The recently presented Union Budget takes forward the concerted push by the government to harness technology to deliver better governance through digital initiatives in delivery of services to citizens, use of portals and, lately, drones as well.

Having successfully used the JAM (Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) trinity to make leakage-free benefit transfers to farmers and low-income earners during economic crises, the Centre is now hoping to replicate this in other spheres. Initiatives to get all migrant workers to register on the e-Shram portal, and getting MSMEs to onboard the Udyam portal are attempts to identify target beneficiaries for welfare payments without the intervention of rent-seeking intermediaries. The National Digital Health Mission (NDHM) and e-Vidya initiative have slightly different welfare objectives. By creating a common digital registry of healthcare providers, enabling an online consent mechanism for patients and equipping each citizen with a unique health identity, NDHM aims to dentify beneficiaries for Ayushman Bharat. It also gives patients seamless access to their historical health records without having to rely on hospitals as gatekeepers. Developing Indian language e-learning content can help students in the hinterland make up for pandemic-related learning setbacks, without physical infrastructure. Having already achieved significant bank account penetration, the government is hoping to drive the next leg of financial inclusion by pushing India Post to adopt core banking across its 1.5 lakh branches. Two, it is also hoping to deploy technology, particularly apps and portals, to improve ease of living and doing business. The proposed Unified Logistics Interface Platform under Gati Shakti, a registry for transport operators and logistics providers, is expected to help in real-time information exchange between players, to enable just-in-time operations. The GeM portal has already ushered in never-before-seen transparency into government procurement allowing agencies to source supplies at prices comparable to private e-commerce players. The pan-India National Generic Document Registration System (NGDRS) for land parcels can vastly reduce title disputes and rent-seeking in property transactions.

While the vision behind these digital initiatives is laudable, a few enablers are necessary to make them work. The first is good last-mile internet connectivity in the hinterland. While the ten-year old BharatNet project was supposed to deliver internet connectivity to 2.5 lakh gram panchayats, the pace of rollout has been sluggish, with users complaining of poor maintenance that has rendered even completed internet centres unusable. Hopefully, the move to induct private contractors into this project hitherto executed only by public sector entities will yield better results. With so many government agencies now set to tap into citizen data, there is also a need to expedite implementation of the Data Protection Bill 2021, with more provisions in it to make State agencies accountable on their recording, storage and sharing of personal data. A digital push without these safeguards will make citizens wary of adopting technology even if it promises better governance.