On August 13, 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a digital platform, ‘Transparent Taxation—Honoring the Honest’, to promote transparency in tax collection. Taking one more step towards seizing the ‘Digital India’ dream, the Transparent Taxation platform is expected to reinforce efforts of reforming and simplifying the tax system, bring transparency in income tax systems and empower taxpayers.
In the last five years, the Digital India programme has driven rapid technology implementation in the country. Some of the top digital technologies supported programme that has engaged huge space in e-governance model include Aadhaar expansion, Direct Benefit Transfer, Common Services Centers, DigiLocker, mobile-based UMANG services, participatory governance through-MyGov and Jeevan-Pramaan.
Similarly, easy access to e-government schemes, like Ayushman Bharat, e-Hospital, PM-Kisan, e-NAM, Soil Health Cards, National Scholarship Portal, and e-Pathshala, has taken better governance to remote areas.
In terms of digital payment, Bharat bill payment system (BBPS) has achieved notable growth with a CAGR of 1,590% in volume and 1,650% in value from FY 2017 to FY 2020. Further, Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AePS) has been a game-changer for the government in achieving its aim of financial inclusion, and its acceptance will continue to grow in the coming years. The AePS platform observed growth of 253% in volume and 264% in value.
Still, there are many challenges for the Digital India programme. The biggest and critical challenge is to create a national database of an estimated 450 million informal sector workers and provide them with universal social security coverage. The Indian Government is planning to count of rickshaw pullers, street-side vendors and hawkers, and other unorganised workforce.
As part of this exercise, the Indian Government will collect details about informal sector workers that would include their occupation, monthly incomes and days of employment. Subsequently, their profiles would be seeded with Aadhaar to deliver the benefits.
Nearly 90% of India’s workforce is in the informal sector, with no minimum wages or any social security. The national worker database is expected to yield crucial employment data on the informal sector, filling a critical gap in India’s statistics.
The National Statistical Commission has been asked to compile data on the size, distribution and economic contribution of these unorganised workers to the national output. The exercise will start soon and take at least a year to complete. The national worker database is a must to build “Atmanirbhar Bharat” digitally. Amid Corona virus pandemic, we have seen atrocities and suffering of migrant workers. Neither Bharat lack resources nor willingness to empower its workers. Bharat considers its workers as भारत भाग्य विधाता. The national worker database will enable the government and society to provide resources and support to workers at the right time and in the right quantity. Indian Government should partner with private players especially Indian start-ups to build not only the national worker database but also solutions for them.
Digital India, backed by Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the future of e-governance in India. The recent launch of ‘National AI Portal’ and ‘Responsible AI for Youth’ is expected to take governance through AI-powered future.
AI is not a distinct sector. Instead, AI is an enabler for all sectors. E.g. mobility AI, education AI, health AI, agriculture AI etc. AI could be used in helping farmers make better decisions, expand tax collections and healthcare. The Supreme Court of India is using AI to translate legal papers from English to nine Indian languages and vice versa.
AI has Two Elements: Technology and Data
As per a German survey, the tentative worth of an individual’s data is 140 euro. On this basis and considering other local aspects, our research predicts the value of India’s data is $2 trillion tentatively. Thus, India’s Data protection bill should safeguard and boost the political economy of data. In the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI), data has tremendous value. E.g. A cancer patient pays 40%-50% of his treatment cost by investing his treatment /health data in training a pharma company’s AI model.
The Indian Government will collect details about informal sector workers that would include their occupation, monthly incomes and days of employment. Subsequently, their profiles would be seeded with Aadhaar to deliver the benefits. Nearly 90% of India’s workforce is in the informal sector, with no minimum wages or any social security. The national worker database is expected to yield crucial employment data on the informal sector, filling a critical gap in India’s statistics
The politics (e.g. Controlling public opinion) and economics (e.g. enforcing companies to invest locally on data centre and data processing) shape the data policies of a country. To safeguard the political economy of data while ensuring the availability of data to the local AI industry, the Government of India has set-up a committee, led by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan, on governing non-personal data. Recently, the committee put out its draft report for public consultation. At the report’s core is an effort to ensure that non-personal data is shared and made available widely to enable the development of a strong domestic AI industry. The report typifies data collected from a community or society as “community data”, and recommends for it to be shared for the community or society’s welfare. Such data should be available to the local AI industry. Data governance is a daunting and complicated task. Thus, to build “Atmanirbhar Bharat” digitally, robust data governance policy is needed to safeguard and boost the political economy of data.
In conclusion, to build “Atmanirbhar Bharat” digitally, the Indian government’s flagship programme—Digital India has prepared a strong base. Further, the government and society must digitally empower the workers—भारत भाग्य विधाता—by building the national worker database. Furthermore, creating a robust data governance policy to safeguard and boost the political economy of data while ensuring the availability of data to the local AI industry will enable Bharat to realise the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” in all the sectors.(The writer is the Founder & CEO, WUS—A Unified digital community for Workers and Trade Unions. He is also a Pentland-Churchill fellow for Global Public Policy leadership at New York University (NYU) and University College London)