“Today, I am glad to say that Digital India is no longer being seen as any regular government initiative. Digital India has become a way of life”
These were the opening words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s speech to inaugurate the 23rd edition of the Bengaluru Tech Summit (BTS). The annual flagship event of India’s Departments of Electronics, Information Technology, Biotechnology, and Science & Technology was held 19th-21st November, 2020.
Modi lauded the Indian IT industry for its efforts to quickly adapt to remote working methods during the coronavirus outbreak, and encouraged its development of local tech solutions, saying they have the potential to go global.
“It is time for tech-solutions that are designed in India but deployed for the world,” he said.
GV Anand Bhushan, partner at Indian law firm Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co., noted that Modi made his speech in English, something he said was a rare occurrence.
“One imagines his intent was to better connect with a global audience much like India’s technology industry. Further it was not just technology that he addressed, but he brought to light the technology involved in social schemes as well,” Bhushan said.
Manish Sehgal, partner at Deloitte India, said if more local tech solution are to be developed in India then there needs to be a lot more investment and action. “R&D is where the whole promotion for new and innovative solutions happens. Countries investing significantly into their R&D end up being quite accelerated when it comes to innovative tech solutions. Other Make-in-India and Digital India initiatives are definitely giving the boost and we should continue it. Another factor that can help is boosting foreign direct investment in India.”
Modi emphasized the government’s recent move to boost remote working in India. “Our policy decisions are always aimed at liberalising tech and innovations industry…. We have eased the compliance burden on the IT industry in various ways.”
At the same time as the government has freed up some aspects of technology regulation, it is seeking to coordinate and channel others, building on its prior experience.
“We have always tried to engage with stakeholders in the tech industry and chart out future-proof policy frameworks for India,” Modi said, citing the example of the Unified Payment Interface (UPI) framework which has helped the Indian payment services industry build a host of interoperable applications that together recorded more than 2 billion transactions last month.
“Conventional product-level thinking would have meant we would come out with just a digital payment product,” said Modi. “Instead, we provided India with UPI, an umbrella platform where everyone can host their digital payment products and plug-in digital payments.”
Now, the government is doing something similar with the National Digital Health Mission, a grand project to enable a nationwide system of electronic personal health records—but it has other plans too.
“Some of you may have also heard about the SVAMITVA scheme. It is an ambitious scheme to give land titles to millions of people in our rural areas. This will also be achieved through technology like drones . This will not only bring an end to many disputes but also empower people. Once the property rights are given, technology solutions can ensure prosperity,” Modi said.
Vaccine against cyberattacks
While today’s scientists have been working hard to develop vaccines against biological viruses, Modi hopes the next generation of technologists will also work to defend the country against computer viruses. Acknowledging the importance of data protection and cybersecurity, Modi encouraged the youth of India to devise robust cybersecurity solutions to vaccinate digital products against cyberattacks.
Sehgal said, “We need to educate our youth right from school and college level on cybersecurity. R&D again will play an important role here because we need more innovative solution in cybersecurity. Startups too play an important role because they have the agility that is needed. Quite a bit is done already, but still, there’s room for improvement. Incentives for startups is a good way to encourage them to create more cybersecurity solutions to make India more cyber secure,”
Modi praised the fintech industry for winning the public’s trust, allowing them to conduct frequent transactions online without fear, and went on to say the government would do its part in securing data: “A sound data governance framework is also our priority.”
Bhushan noted: “Everyone now knows what needs to be done to have sound data governance. We need the environment for it, and for that, we need the law, and for the law, we need to pass the personal data protection bill (PDP). The PDP bill has been in the works for three years. When the government will make it a law remains to be seen.”
But Bhushan said passing the act alone is not enough: “Making it a law is only the first step: the government needs to set up a data protection authority (DPA) to govern and enforce the data protection law. For instance, if there happens to be a data breach, the authority needs to identify the stakeholders that are affected and responsible.”
The act itself anticipates the DPA being set up within 18 months.
“Once the government lays the foundation it is the private sector should respond appropriately to the new law in terms of data storage, privacy, security, and portability,” Bhushan said, noting that the public and private sectors will need to work together to protect citizens.
Sehgal at Deloitte said, “Data governance as a concept talks of not one, but many dimensions including data production, security, privacy, principles and rights, data ethics, integrity, availability and accessibility. It’s a ladder that we need to climb where every step plays an important role.”
If an enterprise or the public sector intends to develop anything around data governance, they should consider the FAIR data principles, said Sehgal: findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. While FAIR data principles are established in Europe, it’s not much heard about them in India. “FAIR data principles play an important role if an institute of the government intends to do [data governance]. These principles need to adopted to be make a strong data governance”
Data localization is one aspect of data governance. “It is definitely one of the important considerations when the data governance setup happens. It will play a critical role across industries in the coming future,” said Sehgal.
Concluding his speech, Modi put his hopes in the country’s youth: “The potential of our youth and possibilities of technology are endless. It is time we give our best and leverage them. I am confident that our IT sector will keep making us proud.”