In digital era, Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) have become an important tool of socio-economic development, and the digital technologies are changing our daily lives. There is a need to develop a more robust ICT ecosystem for the country, including in rural India. ICT should be leveraged to empower the citizens with knowledge; to provide access to meaningful livelihood opportunities and to facilitate improvement in standards of living.
At the same time, there is a need to address the challenges emanating from the disruptive nature of modern technology, especially related to cyber security and skill upgradation. Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning for healthcare, Blockchain for land records and public records, and Big Data Analytics for government services can deliver huge benefits to Indian citizens especially those below the poverty line. There is a need for strong encouragement for start-ups and MSME’s working in emerging technologies.
By expanding more and more content on internet in local Indian languages, we can bring more people online, who can further benefit from digital empowerment. The government should formulate policies supporting the Indic language technology industry. It should also expedite the coverage of broadband network through greater investments in digital infrastructure. There should be targeted measures to enhance digital literacy and ensure that education and skilling ecosystem facilitate adjustment of people’s skills to new-age requirements of the digital economy.
India is in the process of putting an e-commerce ecosystem in place, which would help leverage full potential of the sector while creating massive job opportunities. It is critical that the e-commerce readiness challenges are addressed on a priority basis. For instance, even though the use of ICT has increased, basic challenges like poor physical infrastructure, costs, privacy and security concerns continue to remain. A robust and comprehensive policy framework to address the security issues must be developed. Also, the e-payment ecosystem and local supply chain linkages need to be strengthened on a priority basis.
Suggestions for the government in the following two broad areas are:
ICT and Telecom
- Provide incentives by way of tax rationalisation for roll-out and sharing of telecom infrastructure such as optical fibre and telecom towers.
- Expedite the coverage of broadband network through greater investments in digital infrastructure.
- Provision of digital services such as public wi-fi in the rural areas should be accorded priority and service providers working in these areas should be accorded infrastructure sector status. Government should target to build around 8 million hotspots across the nation.
- Offer tax holiday for production of ICT products for export markets.
- Increase budgetary allocation for digital networks and infrastructure for smart cities.
- Develop a ‘Language e-Marketplace Platform’ where all the translation and localisation requirements of the government and industry can be met. Additionally, formulate favourable government policies supporting the Indic language technology industry, especially for start-ups and MSMEs.
- Announce setting up of an institutional framework in the country for artificial intelligence (AI). Adequate allocation of funds be made to set up research centres in this area.
Fintech including Digital Payments and Digital Lending
- Initiate work on setting up of a ‘National Data and Document Exchange’ to facilitate paperless and instant exchange of documents to support straight through verification and compliance for individuals and businesses.
- Set-up an ‘Acceptance Development Fund’ to improve payment infrastructure in the country.
- Waive import duties for POS manufacturers and offer infrastructure status to POS (point-of-sale) devices.
- Issue guidelines for Video-In-Person verification as a viable alternate to physical KYC.
- Provide clarity and reintroduce voluntary usage of Aadhaar based e-sign as this makes it easy for customers to execute agreements and authenticate payment transactions.
- The regulatory sandbox for fintechs should enable the engagement of all financial regulators as an inter-regulatory unit.
- Launch a National Awareness Program for creating customer awareness on basic cyber security hygiene.
(The author is Co-Chair, FICCI ICT and Digital Economy Committee)