Public digital infrastructure has put India on the fast track of tech-driven growth


“Government 2.0, then, is the use of technology – especially the collaborative technologies at the heart of Web 2.0 – to better solve collective problems at city, state, national and international levels,” Tim O’Reilly, CEO of O’Reilly Media said in an article published in 2010. This article is considered to be the origin of the term “government as a platform”, a concept which was later popularized as public digital infrastructure. In later technology writing, the terms public digital assets as well as goods have also been used to describe governments using technology at scale to improve governance outcomes.

India’s push for public digital infrastructure began in August 2014. In his first speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort in New Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said digital infrastructure was key to empowering the citizens. The first such infrastructure program on financial inclusion named Jan Dhan Yojana was also launched through this speech.

As mobile phones permeated society, India went from being a connectivity-starved country to having the highest per capita data consumption and one of the lowest rates of mobile data per gigabyte in the world. At the same time, public service delivery has expanded through the use of Aadhaar, the 12-digit biometric identity assigned to every resident Indian. Eventually, the runaway success of this Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile (JAM) trinity paved the way for nationwide adoption of the concept of public digital infrastructure.

Today, India is leading the deployment of public digital infrastructure across a range of sectors to create reliable, low-cost and high-volume transactions for citizens. Digital India also attracts a large number of Indians to various technology platforms and then encourages innovation from the private sector to build on these platforms using application programming interfaces.

FinTech is the most recognized area of ​​this deployment of public digital infrastructure. In 2021, India accounted for over 40% of all global real-time payment transactions. In fiscal year 2021-22, payments through the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) exceeded $1 trillion in value. In April 2022, at the start of the new fiscal year, UPI payments soared to 5.5 billion transactions and over $127 billion in value. UPI didn’t exist until April 2016 – this big leap happened in just six years.

India’s Co-WIN or Winning Against COVID-19 platform has formed the backbone of the country’s vaccination against the virus that has ravaged the world. India is close to completing 2 billion doses of the vaccine, using a common technological infrastructure to standardize, schedule, track, trace and validate vaccinations.

Under the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission, India is working to create personal health records for all citizens using consumer technology to facilitate downloading and retrieval of this vital information. The ABHA app allows users to maintain and manage their health information in a private, secure and confidential environment. This app also allows authorized individuals to maintain health records on behalf of others, opening up the possibility for every family to eventually adopt it, even as the digital literacy and accessibility divide closes over time. time.

The One Nation, One Ration Card program greatly benefits those dependent on government food security programs. Ration cards have effectively become portable and allow the beneficiary of the food security program to access and claim their entitlements anywhere in the country based on biometric authentication.

India’s Goods and Services Tax launched in July 2017 is another example of how a national platform can be leveraged for hitherto unimagined applications. As small business billing data accumulates, these businesses will have more options to leverage flow-based lending. This is a new mode of financial inclusion, where new layers of public goods like the account aggregator framework will also play a key role.

The latest addition to India’s public digital infrastructure arsenal is the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC). This platform envisions equal opportunity participation in a booming national e-commerce market. This market has traditionally been dominated by a few large companies, which often fall under the worldwide regulatory scanner for monopolistic business practices.

ONDC, on the other hand, would allow small traders to find new markets, improving their discoverability without having to pay big cuts to aggregation platforms. Early reports have been encouraging, with several major players planning to join the government’s initiative to bring more fairness and transparency to the digital commerce sector.

These digital platforms are also becoming an avenue for a new kind of global diplomacy. Indian RuPay cards and UPI payments are making their way to the international market. The Co-WIN platform has also been offered by India to interested countries.

India’s experience with public digitization underscores the need for targeted government interventions to reduce friction and lay the groundwork for the private and public sectors to create an effective solution. This public digital infrastructure has been highly contextual to Indian needs, designed for a diverse society with a broad continuum of digital skills and to address specific local issues.

India’s technology journey on the productivity J-curve is just beginning to take shape. Public service delivery promises to transform with the vertical and horizontal growth of public digital infrastructure mediation.

Aashish Chandorkar is Counselor at the Permanent Mission of India to the World Trade Organization in Geneva. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.

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