Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Election that Changed India

Book Review: Non-fiction/2014:The Election that Changed India by Rajdeep Sardesai, Penguin/Viking, 372pp; Rs599 (Hardback)

Seasoned journalist Rajdeep Sardesai’s 2014:The Election that Changed India is compiled to give the perspective and remedial thoughts, how elections in India are now much more complex than the conventional tussle of ballets. However, it would be a hurried effort in reckoning that all the changes happened only through 2014 elections – earlier too, we saw how ‘born-to-preach’ troops of advertisers mislead the actual issues and slogans, especially since 2004 parliamentary elections.

Advertising is an old phenomenon in Indian politics, however the matter couldn’t be put on rest without admitting the increased effects lined up through real-time sell of ideas or dreams. This book’s heart of matter is placed to capture the unprecedented shift in poll campaign strategy and the devious role played by the Media& PR Network.

Indeed this time, the Congress Party lost the election before it entered the electoral fray and the Modi as ‘factor’ emerged there to establish a new identity, with an unimagined might in terms of numbers in Lok Sabha. Rest, all is history.

Sardesai’s book unleashes his personal experiences vis-à-vis the political developments in the country of over two decades. While doing this, he maintains the depth of political storyteller as well as of an election historian. Remarkably, the historians in India have given writing on elections amiss – somehow, the hacks roving inside the country have contradicted that trend on occasions.

In recent years, those lots of journalists have been strengthened with advent of electronic media. Nevertheless, a full-fledged book on the election and with the depth this book has, is quite rare to see in other works surfaced. Through the richness of anecdotes and balanced interpretation of truths, Sardesai’s maiden voyage of book-writing charts a territory so far not covered in his columns. This, as the narrative is candid, firm and timely.

The most interesting parts of the book recount the blunders done by the UPA regimes and how the desperations of people converged with their aspirations. Amidst those unrelenting movements, the Congress chosen to do what it was doing for a decade – no action or relaying less-pragmatic voices.

As other parties except the BJP was on the same page, the outcome of the elections was almost decided before the polls. However, the common masses of this nation did not know the extent of victory would be such miraculous. The book covers in details of ‘why& how’!

Sardesai’s early encounter with young Modi (then, Narendra Bhai for the journalists) in 1990’s and their first show on Tv after the 9/11 incident (Modi came as replacement from his party) – show how restless the later was to grow full-circle. Besides introspecting the hard realities of Gujarat Roits and how Modi cornered the existing state leadership right after taking charge as chief minister of Gujarat – the author has also not forgotten to count the sensibilities of the protagonist.

Even-though not consistently in sync with stating ‘beyond the obvious’ – Sardesai’s book never falls short on giving the readers, both information and insight about the resurgent India that has been a victim of lackluster governance and not so responsive polity.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)

Vinod Rai is not just an accountant

Book Review: Non-fiction/Not Just an Accountant: The Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper by Vinod Rai, Rupa, 267pp; Rs500 (Hardback)

Vinod Rai is not just accountant – he is an impulsive writer too who writes diary to keep the conscience of the nation, as confirmed by him through the title of his truly sensational book. He has been a newsmaker even before publicly turning a diarist, unlike Anne Frank who could put forth her jottings only for invisible readers away from Nazi Concentration Camp.

Comparisons between the authors are like chalk and cheese, but one feature is strikingly common: both resisted the extreme tendencies of a ruling regime even though in different time, characteristics and conditions.

When the reader finishes Rai’s book, it is hard to miss the feeling that this account was written to contest former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s silence when the UPA-II government was limping from one scam to another. At peak of those free-wheeling scam days, Prime Minister Singh stated: “I honestly believe that history will be kinder to me than the contemporary media. I feel somewhat sad, because I was the one who insisted that spectrum allocation should be transparent, it should be fair, it should be equitable. I was the one who insisted that coal blocks should be allocated on the basis of auctions. These facts are forgotten.”

The nagging question is, how kinder history would be to Manmohan Singh. Rai, who scrutinized the government’s performance in those scam years as the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), obviously thinks that the then Prime Minister’s silence and apparent inability to prevent those scandals were a giveaway. By sharing the clue in glaring details, he probes why India’s thriving telecom business will be in mess after a shady allocation of spectrums right under the nose of Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).

The earlier press coverages on the whole mess and now this book give enough indications for Mr. Singh to come forward and reciprocate with his autobiography in no time, where he could make a stand clear about the lapses happened during his stint. After reading Rai’s book, one concludes that this is a good way for the former Prime Minister to redeem himself if he wants to get history’s judgment.

Rai examined the inappropriateness in the allocation in 2G telecom licenses and coal mines, both of which defrauded government money. This book documents all his findings, which show the then PM was not clueless of what was going around him. But he did little to stop the misuse of power, and no damage control was attempted. That was a scandal of its own. The scars of those scandals tainted not only his government, but himself, too.

Rai reminds that through a piece of his communication with PMO: “You (Manmohan Singh) engaged in a routine and 'distanced' handling of the entire allocation process, in spite of the fact that the then Communications Minister A Raja had indicated to you, in writing, the action he proposed to take. Insistence on the process being fair could have prevented the course of events during which canons of financial propriety were overlooked, unleashing what probably is the biggest scam in the history of Independent India.”

These few lines are enough to establish a policy decision like spectrum licensing could not be made without having green signal from the country’s highest office, PMO – also that the role of PM should not be reduced to a passive by-stander. Therefore, even though Singh is still considered a man of high integrity, his tenure as India’s chief executive was feckless and tame. That is the damning impression Rai's book conveys.

K Natwar Singh’s One Life is not Enough,TSR Subramanian’s India at Turning Point,Bimal Jalan and P Balakrishnan’s(ed) Politics Trumps Economicsand Sanjay Baru’sThe Accidental Prime Minister are the prominent critiques of the UPA government. Now, Rai's book adds to the wealth of uncomfortable truths about the UPA's 10-year rule.

Making predicament more obstinate, the hibernation is prolonging inside the Congress Party. Its old or new school lieutenants are lost without causes – having been not known to live in opposition, they seem loosing their edge with pen and mind as well.

So, let’s hope more such unfriendly books about the yore days – and all those to be not answered from privileged heads of India’s oldest party, now marginalised below the ground. An accountant could be an effective multi-tasker, Rai has proved it. To know the capital trails, this book too would be in essential list!
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)

India's Administrative System: An Unresponsive Frontier

Book Review, Politics Trumps Economics: The Interface of Economics and Politics in Contemporary India by Bimal Jalan and Pulapre Balakrishnan (edited), Rainlight/ Rupa, 2014; pp 211, Rs 500

It was felt and highlighted that the ‘policy paralysis’ and lack of reform impetus in macroeconomic policies led to the downward spiral in the business and mass sentiments, eventually led to an alarming level of deceleration in economic growth. The UPA-II regime was blamed for that, which was justified to an extent too, but somewhere there is a need is to see the real stumbling blocks.

Foremostly, it has to be admitted that India’s administrative system has become largely non-functional and unresponsive to the interest of the masses. The book under review precisely focuses on this crux of the problem through twelve essays from some of India’s leading policy practitioners. Moreover, the central mandate of the anthology exudes at patches and in full, the well-meaning vision of its editors.

Bimal Jalan in his different administrative capacities has seen the administrative structure of this country from close quarters, and Balakrishnan – with long affiliations with policy matters is equally capable to comment on what ails the delivery mechanism through the administrative routes and where the two other arms, ‘legislature’ and ‘judiciary’ are faltering.

As the purview of governance is no longer limited with the government alone, the essays in the book put forth a deserved emphasis on ‘corporate governance’ and infer that various practices in big business are in urgent need of correction too.

T.T Ram Mohan’s piece Corporate Governance: Issues and Challenges is one that gives topical insights on the theme. He writes, “A certaincynicism has crept into the debate on corporate governance. There is a sense that, as with corruption, it is something that people will keep talking about without anything substantive happening on the ground” – this captures the views of an average citizen vis-à-vis the interventions of the government. Seemingly, it is harrowing.

The “Overview” in the beginning of the book by Bimal Jalan brings to the fore his suggestions for ‘political reforms’, besides economic and administrative reforms – to reduce corruption, the power of small parties to destabilise multi-party coalitions and attractiveness of politics as a career for persons with questionable antecedents. Indeed, without a reformed culture of politics, it is naïve dreaming for the fruits of economic reforms and that too with equity.

Pulapre Balakrishnan’s Governing for an Inclusive Growth is about addressing the challenges of delivering social justice in India today and it rightly argues for governing policies towards that end.

The other essays by Meghnad Desai, Dipankar Gupta, Poonam Gupta, Ashima Goel, Samuel Paul, Ravi Kanbur, Sunil Mani, M. Govinda Rao and Deepak Mohanty – though with varied level of interpretations, fit enough to be catogarised into three broader sections of the book: politics, governance and policy.

Their focus is on the interface between politics and economics in India, which actually determines the path of progress for the country. This book should be of interest for anyone, who has enthusiasm for the policy matters and knowing about the fast changing form of politics, governance and economic processes in India.

The flurry of activities on the land is unprecedented and hence intriguing too, with keeping the challenges upfront for the policymakers and those who are getting governed to reach a consensus. Albeit that part is tough and probably difficult to come in terms with – this book certainly makes our understanding better on the whole issue.

The essays more than modestly also offer impressionable solutions to end the menace of corruption and for achieving inclusive growth – this comes while discussing among others, the pressing issues related to the coalition government, the rise of new politics (through civic activism), the growing inequality, alienation, the contradiction between identity politics and development.

There is so much happening in India on the policy front, and a single book can have only restricted overtures with those churnings. Given this backdrop, Politics Trumps Economics is a valuable addition to the policy studies and has comprehensive prescriptions for the general readers, who are equally in need of knowing their country’s ongoing tryst with destiny.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)

For the Sake of Destitute

Not all get the kind of existence, normally akin to be called ‘decent’. We know celebrities running into penury or catwalk favourites like Gitanjali Nagpal found living in squalor on Delhi’s streets after drug related problems and having no one to take care of her. The cases are numerous, a simple walk on the capital’s streets could give the glance of misery of paupers and many others, who were once fitted well in the material world, survived there for years, but eventually distanced due to emotional or other odd conditional jolts.

The Earth Saviours Foundation is a non-profit organisation, working for the old, mentally and physically disabled, poor children and anyone who has no one to support. Its headquarters, New Delhi which shelters the destitutes was running well in Vasant Kunj. But after a gruesome fire and loss of lives and assets, it had to move to Rangpuri Pahadi, where it has makeshift arrangements for more than 250 inmates.

These inmates included those, who were quite well off but fell to destitution under adverse circumstances through family disputes or other unfortunate reasons. Ravi Kalra is the Founder and President of this charitable organisation, who had to choose between family and his dedication to social service. He chose the latter. After six futile attempts, which crashed due to lack of funds and support, Ravi’s dream came true in 2008, when he started The Earth Saviour Foundation.

“I would go to the streets, find people who had been left by their families to fend for themselves; and get them to the centre. Many of them were senior citizens who resorted to begging. They had not washed for months, were starving and had maggots all over them. We gave them first aid, bathed them, provided them with food and shelter,” says Ravi, who named the shelter as Gurukul.

Ravi expanded his horizon and started getting orphans, rape victims, HIV positive people and mentally challenged adults to Gurukul. To manifest his dedication to humane cause, he also has plan to build a temple of humanity that will house more than 2,000 people.

His initiative has been supported by his own means and donations bz a few individuals and institutions – the government has shown only the timid response for the cause as well as the charitable work of Foundation. Surveys reveal that more than 10 lakh people are without shelter or basic protection of life and dignity in the capital and nearby NCR towns – that shows there is a general sense of apathy for the whole issues related to ‘destitution’, alas!

When this writer visited the Gurukul in a late afternoon of August, few inmates were found busy in Gurukul’s activities, others were either talking in groups or simply resting. But the commonness of them was their eagerness to share what they faced earlier and how they are leading a new life in this Gurukul.

Pranab Roy is one of them. An alumnus of IIMA of 1970 MBA batch and Fellow of AICWA, he worked in some leading MNC companies as financial controller and director. Distorted through disputes in family and investment losses, one day he called on the number of Gurukul and took the train from Bangalore. Unlike most of other inmates, he is perfectly fine with his skills and understanding – genuinely, he should have been in limelight for better reasons than living an existence on the fringe. An avid admirer of the writings of Nirad C Chaudhuri, Tagore and Jefferson, Roy has no views on family life, albeit he still desires to get back into consultancy domain. Then he was reading a book and shared how much he misses reading newspapers in the morning – he named all prominent papers among his favourites and requested to be provided the copies of INCLUSION and other reading material. Ironically, unlike Jefferson – he is not for ‘pursuits of happiness’!

Inder Kaur is sixty-nine year old, an affectionate lady who reminds the typical face of a grandmother, came there eight days back from Ludhiana – she has two daughters, but not even one of them sensible enough to take care of her in old age. Although she misses them but doesn’t want to be back in family so soon, instead she yearns to visit the place of her niece who is living in Sahadara.

Pushpa in her early forties came here only a day ago and was returning to her family the next day. Her case is little benign, as family shown responsiveness after a brief lapse of harmony. Shiv Kumar, a seventy-five old former mill worker has been living with this Gurukul for last six years and he wishes to stay here till end of life – as he has no incentive to go back to his sons, who allegedly kept him in a locked room for six months.

Raj Kumar, a former auto driver came here five months back – with a road accident, he lost the normalcy in life and landed here after living on street in dire conditions for months. Aaagyan Kaur – an eighty-five year old lady, who earlier was a handicraft artist, recalls the pain of treatment she met from family and the days of partition in 1947. She has three sons and a daughter.

Unlike her daughter, both the sons are in a condition to take care of her but they are indifferent even when knowing where their mother is living now. Kaur shares how she took care of a ‘Sabun ki tikki’ (a slice of soap) for over seven decades before losing it recently. For her, that was an inherited asset from family – and for others in family or outside, this might value nothing!

A report of Sunday Times (2nd March 2014, Lord Swraj Paul answers abandoned cousin’s call) highlighted the grim plight of Ajay Kumar Aggarwal, who allegedly was abandoned by his family after an accident in Solan, received a call with the help of Gurukul from his billionaire cousin, Lord Swaraj Paul. That made decisive impact in his life.

Amidst the gloom, the hope is not entirely on wane – as many of those who come here, later get united with the family or after normalcy in their state of mind and health, they also start something of their own. Probably this is the best service, The Foundation is offering to the people, who are really in need of help and care.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: Summertickets2gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)

The new banking time in India

The Indian banking is undergoing through some unusual structural changes and naturally the news has been making round about one of those, which is ‘differentiated banks’. As widely reported and circulated, the RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan is a firm believer in the ideas behind it, and thus the central bank’s guidelines come so hands-on this, it leaves no chance unturned to make the keen watcher believe, these new institutions will end all ill in existing system at place.

In principle, the payments banks and small banks are ‘niche’ or ‘differentiated’ banks – with the common objective of furthering financial inclusion. The Small Banks will provide all the basic banking products but will have a limited area of operation – and the Payments Banks will provide a limited range of products, such as, acceptance of demand deposits and remittances of funds, but will have a widespread network of access points particularly to remote areas.

The role of technology and Business Correspondents (BCs) would be crucial for these new banks, like all other existing banks working in rural and semi-urban areas. So, what is new in that? Nothing much. The concept of local area banks came long back in India – and in fact, the Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) took that concept of local banks much ahead than anticipated earlier.

Today, total 57 RRBs have more than 16, 664 branches – remarkably, these banks are still operative at low cost than PSBs and Private Sector Banks in rural terrains – and most of them are in profit. Surprisingly, the RBI has no plan to make these banks more aggressive – and making addition of the Post Offices, as next banking institutions.

The NABARD has for long ceased to offer any noble solutions for rural banking in India, so even in close bearings with the Chicago School of Economic Thought – Rajan should scrimp little bit time and vision to put forth a workable model rather loosing time with too romantic ideas of ‘differentiated banks’ – that appears in its idealistic fold, beating the blue eyed professionals’ flop venture in India, MFIs.

In retrospection, we would get some insights on failures from the distant land of west that has been charming Indian policy makers in recent few years like never before. The ‘hole and corner’ life philosophy of Wall Street bankers and their understanding about the game of banking could be summed-up in few clumsy but truthful words: ‘for them – money is fact, rest all is fiction’.

Time and again, these words came into fruition and brought to the world, such ‘catastrophe’ – not normally to be hatched by someone having capacity lesser than of a double-dealer.

This clears the fog to know that the winds from west seldom come with underlying merits to be known ‘progressive’. This reckoning was although at place in late 1960’s when Indira Gandhi redrawn the character of Indian banking in a single stroke of pen by nationalising fourteen major commercial banks of that time. The inherent aim was much broader and that for creating the culture of profitable Public Sector banking in India – with focus on strengthening the core economy of the country, through readily available banking services hitherto denied.

These banks played their role to an extent and indeed ensured banking among the masses – that exercise could be seen as the biggest financial inclusion drive in India. This was much effective than the Swabhimaan or Jan Dhan Yojna, whose accomplishments would not travel (based on their theoretical positioning) beyond the bank account opening in crores.

Coming to the solution side, the policy debates on banking have to take a cue from erroneously rumoring, the existing banking players in India are wimps – they are not actually. So, selling the already used applications of mobile, low cost innovations would not help now – the real course of correction would be through differentiating between the performer and pretender.

For making financial inclusion effective and rural banking spectrum, free from the unrealistic notions – first and foremost, the RBI should trust more on the RRBs, besides making PSBs and Private Banks less pampered, so they can work and don’t show excuse that the ‘baking is expensive for poor’. They should make profit by banking with the poor, but must stop making BCs, not only poor – but pauper, by offering less than 1/3rd of minimum wage made mandatory by the Constitutional provisions.

The Post Offices have already a huge network at place that covers the nook and corner of the entire country. If the Finance Ministry and the RBI is really serious for going ahead with actual financial inclusion drive – the next banking license should be given to the Post Offices. As not all existing things could be called bad – the time is ripe now to make the plethora of ‘innovations’, truly grounded and coming into terms with the realities of India.

Also an understanding should be at place, the Indian banking is not in nascent phase – and it certainly has some strong economic fundamentals, which giving enough reasons for the banks to get serious about their business prospects. Even those have not returned recently after attending a short-term crash course on ‘emerging economies’ in any Ivy-League Institution (including this writer), can have a logical edge in saying Indian villages have enough too offer for the bank, who will follow the basics of banking there. Not that any show of dramatics would return back well.

The game plan should be to make better course and stay on that. A differently famous, Gordon Gekko from Wall Street (1987), delivered these words very aptly, ‘don’t run when you lose – don't whine when it hurts’.The banking in new time in India has to go that way, it could be said by this moderate polemist!
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)

Taxation & the Reforms: Speed is Essence

Under unavoidable compulsions, the tax reforms have to enter the next phase, since the whole tax structure, as commonly known is still not flawless. So, the government must include various stakeholders in its ambit, to make tax reforms truly thriving on the ground.

Next, the irrational complexities of tax laws in India are jeopardising the potential utilisation of the services. Precisely, the modern days law-making is bereft of practical purposes and not making life simpler for citizens. Apropos to the plethora of existing issues, the use of big data and analytics could bring in, the much needed transformative changes within the system.

Shaktikanta Das, Revenue Secretary, Government of India, recalled the crucial role of technology, for the next level of tax reforms in India. He said that the Goods and Services Tax (GST) should usher the country into a new direction in tax clarity. “The new law would enhance the trust between centre and states,” Das said while addressing the 37th Skoch Summit.

The time heals the wound and the hope gives better chance for sustenance. That is something making the government juggling between its two propositions and enjoys speaking less overtly than required. If believing the old tax practitioners, who keep bearing to the wisdom – one should not expect radical shift in their lifetime on taxation front. Here, the complexities are the only tested fodder – and sufferers or slappers, all seem adept with it.

Sumit Bose, Member, Expenditure Reforms Commission admits that the tax laws needed serious introspection to address the challenges of the changed times. In further elaboration, he reminded that the role of the Finance Commission is crucial and undermining it in any capacity would be short on logic.

“Sharing of tax data is another area that had needed to be looked upon,” he said adding that the areas hampering the revenue income should be spotted and delinked from the system on priority basis.

Besides transparency in tax administrative procedures and laws – getting judiciary more proactive and sensitive towards the tax cases is equally urgent. The country needs no less than a tectonic shift in tax administration to minimise the spectre of disputes. The policies must be set closely with the formulation of strategies – as in principle, the General Anti-Avoidance Rules (GAAR) and Tax Administration Reform Commission (TARC) too have been excellent but are not being able to meet their true potential for lagging on implementation front.

GAAR is basically a set of rules framed to give Indian tax authorities the right to scrutinise and tax transactions, structured to avoid taxes. The rules are applicable to all taxpayers. It was intended to target tax evaders, especially the Indian companies and investors trying to route investments through Mauritius or other tax havens.

Another major tax initiative, the TARC was set to give recommendations for reviewing the Public Tax Administration System of India in the context of global best practices, and to recommend measures for reforms required in tax administration. This makes the case stronger for thorough introspections in policy making and implementations.

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a Value Added Tax (VAT) to be implemented in India by 2016. It will replace all indirect taxes levied on goods and services by the Indian Central and State governments. It is aimed at being comprehensive taxation for most goods and services. Idea-wise, it is perfect too.

But India is a federal republic, and the central and state governments will thus be implementing the GST concurrently (as the Central GST and the State GST) – so stopping imminent double-dealing underlying with it shall be top-of-the mind for regulators. Moreover, this law will make exports be zero-rated and imports to be levied the same taxes as domestic goods and services adhering to the destination principle.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)

No real 'Digital India' without including Panchayats

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of “Digital India” won’t come true without including Panchayats, a senior government official has said.

Addressing a conference on ‘Digital India’ held as part of the 37th Skoch Summit here, N. Ravi Shankar, Secretary, Ministry of Personal, Public Grievances and Pensions, highlighted the importance of roles to be played by individuals and Panchayats in transforming the overall digital culture in the country.

“Time has come now when the Public Private Partnership (PPP) should be known as Public Private Panchayat Partnership (PPPP),” Shankar said. He said rural India has been looking for it for long and greater convergence would be effective for empowerment of the masses.

The comments came in the backdrop of the government’s plan to connect 50,000 Gram Panchayats this fiscal and 100,000 in the next financial years and a similar number in 2015-16.

A daylong conference on ‘Digital India’ brought to the fore the key nuances of the government’s recently launched “Digital India” programme. The conclusion emerged through the experts and citizens’ views that while the newly launched “Digital India” has path-breaking potential – but the earlier launched programmes too were helpful for India in charting out an important journey of a technology intensive economy in the wake of economic reforms.

Albeit this time around, the focus has to be laid upon to remove the possible flaws from the new digital drive in offing– with carefully taking into account, the implementation specific lapses of previous programmes as ‘key learning’.

Notionally it sounds fine. However, the reckoning should be zeroed at how the missing gap in eService delivery has slowed down the digitisation efforts of the previous governments and eventually caused for lesser impact than their actual potential.

Hence, the “Digital India” platform shall be carried like national roll-out of application rather than reinvention – with keeping in focus, effective application and citizen centricity.

As the fog is still not clear how exactly the new policy scheme will work, the discussions must go further with spotting the criticality of outcome based governance in the current scenario where the technological changes are fast-paced and hardly belittling with any bound. So, the “Digital India” shall make citizens empowered and key stakeholders that only can remove the hassles of procedures, those blocking the free flow of information and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Hitherto missed, but now the technology required for the specific policies have to be made India specific, as inevitably it has to cope with an uniquely diverse populace and culture – also the eWaste has to be dealt on priority basis to control the environmental hazard, it unrelentingly offers.

The close overtures between the government and industry has been seen and noticed in recent years, so it is irrational to call any longer the existing technology stakeholder, a ‘vendor’. As lately, the realisation should be at commonplace that they play game-changing role in handling various schemes and making them meeting with the aims targeted.

Technology is fast changing and it is really hard for any system to keep the pace in its accordance. So, the government has to be emphatically proactive to meet with the imminent challenges. Among those challenges, the new time will see “Agile Governance” – and that agility will come from the industry and citizens, not alone from the government.

Apart from these legitimate challenges, the “Digital India” mission may face hurdles within the government. Some of insiders are not convinced with the whole framework behind making it on mission mode so soon. Among them, one is Rahul Khullar, chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). In a recent interview to ET, he said the plan is short on specifics. He added, "Is it possible to get a birth or a death certificate online in Delhi? If not, what sort of applications are we really talking about?”

Principally, the vision set forth for “Digital India” is concentrated in three areas: digital infrastructure as a utility to every citizen – digital identity, mobile phone and bank account, safe and secure cyber space, and governance and services on demand; services available in real time on online and mobile platform, making financial transactions electronic and digital empowerment of citizens; and all documents, certificates available on cloud.

Indeed, a lot more thinking and resources must be devoted to release these applications instead of rushing to launch e-based programming for critical core areas like education and health. Experts believe that the current bandwidth of 100 mbps per Panchayat is not sufficient. They opine on condition of anonymity that it should be at least 1 gbps given that it serves three villages of around 10,000 people and videos are in HD (high definition) now.

As a matter of fact, one can't keep laying new fibre and the current architecture does not allow for the bandwidth to be revised.

So far, the views aired by the experts from the different walks of life on the “Digital India” are to an extent in conformity that the great convergence in India will come through actual digital revolution – not merely by another policy initiative. The new digital policy has to pass the acid test – it seems mandatory.
-Atul K Thakur
Email: summertickets@gmail.com
(Published in INCLUSION)