India’s journey to inclusive, accessible and safe digital services
By Ming En Liew
New, inclusive digital services that leverage emerging technologies can help the country deliver seamless experiences for its citizens. GovInsider speaks to Abhishek Singh, President and CEO of the National e-Governance Division (NeGD), to find out more.
Abhishek Singh, President and CEO of the National e-Governance Division (NeGD), shares how India aims to create a more inclusive and connected future with digital services for all its citizens. Image: Abhishek Singh, via LinkedIn
As part of the Digital India initiative to ensure digital services are accessible, efforts by the Government have been centred on three key areas: namely, the development of secure and stable digital infrastructure, the delivery of government services digitally, and the digital empowerment of citizens.
But as India transitions into a digital economy, how does the Government deliver a seamless experience for citizens while prioritising accessibility, tackling bureaucratic complexities, and safeguarding data privacy?
The answer is through the delivery of new, inclusive digital services that leverage the Internet and technology.
GovInsider sits down with Abhishek Singh, President and CEO of the National e-Governance Division (NeGD), to discuss how India is ramping up its digital services to create a more inclusive and connected future for all its citizens.
Enhancing digital transactions on a national scale
In March 2011, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) found that an estimated 145 million households had no access to any form of banking. Cash transactions were also susceptible to problems such as theft, counterfeiting and corruption.
Under the RBI guidance, the National Payments Corporation of India developed the Unified Payments Interface (UPI), which allows citizens to easily transfer money instantly from one bank account to another: from a customer to a business, or between individuals.
“We are rocking more than 700,000 transactions every month and today, the UPI has become the default mode of all digital payments. It exceeds our card payments, debit cards, credit cards and any kind of other payments,” says NeGD CEO Abhishek Singh.
The UPI has empowered small merchants and Kirana stores – typically family-owned “mom-and-pop” shops – by enabling them to accept digital payments.
Previously, these businesses were predominantly cash-based, which posed security risks and limited their customer base. With the UPI, these merchants can easily accept payments directly into their bank accounts, after setting up a UPI ID or QR code, thus making transactions convenient for both customer and seller.
In 2022, the UPI processed over US$1.5 trillion in transactions, which is equivalent to a third of India’s gross domestic product. As COVID-19 left consumers more reliant on digital transactions, the growth of the UPI accelerated.
Today, it accounts for 52 per cent of the country’s 88.4 billion digital transactions by 2022, in comparison to accounting for only 17 per cent of 2019’s 31 billion digital transactions according to a government report.
“India leads the world in real-time digital payments by clocking almost 40% of all such transactions,” said Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, as quoted in The Economist
Improving access through super apps, service centres
In the past, accessing government services in India involved having to visit multiple government offices, each with its unique set of procedures and paperwork. The presence of bureaucracy, complex processes, and excessive paperwork results in delays and inefficiencies. This can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience for many citizens.
Solutions like UMANG (Unified Mobile Application for New-age Governance) and myScheme aim to simplify the process of accessing government services.
UMANG is a unified platform that provides access to various government services and schemes, from passport applications to income tax filing, all in one place. Singh shared previously with GovInsider how UMANG onboarded a range of government agencies to help make this “super app” a success.
Many citizens in India lack awareness about government services and schemes and may then miss out on important benefits and opportunities available to them, explains Singh.
“A citizen may get lost in trying to find out what these services are. Sometimes, many citizens will not even know that such services, which are for their benefit, even exist,” shares Singh.
MyScheme, which is a part of the UMANG super app, helps citizens to discover these schemes by offering personalised recommendations based on a citizen’s profile and requirements. For example, myScheme could serve a mother with a newborn child recommendations for vaccination, nutrition and pre-primary schooling services.
The UMANG mobile application enables citizens to access services from anywhere including rural areas through the smartphone. This enhances accessibility and eliminates geographical barriers, allowing more people to benefit from government services.
For citizens without access to smartphones or connectivity, Common Service Centres act as service delivery points in rural areas to provide assisted access to government services. Currently, India has established a network of approximately 5 million Common Service Centres across the country, according to Statista. Similar approaches have been rolled out in Thailand and Bangladesh, reported GovInsider previously.
“To ensure that [they] are accessible to a wider demographic, services are available in over 22 official languages, with the addition of voice-enabled services which will support around 500 million people,” explained Singh. Similarly, Estonia provides voice-enabled assistance through its own digital government app, Bürokratt.
Looking to a future with AI and blockchain
While India has made significant progress in its digital transformation, Singh shares that the NeGD is exploring the adoption of emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain to improve data security and develop innovative solutions.
AI-related projects in healthcare and agriculture are being piloted, with a focus on scaling these solutions up in the near future. Such solutions can enhance healthcare by improving the accuracy of diagnoses, with AI algorithms analysing vast amounts of medical data to help healthcare providers make informed decisions and improve patient outcomes.
“We tried several solutions in healthcare using AI to diagnose diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and breast cancer,” shares Singh.
In agriculture, AI can optimise crop yields by providing insights on optimal planting times, fertilisers, and irrigation techniques. Additionally, blockchain technology ensures data security and transparency, particularly in critical areas like land records, commodities, and drug management.
By promoting trust and accountability, blockchain is one technology that can enhance citizens’ confidence in the Government’s digital services, as it progresses further on the journey to a more inclusive and connected future.