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Sansad TV: Diplomatic Dispatch- India’s Leadership in Digital Public Goods

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Introduction:

India’s digital infrastructure has not only changed how Indians live and operate but it has also caught the fancy of other countries around the world.

What are they?

  • Digital public goods are open-source software, open data, open AI models, open standards and open content that adhere to privacy and other applicable laws and best practices, do no harm by design, and help attain the SDGs.
  • DPG’s open format can be freely adopted and adapted, offering countries cost savings and digital sovereignty

India’s progress

  • India is pioneering the concept of digital public goods that enhance the ease, transparency and speed with which individuals, markets and governments interact with each other.
  • Built on the foundation of Aadhaar and India Stack, modular applications, big and small, are transforming the way we make payments (UPI revolution), withdraw our PF, get our passport and driving licence and check land records, to name just a few activities.
  • Children have access to QR-coded textbooks across state boards and languages, the economically disadvantaged have access to the public distribution system and beneficiaries of government schemes have money transferred directly into their bank accounts.
  • There is an opportunity for India to embark on digital diplomacy — to take its made-in-India digital public goods to hundreds of emerging economies across the world.
  • This could be a strategic and effective counter to China’s Belt and Road Initiative(BRI). But India needs to bring transformation in its technological, startup and innovation ecosystem.

Benefits of it:

  • Adoptable: They can be freely adopted by governments and agencies;
  • Variety: They don’t lock users into using a single technology;
  • Scalable: Successfully implemented digital public goods can be scaled elsewhere, saving time and money for testing and rollout;
  • Adaptable: They can be altered to cater to local issues, building long-term and country-specific ownership over the technology;
  • Collaborative: Users of a digital public good can collaborate easily;
  • Sustainable: Digital public goods are future-proof—in that “adaptations and iterations in countries can be supported by open-source communities”;
  • Transparent: The code for these open source solutions can be independently audited. This provides for transparent and accountable use of these technologies.

Impediments :

  • Privacy Issues: Potential violations of privacy and possible weaponization of data is a primary issue related to such digital initiatives.
  • Digital Divide: Success in the digital provision of services is dependent on many underlying factors, including digital literacy, education and access to stable and fast telecommunication services.
    • In this setting, undertaking large-scale digitisation of services without bridging these digital divides could result in increasing existing inequalities.
  • Security Issues: There is a cybersecurity challenge in ensuring end-to-end protection of data throughout the whole ecosystem.
    • While channels and databases used by the Government for transmission and storage are usually secure, other players in the ecosystem may not possess the requisite expertise or security to prevent and respond to breaches.
    • The alleged breach of the Aadhar database is a case in point.
  • Unserved Remote Areas: With digital services not being uniformly distributed, communities in remote areas often require on-ground staff to deploy and supplement digital tools.

Conclusion

  • Clearly identifying social issues and tailoring digital public goods to address them. One-size-fits-all approaches may not always work in favour of ordinary citizens.
  • India’s digital diplomacy can be beneficial to and welcomed by, all emerging economies from Peru to Polynesia, from Uruguay to Uganda, and from Kenya to Kazakhstan.
  • It can take made-in-India digital public goods across the world and boost India’s brand positioning as a leading technology player in the digital age.
  • It will also enable quick, visible and compounding benefits for India’s partner countries and earn India immense goodwill.