Home / Politics / Policy /  India spending $18 billion for digital revolution: Ravi Shankar Prasad

New Delhi: India is set for a “digital revolution" as it implements an $18 billion programme to expand high-speed Internet access and offer government services online, the nation’s communications minister said.

Goals include broadband Internet for 250,000 clusters of villages by 2016 at a cost of about $5.9 billion, cloud storage for citizens and making banking and other data accessible via mobile phones, communications and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.

“The sheer opportunity that Digital India will create will also become a great business proposition," Prasad, 60, said in an interview in New Delhi on Tuesday, referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strategy for greater use of technology.

Almost 1.1 billion Indians remain offline mostly in rural areas, the largest non-Internet user population in the world, McKinsey & Co. estimated in a report this month. Low literacy levels and the struggle to afford web access in a nation where more than 700 million people live on less than $2 per day are among the obstacles the government’s digital push faces.

In addition, the National Optical Fibre Network, the programme seeking to connect clusters of villages to fast Internet, was originally due to be completed by 2013.

Even so, the Modi-led administration that took charge in May needs to be given time “to see what they can do," said Subho Ray, the president of the Internet and Mobile Association of India in New Delhi.

Facebook, Amazon Inc.’s chief executive officer Jeff Bezos, Microsoft Corp. chief executive officer Satya Nadella, and Facebook Inc. co-founder Mark Zuckerberg visited India after Modi’s election victory.

Prasad said Zuckerberg is interested in “e-education and e-health," citing their meeting this month. Vishal Sikka, the chief executive officer of Infosys Ltd., today described Digital India as an opportunity after meeting the communications minister in the national capital.

Another objective is to turn India into a technology manufacturing hub, Prasad said. Rules on mobile-phone spectrum trading and sharing are due by the end of the year, and the government is also considering whether merger and acquisitions rules in the telecommunications sector need adjusting, he said.

Modi’s targets include introducing a nationwide goods and services tax to replace more than a dozen levies that impede commerce, as well as allowing higher foreign direct investment in the insurance industry.

While his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to a majority in the lower house in May, it’s in a minority in the upper house. That’s a potential obstacle to Modi’s legislative agenda for Asia’s third-largest economy.

Prasad said he expects the changes to the rules governing the insurance industry to win approval in the upper house in the winter session of parliament next month. A joint sitting of both houses is one option to get key bills passed, he said. Bloomberg

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