Ten citizen-centric ideas for the Government to make Digital India even more awesome

Posted by Admin on February 09, 2017

By Puneet Khunger

In my earlier blog on One Globe in early-2015, I tried to size up the opportunity that Digital India initiative presented. The government had just announced it with a vision to transform India into a knowledge economy. In the blog, I had predicted that “Modi’s vision...seems to be to provide the policy framework, incentives, and ease of doing business to drive a participative growth agenda”for Digital India. When only a handful of industry thought-leaders came forward to embrace this radical vision, I had also suggested in my concluding remarks that “if you are still sitting by the fence to wait and watch how the #DigitalIndia vision is going to pan out, you may just miss the bus”. I am excited to see that within just two years, the concept is no longer a “startup” in its gestation phase but has already grown to a level where it is accepted by the industry as a “given”

Demonetization in November 2016 sure has been a recent game-changing masterstroke on the part of the government to swiftly push India towards a cashless economy. For example, within just 24 hours of the announcement, Paytm’s app downloads had zoomed up by 200%, within the first 12 days, it had witnessed 7 million+ transactions and crossed $5 billion GMV sales, and in just a quarter, it is now looking to raise another $180-200 million from China’s Alibaba.

The government is also aligning the states with its vision of a cashless economy through competitive federalism. But notebandi is not the only enabler of digital in India - the government has been taking progressive steps on multiple fronts to evenly address a vibrant spectrum of needs of “Bharat” as well as “India”. Relatively basic interventions ranged from the Prime Minister’s personalized New Year greetings to India’s citizens and directly connecting with 1.8m policemen through SMS, to mobilizing citizen engagement through the MyGov portal for tasks such as sharing ideas for smart cities and Union Budget to sector-specific forums, and even quizzes, surveys and logo designing competitions. Digital India Awards were institutionalized, obviously. India’s own federal MOOCs platform, SWAYAM, has been launched. This year’s Union Budget especially laid emphasis on a cashless economy and a Digital India through a slew of announcements. Some of them have already been put in motion within the first week itself. For example, one of the largest digital literacy programmes, the 'Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan' (PMGDISHA) has been approved by the Cabinet to extend digital literacy to 6 crore rural households. Media is replete with many more such examples of India taking rapid strides to go digital.

In this blog, however, I, as a citizen of India, want to put forth my personal wishlist of things that the Government should enable as part of its Digital India 2.0 program.

1.    Allow free data consumption to download updates of globally accepted mobile apps which can be categorized as essential, for example, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, etc.

Benefits: Increased national security, less monthly cost burden on citizens in frequent downloads, better user experience. Shifting some of the cost burden is also expected to propel telecom and digital companies to innovate and resolve the challenge of ‘full app’ download instead of ‘smaller patches’, or to compress apps without compromising on security or features

2.    Make KYC mandatory for all Facebook & Twitter accounts in India. Else, have an expert level inquiry into alternate ways to increase accountability of content being posted on these platforms, especially by bogus handles.

Benefits: Put an instant check on fake profiles being used to spread propaganda and fictitious marketing schemes, reduce clutter to keep these platforms relevant, improve quality of engagements and prevent cyber-frauds and profanity.

3.    Audit and de-jargonize all government websites, especially last-mile citizen services such as municipalities, PWD, etc.

Benefits: More citizen-centric sources of information & engagement

4.    Create a marketplace platform (portal/ app) for cleantech solutions where individuals can place online requests for end-to-end installation of solar panels and other solutions. Provide pin-code based costs for survey & estimate, purchases, installation and after-sales maintenance through certified merchants.

Benefits: Faster adoption of renewable energy sources, less pollution & burden on fossil fuels, increased revenue

5.    Develop a GPS-enabled app where citizens can pinpoint the exact location of any breakdown in the public delivery system such as potholes on roads, fused street lights, non-working traffic lights etc. and feed them into an SLA-based backend system for surgical restoration. Like Google Maps, validation of such complaints can be crowdsourced from three or more people to sanction a site inspection within a stipulated time. Like a CIBIL score, complaints can be ranked on priority based on the maximum number of validations. Initially, it can be rolled out with a fixed number of types of complaints, which can be gradually expanded and possibly also linked to other ministries and departments. The app should be citizen-friendly like the interactive Metro Rail map.

Benefits: More citizen centric approach; faster identification and resolution of transport-related public grievances, more happiness & productivity, lesser burden on economy due to lower vehicle maintenance costs and replacements

6.    Create a national shared knowledge repository for the public sector where government servants to upload (in a specified template) the case studies of their proven best practices that can be rapidly deployed in other locations/ departments/ ministries with minor localizations. Provide a clear and easy classification, navigation and tagging to enable relevant searches by other government departments for finding solutions to their pressing problems. Enable crowdsourced voting of ideas that worked for different departments.

Benefits: Rapid prototyping, efficiencies and effectiveness of public system by replicating proven successful models

7.    Create a stock-exchange-type tax pool where citizens can deposit their taxes directly. A large part of this tax (say seventy percent) can be spent at government’s discretion for priority areas identified by various ministries as is currently being done. For utilization of the rest of the taxes (say thirty per cent), citizens should be allowed to use their personal discretion to choose from top three to five listed priority projects where they would want their money to be used.

Benefits: Direct link between tax-benefit, participatory democracy, taking competitive federalism to the grassroots to augur economic growth, better tracking of project outlays versus outcomes

8.    Reward citizens for nation-building by linking their actions to Aadhar through which they can earn credit points. For example, by paying on time their taxes, electricity and water bills, and loan EMIs; casting vote in elections at all levels; savings in government schemes; top best contributions to MyGov; opening a digital account; switching to a digital mode of billing to save paper; and so. Develop a real-time social responsibility score for each citizen based on these credit points. Use this score to offer incentives in loan terms, discounts in purchases, rebates in public utilities like electricity, water, phone, public transport etc. Credit points accumulated through the lifetime can decide the social responsibility score ranking for calculating retirement incentives.

Benefits: Accelerating nation-building, instrument to direct public action, inspiration to the youth to start engaging in nation-building initiatives at an early age

9.    Create a publicly listed record of cases of economic offenses especially against people caught for hoarding black money. Provide a regular update on each case and analytics/ dashboards on turnaround times for each case, sorting options based on amount, name, region, etc. Over time, such updates can be in near-real time once the court proceedings have been digitized.

Benefit: Transparency, greater trust in the system, faster resolutions of case (especially high profile) due to public scrutiny

10.  Create a publicly listed record of welfare announcements made by various politicians and government office bearers at any level (Central, State, District). Depending on their sphere of influence, use enforcing mechanism to make it mandatory for each Minister, MP, MLA, and representative of leading political parties to create his or her accredited account on this portal. Crowdsource initial inputs from citizens to track such promises announced publicly. The onus of updating progress can be on the public figure who made that announcement. They can be allowed to proactively add their announcements to the portal proactively. Set up a dedicated, independent team that vets such records of promises in the database and tracks any delay in progress inputs and/ or project completion to send a reminder to the public figure. Announcements that do not make expected progress can be measured on the lines of NPAs and red-flagged publicly. Accounts of public figures can be linked to Aadhar-based credit point scorecard (like the social responsibility scorecard for citizens proposed above). Consistently time-bound completion of promises will give a chance to such public figures to improve the credibility score and gain access to additional funds for undertaking more projects. Conversely, delayed completion beyond grace period without genuine reasons, or bogus promises attract penalty in terms of lower public ranking and decreased access to funds in future.

Benefits: Make public figures accountable by curb incidences of bogus promises and non-delivery, increase trust in system, create a measurable index of merit to ask for votes

On a separate note, I wish the government also looks into the spiralling monthly charges of set top boxes nearly every quarter since these were made mandatory. This lock-in pricing strategy seems akin to a freemium model, and contrasts the promises made earlier that the overall cost would actually turn out to be lesser than cable TV. With India adopting digital so pervasively, it is only fair that the industry also starts to make profits finally, but some balancing mechanism must be thought through to ensure that it does not build on the trust deficit and is sustainable in the long run. For example, we are already feeling some pinch while booking movie tickets online! I welcome feedback from the readers on these suggestions, as well as ideas on what else we should be doing as a country to move towards becoming a digitally powered knowledge economy.


Puneet Khunger works with Gutenberg, a global digital integrated marketing communications firm, and has been supporting the One Globe Forum closely since its inception in 2011. The views expressed are personal. Among his latest passions, Puneet is trying to gather public support digitally on to inspire the government to analyze the existing and emerging challenges of vehicular parking due to rapid urbanization in various cities across India.