further, fintech is expanding on the achievement of financial inclusion by providing a variety of payment and transaction possibilities. For example, BHIM and UPI have clearly improved people's quality of life. According to the National Payments Corporation of India, till March 2022 UPI had processed 5.04 billion transactions, amounting to INR 8.88 trillion1. This is incredible in terms of both volume and value. The next 'fix' being used is to deploy these channels to increase formal credit access to make credit more accessible and affordable. If we look at the financial inclusion ecosystem in India, an array of changes over the past decade or so have gone a long way in ensuring increased levels of financial inclusivity in our villages. Looking back, one of the biggest challenges that we faced in this area were to boost the supply of financial services to meet increasing levels of demand. The lack of proper infrastructure and high operational costs constrained the governments efforts to reach the last mile, leaving a considerable number of rural families behind. In the last decade, however, advances in technology, goods and channels, and regulatory frameworks have finally brought financial services to the fingertips of millions of individuals, especially the rural folk.

In India, several advancements have been made in the delivery of financial services. The Union Cabinet approved a scheme called "Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA)" in 2017 to promote digital literacy in rural India by covering 6 crore rural households. This is the world’s largest digital literacy program, under which so far, around 5.78 crore individuals have been enrolled, and 4.90 crore have been trained, with approximately 3.62 crore candidates receiving certification under this system.2 Frameworks such as fintech unicorns, Optical Fibre Connectivity (BharatNet), Smart Villages and Common Service Centres (CSCs) have been significant in minimising the cost of client acquisition for a market of over a billion people. These projects have provided remote communities with an unprecedented opportunity. Mobile network providers have been able to bring superior data connectivity and mobile networks to rural areas owing to rapidly decreasing smartphone prices, providing individuals real-time connectivity and access.

Through the combination of Jan Dhan bank accounts and mobile phones and the establishment of a digital identity through Aadhaar, the poor can now receive benefits directly into their bank accounts. More than INR 36,659 crore have been transferred using Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) through Public Financial Management System (PFMS) in the bank accounts of millions of beneficiaries. During coronavirus pandemic, cash benefits announced under Prime Minister Garib Kalyan Yojana package have also been transferred using DBT, mostly to the poorest households.

According to Prabhat Labh, CEO of Grameen Foundation India, the JAM trinity (Jan Dhan accounts, the Aadhaar ID system, and mobile technology) when combined with abundant data on customer behaviours and preferences can enable the creation of entirely new business models that offer highly efficient, scalable, and intelligent processes for customer acquisition, servicing, cross-selling, and up-selling.

In recent years digital banking, digital payments, and fintech innovations have exploded in popularity in the country. The government continues to support these industries in order to ensure that the benefits of digital banking reach every corner of the country in a consumer-friendly manner. To forward this objective and mark the country's 75th anniversary of independence, Scheduled Commercial Banks are proposing the establishment of 75 Digital Banking Units (DBUs) in 75 districts across the country.

In the past few years India has been witnessing a spurt of digital payments owing to increased transparency and accountability. As of 29th March 2022, UPI had processed 5.04 billion transactions, which was 11.5 per cent higher in volume than February and around 7.5 per cent higher in terms of value of transactions processed. Over 2 trillion transactions were processed using the AePS (Aadhar-enabled payment system) last year.3

Besides making ease of living easier for people, technology has several other critical applications in domains such as healthcare. The shortage of doctors, the availability and affordability of pharmaceuticals and the absence of universally available healthcare are all challenges in Indian healthcare. Continuing with the government’s digital India initiative, the Prime Minister launched the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission in September 2021 to create a digital health repository for all Indians. To further the use of technology in medicine, there has been an unprecedented expansion of telemedicine during the pandemic. Till the end of September 2021, around 125 crore remote consultations have been completed under the e-Sanjeevani portal of the Indian government. Every day, this facility connects thousands of citizens living in remote areas of the country with doctors from large city hospitals from the comforts of their home. Further, people of all ages have been affected by the pandemic, which has exacerbated mental health issues. A 'National Tele Mental Health Program' has been developed to improve access to high-quality mental health counselling and treatment services. This would feature a network of 23 world-class tele-mental health centres, with NIMHANS serving as the nodal centre and the International Institute of Information Technology-Bangalore (IIITB) providing technical support.

In times of rapid change in the post-Covid world, technology should be at the forefront of health care as it has the potential to revolutionise the Indian healthcare ecosystem. E-health can ensure efficiency in healthcare, thereby lowering costs, it can also enhance the quality of healthcare by allowing comparisons between different service providers, it can promote evidence-based treatment and can empower patients by making medicine's knowledge base and personal electronic records accessible. Doing so would also be crucial in increasing the scope of healthcare beyond its traditional boundaries.

“Digital delivery of services” has simplified the manner in which citizens interact with the government, helping them to effectively avail various services and enhance their overall standard of living. Common Service Centres (CSCs) are the world's largest digital service delivery network, with a broad reach in rural areas up to Gram Panchayat and Block level. These broadband-connected kiosks with information and communication technologies have been offering citizens with a variety of government, private, and social services. Between January 1st and October 31st, 2020, 6,467 additional functional CSCs (both urban and rural) were added, with 10,339 functional CSCs added at the Gram Panchayat level. 4Recently, CSCs have become centres for digital empowerment in rural areas and are actively playing the role of disseminating digital literacy at the grassroot levels.

Further, Jeevan Pramaan or Digital Life Certificate biometric enabled digital service for pensioners of Central Government, State Government, EPFO or any other government organizations can take benefit of this facility at their doorstep or at any post offices. 5 Since 2014, over 2.48 crore digital life certificates have been submitted.

The UMANG mobile app (Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance) is a Government of India all-in-one single, unified, secure, multi-channel, multi-lingual, multi-service mobile app that provides access to high impact services of various Government of India departments and state governments. The app has now grown to provide 2039 services and the count is galloping ahead on a real-time basis. Over 3 years, UMANG has reached a level of more than 3.75 crore downloads and 2.5 crore registered users.6 7As of July 2021 the Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology (MeitY) has enabled map services in the “UMANG App” through an MoU with MapmyIndia. Citizens will be able to find government institutions near them, such as mandis, blood banks, and more, at the touch of a button, thanks to the integration of UMANG with MapmyIndia Maps. Through such efforts, the government has been expanding the basket of services for citizens through deeper technology access.

The UMANG application has already started providing the following functionalities including:

  • Mera Ration: helps users identify and navigate to the nearest Fair Price Shops
  • Enam: Through the 'Mandi Near Me' service on UMANG users can identify and navigate to the nearby mandis pointed on the map
  • The 'Damini Lightning Alerts' service gives users a visual of nearby places where lightning has struck in the recent few minutes to offer lightning alerts. On the map display, this alert mechanism shows the potential of lightning strikes.

Further, services like the DigiLocker aim to give citizens access to all their lifelong documents in a single digital wallet and all such government-issued citizen-centric proof documents are equally valid under Indian laws. DigiLocker already issues digital copies of Ration Cards and Marriage Certificates for a majority of Indian states. Additionally, DigiLocker is in discussion with Passport Seva for the issuance of Passport to further enhance coverage of citizen-services digitally.8


This article has been authored by Ishita Sirsikar and was originally published in the Yojana Magazine. 

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