The mobile apps launched by various Ministries are set to revolutionise the ways people interact with the government
Soon you will be able to use a smartphone app to manage several routine tasks such as passport application, income tax filing, railway ticket booking, land records management, and payments of utility bills and municipal tax. The Narendra Modi government has started working on a mobile application called UMANG, which will bring many central, state and local government services onto a single platform. Once the UMANG project is completed, we can expect a dramatic transformation in the ways by which Indians interact with the government.
Currently the government is looking for a partner agency that has the expertise to develop and maintain such a complicated app. The proposal document has already been uploaded on the website of the ‘Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DeitY)’ to invite partner agencies to join hands with the government in the UMANG project. UMANG stands for “Unified Mobile for New–age Governance.” According to the proposal document, first phase of the app will be rolled out in 3 years. In the first year of launch, the app will provide 50 services and by the third year the number of services will grow to 200.
The list of expected pan-India services that will be provided through the UMANG app is so comprehensive that we can easily envisage an end to the countless trips, which many Indians are forced to make to government offices for getting their routine tasks done. Even those users who don’t own a smartphone will be able to use UMANG, because its services will also be available through SMS facility. Initially, the services will be available in 13 languages. The app will have transaction details to enable the users to contact the authorities in case anything goes wrong. It will also have live chat support to help out users.
The UMANG proposal document, which is available on the DeitY website, clarifies that the UMANG app will be integrated with the existing services like Aadhaar (for authentication), PayGov (for secure online payments), and DIGILocker (for safe cloud-based document management). You will be able to use UMANG to execute all the steps for availing any government service—you can verify your identity through Aadhaar, make payment through PayGov and download the required documents in your DIGILocker.
The government is of the view that UMANG is vital for empowering the people. Perhaps a project like this is needed to bring a semblance of ‘'Achche Din” to millions of Indians who often encounter inefficiency, lack of transparency, red-tape and even corruption in many government offices. UMANG will provide people with a more reliable and secure way of accessing information and services from the government, anytime, anywhere and on any platform or device.
The UMANG platform can be seen as the first major step by NDA government in the direction of achieving Prime Minister Modi’s vision of Digital India, which he first pronounced during his maiden Independence Day speech from the ramparts of Red Fort. In that speech, Modi said: “I dream of Digital India.” He said his government would take every possible measure to ensure that people in the country have easy access to information and services through digital technologies. He said, “We want to give good governance through e-governance.”
A number of initiatives have been taken under the Digital India programme to provide information and services to the people. The DIGILocker platform, which leads to minimisation in the usage of physical documents, has already been launched. Every DIGILocker account is linked to the Aadhaar number of its user. Extensive use of the DIGILocker platform will become possible once various government departments and the private sector agencies start getting linked to the system so that digital documents can be easily shared, as and when required.
The eSign, or the e-Hastakshar, initiative has also been launched. It allows users with Aadhaar card and registered mobile number to digitally sign a document online. The e-Cabinet project, which aims to get rid of all the physical file movements in inter-ministerial consultation on cabinet proposals, is being developed by NIC. The portal will create e-records instead of file notings and archive all responses from ministers. Once the e-Cabinet project is in place, the file movement will happen online, instead of peons carrying them around.
Then there is MyGov initiative, which was launched with much fanfare in the year 2014. Within two weeks of its launch, MyGov had more than 100,000 users—currently its user base stands at more than 1.94 million. The development of the MyGov app has widened the reach of the programme. The programme is meant to encourage citizen participation in governance, but it is not clear in what ways this initiative will lead to some actual improvements in the quality of people’s lives. Just because an idea has been proposed by ordinary citizens, it is not necessarily good.
The ultimate success of Digital India will depend on the quality and the scope of the digital infrastructure in the country. During its 10 year rule, the UPA government failed to create any worthwhile digital infrastructure for running e-governance programmes. The problem with the UPA’s e-governance model was that they tried to get everything done through the government. From data centre to broadband connectivity, every piece of the infrastructure was being built and maintained by the government officials.
State Data Centres (SDCs) were established at the time of UPA at huge cost, but most of these SDCs are mired in technological problems, their equipment is obsolete and unreliable. In the name of improving connectivity between districts in the states, the State Wide Area Network (SWAN) were established. But the SWAN networks failed to bring high-speed connectivity. You can probably get have better connectivity through an ordinary dongle, costing less than Rs 1000, than through the SWAN system, which is built at a massive cost. For connecting all the Panchayats through broadband, the NOFN project was launched at the time of UPA, but this project continues to be mired in delays.
The success of Modi government’s Digital India programme will depend on the level of participation that it can have from the private sector. It is not the job of the government to erect Data Centres or create the infrastructure for broadband connectivity. There are many reputed companies that can provide cutting edge data centre services to the central and state government departments. It is a good thing that the Modi government is keen on using the private sector expertise in most aspects of its Digital India programme. The involvement of private sector will ensure that IT infrastructure or broadband connectivity related projects get executed efficiently and quickly.
Grameen Vidyutikaran (GARV) app helps the citizen track progress of rural electrification. The UJALA app shows real-time LED distribution numbers across the country. VidyutPRAVAH app provides real time information of electricity price and availability thereby, giving in the hands of the people, the tool to hold their state governments accountable. ePathshala initiative by MHRD aims at providing educational material in the form of e-books, audio, video, etc on smartphones, tablets and web. Equally, ‘Saransh’ is a tool for comprehensive self-review and analysis for CBSE affiliated schools and parents. UTS launched by Ministry of Railways not only saves usage of paper for tickets but also cut down long queues at ticket windows.
(The writer is an IT journalist)