Digital Infrastructure to Contribute Significantly to Economic Growth

Launch of 5g services marked landmark achievement in telecommunications in India.

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In recent years, the role of digital infrastructure in the socioeconomic development of the country has grown in significance, whereas the role of traditional infrastructure has been widely acknowledged. The Economic Survey 2022-23 was presented yesterday in parliament by Union Minister for Finance and Corporate Affairs Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman indicates that the availability and spread of digital infrastructure will significantly contribute to economic growth in the coming years.

Deepening Digital Penetration: Prior to 2014, access to digital services was considered a privilege of urban households, according to the survey. Digital India was launched in 2015 as an umbrella programme with the goal of establishing digital infrastructure as a fundamental service for every citizen. In the last three years (2019-2021), the country has added more internet users in rural areas than in urban areas (95.76 million vis-a-vis 92.81 million in rural and urban areas respectively). This is the result of dedicated digital drives across rural areas through ambitious government schemes, such as the flagship BharatNet Project Scheme, Telecom Development Plan, Aspirational District Scheme, initiatives in the North-Eastern Region via the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan (CTDP), and initiatives towards areas affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE), etc.

The Survey further explains that significant growth in internet subscribers in rural India was the major shock absorber during the COVID-19 pandemic when both businesses and consumer demand were impacted. Digital infrastructure created over the years ensured not just the continuous transmission of information but also added economic value when businesses went digital. The 200 per cent increase in rural internet subscriptions between 2015 and 2021 vis-a-vis 158 per cent in urban areas, reflects the increased impetus the government is putting to bring rural and urban digital connectivity to the same level.

Government Initiatives: For further widening the net, to include unconnected areas and populations, dedicated long-term efforts by the government have been taken to observe the Economic Survey. Government Schemes like Production Linked Incentive (PLI) for telecom and networking products will promote domestic mobile manufacturing as well as network installation. Continuous proliferation of measures such as the Bharat Net Project shall continue to improve accessibility, affordability, connectivity, and inclusivity pan-India. This in turn will help in realizing the vision of our Hon’ble Prime Minister to digitally empower every Indian, as we march towards India’s ‘Techade’.

Reaching Remote Areas: The Economic Survey states that to further create digital linkages at the grassroots level and increase the consumer experience other initiatives include approval of a project for the saturation of 4G mobile services in uncovered villages across the country. Apart from this, with a special focus on the states in the North-Eastern Region, the government is implementing a Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan (CTDP). A comprehensive initiative to connect our islands to the mainland has also been realised through the government’s initiative of the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan for Islands.

5G Launch- Landmark Achievement: The Economic Survey states that a landmark achievement in telecommunications in India was the launch of 5G services. Telecom reforms and clear policy direction led to the spectrum auction of 2022 garnering the highest-ever bids.  As a major reform measure, the Indian Telegraph Right of Way (Amendment) Rules, 2022, will facilitate faster and easier deployment of telegraph infrastructure to enable a speedy 5G rollout. The government has brought in procedural reforms in Wireless Licensing, including delicensing of various frequency bands to promote innovation, manufacturing and export. The National Frequency Allocation Plan 2022 (NFAP) will give guidance to the users of the spectrum to plan their networks in accordance with the relevant frequency and parameters provided therein.

Growth Story of Digital Public Infrastructure: The Economic Survey observes that the journey of Digital Public Infrastructure has been remarkably memorable, dating to 2009, when Aadhaar was first launched. It is fourteen years now, and the digital journey since then has taken the country quite far. The three growth drivers that acted as catalysts for DPI growth were favourable demographics, a vast expansion of the middle class, and digital behaviour patterns. By leveraging these growth drivers, India has built a competitive digital economy that empowers every individual and business to transact paperless and cashless. Various schemes and applications launched by the government such as ‘MyScheme’ and Unified Mobile Application for New-Age Governance (UMANG), ‘Bhashini’ and others enable citizens to access e-Government services offered by the Central and State Governments in various sectors. Through platforms like OpenForge, the use of open-source software and sharing and reuse of e-governance-related source code is promoted notes the Survey.

Today, we have a powerful story on digital public infrastructure that is finding global resonance the Economic Survey states. The increasing digital adoption during covid-19 in areas like healthcare, agriculture, FinTech, education, and skilling indicates that the digital delivery of services in India has a massive potential across economic sectors. It is usually suggested that developing countries must follow global best practices. However, how India has created and harnessed its DPI is capturing the attention of many nations globally.

According to the Economic Survey, the government is committed to keeping up with developments in the digital landscape, including those related to legislation and frameworks. While the digital journey began with Aadhaar as a means of doorstep service delivery, UPI enhanced the digital payment infrastructure. With other initiatives such as CoWIN, e-RUPI, TReDS, Account Aggregators, ONDC, Open Credit Enablement Network (OCEN), etc. in various stages of implementation, India has created a compelling digital narrative. The journey is ongoing, and India’s digital public infrastructure space has vast untapped potential. According to the Survey, the synergy between physical and digital infrastructure will be one of the defining characteristics of India’s future growth.