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Budget 2022 makes Digital India work for development

Budget 2022’s focus on the digital economy cuts across the Aspirational Districts Programme’s five socio-economic themes of health, education, agriculture, financial inclusion, and skill development

February 16, 2022 / 03:56 PM IST

Ashish Desai and Rudra Sensarma

Ever since the IT boom in the early 2000s, India has been leapfrogging its way into the fourth industrial revolution through a series of breakthroughs in private sector innovation and public policy. While the government has come out with enablers such as Aadhaar, e-governance, and UPI, startups as well as established businesses have pushed the boundaries of technology to transform even traditional sectors such as agri-business, retail, education, and healthcare.

Technology’s use is not limited to economic growth, but it has a broader impact on development, and well-being. For instance, the government’s Aspirational Districts Programme (ADP) that aims to transform India’s 112 most under-developed districts has been effectively using technology to foster holistic development. Budget 2022’s focus on the digital economy appears to cut across the ADP’s five socio-economic themes of health, education, agriculture, financial inclusion, and skill development.

The Budget promises to transform the health ecosystem through the Ayushman Bharat digital mission, which will provide unique identifiers for healthcare services and patients along with a consent framework. This will reduce the pain of maintaining multiple health records in paper form, and empower citizens to freely switch between different healthcare providers. The launching of tele-mental health programme uses technology to fill another important gap.

Budget 2022 talks of setting up a digital university in a networked hub-spoke model. A national university with high quality teaching material can be connected with various district-level educational institutions to provide access to students in under-served areas at low cost.

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The setting up of 200 educational TV channels, 750 virtual labs, 75 skilling e-labs, and development of e-content in regional languages will help in leveraging technology to support learning in schools.

On skill building, the Budget has announced the launching of DESH (Digital Ecosystem for Skilling and Livelihood)-Stack e-portal to provide skilling, job seeking, and entrepreneurial opportunities using API-based platforms.

On agriculture, it talks of delivery of digital services to farmers in the PPP mode. The promotion of Kisan drones for spraying insecticides and fertilisers, apart from being used to assess crops and digitise land records, can provide a boost to agricultural productivity.

The Budget advances the cause of financial inclusion which is an area where significant progress has been made. It has many proposals to integrate the digital ecosystem with inclusive finance. For instance, rolling out core banking system across 122,000 post offices will help financial services to reach villages that currently do not have access.

India has 157,884 bank branches, and adding 122,000 post offices to the pool will almost double the formal banking sector access. India has 240,982 ATMs, of which only 47,153 are in rural areas. On the other hand, 80 percent of the post offices are in rural areas, hence bringing post offices into the core banking infrastructure will enhance the banking transaction points, and augment cash-out points for services such as direct benefit transfers.

The 75 new digital banking units in 75 districts will enable rural people to access formal banking products, deepening financial inclusion. Budget 2022 also provides continued support to digital payments which play an important role in providing avenues to transact, and the transaction history enables credit scoring, leading to unclogging of credit lines.

Budget 2022 is a step towards institutionalising the National Open Digital Ecosystem (NODE). Moving away from platform-based sectoral solutions, it lays a foundation for cross-sectoral integration, creating more use cases for the general public, especially rural populace.

Utilisation of these services will leave ‘digital residues’ — a truism that every transaction leaves an electronic footprint. This data, in turn, can be leveraged, used, and reused for agile evidence-based programme monitoring and evaluation. Capital, land, and labour are inputs to growth, but data allow us to make these inputs transformational, and drive efficiency. Unlike capital, land, and labour, the usage of data does not diminish its value. Rather, it can create a higher multiplier in economic and social impact, through repurposing, and reuse.

Budget 2022 seems to realise that - ‘Data is the new Sun’. The various stakeholders can now collaboratively nurture the digital ecosystem for development.

Ashish Desai is Director, Development Monitoring and Evaluation Office, NITI Aayog. Rudra Sensarma is Professor of Economics, IIM Kozhikode. Views are personal, and do not represent the stand of this publication.

 
first published: Feb 16, 2022 03:56 pm
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