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We’re using digital infrastructure to reboot govt: Arvind Gupta, head of IT unit, BJP

Arvind Gupta on how India is at the cusp of a technology revolution with the rise in smartphone penetration, internet speeds and first-time users of internet


BJP’s Arvind Gupta says JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile) helped the government save $7.5 billion in slippages over the past two years. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
BJP’s Arvind Gupta says JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile) helped the government save $7.5 billion in slippages over the past two years. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

New Delhi: The government is reinventing itself on the back of digital and new-age technologies like Big Data and machine learning for better delivery of subsidies and governance, said Arvind Gupta, head of the information technology unit at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“We are doing a massive exercise to reboot the government,” Gupta said on Friday at EmTech India 2017, a two-day emerging technology conference organized by Mint and MIT Technology Review.

Gupta, who spearheaded Narendra Modi’s digital media campaign in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections won by the BJP, is also a member of industry bodies like Nasscom and TiE, and founding member of iSPIRT, a software products think tank.

“We spend enormous amount of money—over $200 billion centre and states combined—in delivering benefits to the country and if that can be digitally transformed, we are looking at our social infrastructure becoming more effective and becoming available to all people of India,” he said.

The government’s Aadhaar programme has brought 99% of the country’s adult population onto a digital identity platform, leading to better targeting of beneficiaries of welfare programmes, and improved service delivery.

An extension on Aadhaar schemes is JAM (Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and mobile), which is a scheme to directly transfer subsidies to bank accounts of intended beneficiaries using their Aadhaar and mobile phone numbers.

Gupta said JAM managed to save the government $7.5 billion in slippages over the last two years.

Digital technologies were also at the forefront of the massive currency exchange exercise announced on 8 November last year.

Gupta explained how the government and the Reserve Bank of India made use of machine learning and Big Data to identify people who made deposits disproportionate to their income after demonetization.

Some 1.8 million people who cumulatively deposited Rs4.5 trillion were served with requests for information on the source of the money, he said, and added: “There weren’t any babus that sat and identified these names, it was technology at play. The amount of technology now being used in finance and taxation is unprecedented.”

Gupta also spoke of how the country is at the cusp of a technology revolution with the rise in smartphone penetration, internet speeds and first-time users of internet.

According to his estimates, internet users in India have grown to 350 million from about 100 million over the last three years.

Together, these are changing India in two ways: giving more bandwidth and technology capabilities to young entrepreneurs; and generating an unprecedented amount of data. The data that is generated is being extensively used by companies and the government in problem-solving.

Digital technologies provide an avenue to the government and innovators to tackle legacy problems in health, education, mobility and housing, in India and elsewhere, said Gupta.

“The digital revolution in India is at a stage that it is actually teaching the world where to go next... The Silicon Valley has innovated on the top one billion. What India aspires to do is low-cost scalable innovations for the (remaining) six billion,” he added.

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