Prime Minister Narendra Modi told US tech greats that his government’s vision of Digital India was an enterprise to transform India on a scale “perhaps, unmatched in human history” that would touch the lives of those living in the farthest corners of the country and also change the way the nation “will live and work”.
In his speech at the Digital India dinner here, Modi recounted the way technology was helping make connectivity easier, with the internet, mobile phone and Skype touching the lives not only of farmers, villagers and those living in cities but also connecting doctors in India with hospitals in other countries.
“Today, technology is advancing citizen empowerment and democracy that once drew their strength from Constitutions. Technology is forcing governments to deal with massive volume of data and generate responses, not in 24 hours but in 24 minutes,” he said.
He said with Digital India, the government will “transform governance, making it more transparent, accountable, accessible and participative.”
“I spoke of e-Governance as a foundation of better governance – efficient, economical and effective. I now speak of m-governance or mobile governance. That is the way to go in a country with one billion cell phones and use of smart phones growing at high double digit rates.”
Modi said: “Since my government came to office, we attacked poverty by using power of networks and mobile phones to launch a new era of empowerment.”
“I see technology as a means to empower and as a tool that bridges the distance between hope and opportunity,” he said. “In this digital age, we have an opportunity to transform lives of people in ways that was hard to imagine just a couple of decades ago.”
Modi said the government wants paperless transactions and announced plans to set up a “digital locker for every citizen to store personal documents that can be shared across departments”.
He said the e-biz portal set-up is aimed to make approvals for businesses and citizens easy and efficient.
The government, he said, is using technology to impart scale and speed to development and for this there is need to bridge the digital divide and promote digital literacy in the same way as ensuring general literacy.
Modi said: “We want our 1.25 billion citizens to be digitally connected. We already have broadband usage across India go up by 63 percent last year. We need to accelerate this further.”
He said the government has launched an aggressive expansion of the National Optical Fibre Network that will take broadband to 600,000 villages. All schools and colleges would be connected with broadband. “Building I-ways are as important as highways,” he said.
The government is expanding public Wi-Fi hotspots and will ensure that free Wi-Fi is available not only in airport lounges, but also on railway platforms. He announced that Google will provide Wi-Fi at 500 railway stations in a short time.
He also announced the setting up of Common Service Centres in villages and towns and that information technology would be used to build smart cities.
Modi said the government wants to turn villages into smart economic hubs and connect farmers better to markets and make them less vulnerable to the whims of weather.
“Access also means that content should be in local languages. In a country with 22 official languages, it is a formidable, but an important task,” he said.
“Affordability of products and services is critical for our success. There are many dimensions to this. We will promote manufacture of quality and affordable products in India. That is part of our vision of Make in India, Digital India and Design in India,” he added.
He said along with promoting connecting the different services, the government will also give the highest importance to data privacy and security, intellectual property rights and cyber security.
Inviting the tech giants, including Google, Microsoft, Adobe and others to participate, Modi said: “So, from creating infrastructure to services, from manufacture of products to human resource development, from support governments to enabling citizens and promoting digital literacy, Digital India is a vast cyber world of opportunities for you.”
“Today, we speak of India-US partnership as a defining partnership of this century. It hinges on two major reasons. Both converge here in California.”
“We all know that the dynamic Asia Pacific Region will shape the course of this century. And, India and the United States, the world’s two largest democracies, are located at the two ends of this region.”
“We have the responsibility to shape a future of peace, stability and prosperity in this region,” Modi said.