Prime Minister Narendra Modi interacted with beneficiaries of the government's flagship 'Digital India' program via the NaMo app and on the BJP website at 9.30 am on 15 June. After similar interactions with beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY), Pradhan Mantri Jan Aushadhi Yojana (PMJAY) and Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) through video conferencing, this was the fourth such instance of Modi's interaction.
Digital India was a programme that was launched by the current government on 1 July, 2015 to digitally empower the country. The major objectives of this programme include the development of a secure and stable digital infrastructure, digital literacy and delivering government services digitally, among other things.
Modi spoke about the importance of the Common Service Centres — which have given rise to many village-level entrepreneurs, the importance of setting up BPOs in small towns and villages and the relevance of the MyGov app and how it's helping citizens be part of government initiatives. Modi also touched upon the progress brought about by mobile manufacturing units and setting up of the National Knowledge Networks.
While speaking about each of these Digital India initiatives, Modi also spoke to people from across the country via video-conferencing.
Speaking about the importance of e-learning and online education, Modi said, "Students in villages and small towns are no longer limited to physical books. Using ebooks and digital libraries set up using Bharat Net or by accessing the WiFi Choupal services offered by the CSCs, students can benefit a lot. Also, a student no longer has to be dependent on the school for scholarship money, the money is directly sent to their bank accounts. This has become possible via the digital revolution."
He even spoke of how the digital revolution has cut across class and caste barriers and has provided a level-playing field for everyone. "Couple of years ago, it was unthinkable for those living in villages to not leave their home for booking a railway ticket. But now, you can book long-distance train tickets from your mobile phone, sitting at your home. Even for things like paying electricity bills or water bills and other things, you do not need to visit a government office and wait in long queues."
Common Service Centres
Modi spoke at length with the entrepreneurs who are running over 3 lakh CSCs all over India. CSCs are meant to provide digital infrastructure as a utility to citizens, enable e-governance, provide services on demand and act as a digital empowerment hub for citizens.
Jitendra Solanki from Gautam Buddha Nagar CSC in the state of Uttar Pradesh started his centre with just one computer and has now acquired 15 computers in three years. "Bharat Net via CSC Wi-Fi Choupal has addressed a lot of our woes. Girls in villages now have fibre to the home connection which helps them with their studies, so that they do not have to travel far and wide to access educational material. My village is now a Digital Village where the 4,000 villagers make ample use of the CSC for governmental and non-governmental services. We have digitally educated 250 citizens."
Misbah Hashmi from the Yamuna Nagar CSC in Haryana was also thankful for the opportunity provided by the CSC scheme of the Digital India program. This helped her to set up her own centre in lieu of a stable government job. "CSC has given me a new identity. I have been invited to national and international events due to my CSC work. My CSC has also become a case study in management schools," said Hashmi.
Hashmi has helped around 10,000 villagers get access to govt as well as non-govt related services to do with banking, insurance and even telemedicine. Around 1,000 people have been educated with the basics of computing and internet, she says.
Modi commended Hashmi for the work she has been doing at her CSC, especially around the field of telemedicine. "I would advise all the CSC centres to make complete use of the telemedicine facility. It really helps young women in our society to address their health issues, which may not be always easily accessible. I am impressed with the work you are doing for social change and I congratulate you for that, Ms Hashmi."
One of the beneficiaries of the CSC in Haryana, Veenu, works as a domestic help at three houses. But thanks to Digital Payments and the BHIM app, she no longer feels the need to carry any cash, which gives her a sense of freedom and security.
In the Gondia CSC in Maharashtra, Shanta Galia, who is a daily wage labourer waxed eloquent about the digital payments initiative. "I am a daily wage labourer from a BPL family. I used to work for five days and to get my wages, I had to travel around 25 km to Gondia. Since CSC has come to my village, I work six days and in the evening I withdraw money from the CSC centre. This saves a lot of my time, and I can work one day extra and get paid for it. There is no money lost with the middlemen."
In the CSC centre in the Bansur area of Rajasthan, which itself is run by a 12th-grade pass called Snehalata, Modi was impressed by the story of Poonam Sapera, who belongs to a nomadic tribe. Studying in her second year of Bachelor of Arts, Sapera used the CSC Wi-Fi Choupal to become digitally literate. She said she makes use of the internet to search for jobs around her village.
Snehalata, who leads the CSC, said that the centre had managed to educate even people from nomadic tribes and get them into the mainstream system. "They have made their ration and Aadhaar cards as well. They are even making use of the benefits offered by government schemes. So in some cases, even though people don't have a roof over their head, they have a gas connection."
On NaMo app and RuPay
At a lot of CSC centres, people mentioned the NaMo app. At the Rajasthan CSC centre, Snehalata told the PM that most of the villagers are avid users of the app and follow Modi's every move there. They are impressed when Modi goes abroad and talks on issues of development.
Modi thanked everyone for using the NaMo app and assured them that he goes through all the feedback posted on the app, which helps him with ideas.
Modi urged citizens to start using RuPay as it has caused a "revolution" in the digital payments space, according to him. "Today we have 50 cr Rupay cards in use, not just in India but even abroad. Recently, I used a RuPay card in Singapore to purchase some things, and it worked fine. The benefit of using RuPay card is that all the transaction fees and money stays within India. And this can then be used for work which is socially beneficial. By using a RuPay card you can, in your own way, help in the progress of the nation."
"When I spoke about digital payments, people made a lot of fun of me. They used to say nasty things behind my back. But today, when a domestic help is making digital payments, it's a slap across the faces of those who tried to pull me down. You have seen how technology has transformed lives. There is no need for a middleman to make payments. There is a lot of resistance still and a lot of people will continue to say negative things, as they have vested interests. But the progress shall not stop," said Modi.
Taking Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) to villages
Another sector that Modi touched upon was BPOs. The India BPO Promotion Scheme (IBPS) has been approved under Digital India Programme to incentivise BPO/ITES Operations across the country (excluding certain Cities and the States in North East Region (NER)), for the creation of employment opportunities for youths and growth of IT-ITES Industry. According to Modi, this scheme's objective was to ensure that citizens don't leave their home-towns to pursue similar jobs in other states. Investments to the tune of Rs 550 cr have already been sanctioned by the government and it is expected to add 2 lakh people to the workforce.
Tenzin Loma, a BCA Diploma who hails from Kohima in Nagaland, worked at Adobe in Bengaluru. But due to his parents' health situation, he had to shift back to Kohima. He took up job as a school teacher, which wasn't really exciting him or doing any justice to his education. Thanks to the BPO Infinity Informatic centre, which was partly financed by the IBPS scheme, Loma is now working in Kohima as a technical staff member. He loves the work environment and the fact that he does not have to change cities for this job. This BPO serves clients in the US, UK and Australia and has around 113 employees in Kohima.
In Patna, the Call2Connect BPO enables young women such as Khusbu Kumari, who is completing her graduation, to work as well. "This job has boosted my self-confidence and I take a train to work in Patna. The BPO addresses Indian clients in four languages — Hindi, Maithili, Bhojpuri and English, and I am proficient with work involving the Hindi and Maithili languages," said Kumari.
In Tamil Nadu, Suresh set up iMarque Solutions in Mayliduthurai, which is his hometown and has a population of 90,000. "There is a lot of talent available here, but people always went to Bengaluru and Chennai, as these major cities had all the job opportunities. The IBPS scheme gives a lot of incentives. There are 450 workers, around 90 percent are women who are from local communities. We employ graduates, postgraduates and even engineers. We handle domestic clients in languages such as Tamil, Hindi, English, Telugu and Kannada. For international clients, we only do data processing, healthcare data mining, digital processes," said Suresh.
Importance of Electronics manufacturing
Modi spoke about the importance of electronics manufacturing in the country. "In 2014, there were only two assembling plants in the country. Now we have over 120 of them and this has resulted in providing jobs to lakhs of Indians. Just like we need to develop human resources, we also need to worry about hardware. So let us speak to some people associated with the manufacturing sector as well," he said.
Speaking to the PM, staff from a mobile manufacturing unit in Noida, UP, thanked Modi for putting the 'Make in India' program on a fast track. Avishek, hailing from the Mirpur district in Himachal Pradesh, had studied ITI in electronics and mechanics. "I have been working at this plant since the last three years. It has empowered me to earn enough to take care of my father, who is paralysed and bedridden. This initiative also gives a lot of youngsters like me to work in the core sectors, that they have studied in," said Avishek.
"It's good to hear these success stories from you. But you should not limit yourself to just working for your companies. You should never let the hunger for innovation die. You have a lot to offer to the world and the competition is so high that only innovative products which add value to our lives win out. You may have seen how the pace of innovation is so quick, so you have to be aware of the tough competition and you should use that to your advantage," said Modi.
Modi also spoke about the Electronics Manufacturing Clusters (EMC) and the benefits that they will bring to many states. "We want to give more importance to electronic manufacturing and to that effect under the EMC scheme, we are establishing 23 EMCs in 15 states. This is expected to bring jobs to over 6 lakh people," said Modi.
National Knowledge Network (NKN)
The National Knowledge Network is a high-speed gigabit network and an important factor in the Digital India plan, which connects close to 1,700 educational and research institutes, said Modi. "NKN has empowered over 5,000 professionals and researchers by giving them this powerful platform. In addition to this, NKN is also connected to National Data Centre (NDC) and State Data Centre (SDC) as well as many government organisations," said Modi.
The National Centre for Medium Range Forecast network has the ability to forecast weather for 10 days and it uses dynamic modelling for this purpose. Speaking to Modi, the centre thanked the government for providing the NKN to enable accurate results. The network also lets the organisation collect around 200 GB worth of data per day from international satellites to help in modelling and making accurate predictions. These insights are then shared with many other institutes such as the Indian Meterological Department (IMD), which helps them with their work as well. NKN has also improved our data speeds from 45 Mbps to 10 Gbps.
Modi also urged the centre to connect with avenues where weather predictions are made based on intuition, such as by farmers or fishermen, who just know by looking at the skies or the seas how the weather will turn out. He said that combining both of these energies will prove to be beneficial.
Modi finally spoke about the importance of the MyGov app and how it has become a means to get regular citizens to engage with the government. "The new generation is giving us new and fresh ideas which addresses a lot of our concerns. Over 60 lakh volunteers are associated with MyGov. It has become a citizen government of sorts. The crowdsourced model of taking into consideration inputs given by the citizens to the respective ministries and getting issues resolved is working really well. The central govt takes into consideration all the feedback and even taglines for a lot of the programs have been crowdsourced. Even the feedback on my radio program 'Mann Ki Baat' is given through this platform," said Modi.
Modi ended on the note that Digital India is empowering the lives of crores of Indians and will continue to do so. He said that the 4E's — Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship and Empowerment — will always be addressed through Digital India initiatives.
"I thank you for listening to me today, but I would like to say that I expect a lot from the CSC. On 20th June, at 9.30 am, I will speak to the farmers of our country. And I want each CSC to have at least 50-100 farmers in their centres to listen to this conversation. I will speak about the developments in the farming sector and I would also like to listen to their feedback. I am happy with the transformation in the country which is being brought about by technology, and I would congratulate all of you," said Modi.