India’s Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI)

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    Syllabus: GS3/ Indian Economy & related issues, Infrastructure

    In Context

    • India’s digital public infrastructure (DPI), loosely the India Stack and more, is shaped in a unique partnership between governments (Union and States), regulators, the private sector, selfless volunteers, startups, and academia/think tanks.
      • India, through India Stack, became the first country to develop all three foundational DPIs: digital identity (Aadhar), real-time fast payment (UPI) and a platform to safely share personal data without compromising privacy. 

    What is Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI)?

    • Digital public infrastructure (DPI) refers to blocks or platforms such as digital identification, payment infrastructure and data exchange solutions that help countries deliver essential services to their people, empowering citizens and improving lives by enabling digital inclusion.

    What DPI Does?

    • Put simply, foundational DPIs mediate the flow of people, money and information.
      • First, the flow of people through a digital ID System. 
      • Second, the flow of money through a real-time fast payment system. 
      • And third, the flow of personal information through a consent-based data-sharing system to actualise the benefits of DPIs and to empower the citizen with a real ability to control data. 

    Major Challenges with DPI

    • There is a disturbing trend of the weaponization of data and technology or Digital Colonisation (Hicks, 2019) resulting in a loss of agency, sovereignty and privacy.
    • Therefore, proactively deliberating on how to build good DPI is key to avoiding such challenges.

    Need of DPI

    • Public infrastructure has been a cornerstone of human progress. From the transcontinental railways of the nineteenth century to telecommunication in the twentieth century, infrastructure has been vital to facilitating the flow of people, money and information. Built on top of public infrastructure, democratic countries with largely free markets have fostered public and private innovation and, therefore, generated considerable value creation in societies.
    • DPI has emerged as the most feasible model due to its low cost, interoperability and scalable design, and because of its safeguards against monopolies and digital colonisation.
    • The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of these systems as enforced isolation left people with no choice but to rely on these digital alternatives

    India’s Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI)

    • In India, DPI has been a key focus area of the government in recent years, with several initiatives aimed at building a robust DPI ecosystem.
    • As India aspires to become a $5 trillion economy in the future, and the world’s third-largest economy within a decade, its thriving DPI will be central to delivering on this economic promise and achieving these audacious goals.
    • India today has 850 million internet users, compared to 5.5 million users in 2000. According to the central government, India is the world’s largest “digitally connected democracy”.

    Key Components of DPI in India

    • Digital Identity: The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has developed Aadhaar, a unique identification system that provides every Indian citizen with a unique identification number based on their biometric data. Aadhaar is used for a variety of purposes, including as a digital identity proof for availing government services.
    • Unified Payment Interface: UPI enables anyone with a bank account to make real-time digital payments using a mobile device. UPI is a payments system that runs on a central server operated by the National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), a non-profit organisation that is responsible for its management.
    • DigiYatra and DigiLocker: DigiYatra is a Biometric Enabled Seamless Travel (BEST) experience based on a facial recognition system (FRS), again through a partnership between industry and government, which ensures seamless identification of passengers at key checkpoints such as airport entry, security check and boarding gate clearance. 
    • The United States CLEAR programme (an expedited airport security/airport identity verification process) is now active at 51 airports with about 15 million members at a cost of $369 per annum for a family of four.
    • Cybersecurity: The government has established the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), which is responsible for responding to cybersecurity incidents and ensuring the security of India’s digital infrastructure.
    • Overall, the growth and development of India’s DPI ecosystem in the past decade have been impressive, and there are significant opportunities for further growth and development in the coming years. As India continues on its path towards digital transformation, the development of a robust DPI ecosystem will be crucial for enabling inclusive and sustainable growth.

    Way Ahead

    • For India’s DPI success to become a worldwide revolution, three types of institutions must be built.
      • First, we need independent DPI steward institutions. It is important to have a governance structure that is agile and responsive. A multiparty governance process through independent DPI institutions will be accountable to a broad range of stakeholders rather than be controlled by a single entity or group. This can build trust and confidence in DPI.
      • Secondly, we need to develop global standards through a multilateral dialogue led by India. If standards originating from developed nations were transplanted to an emerging economies’ context without deferring to their developmental concerns, smaller countries would simply be captive to dominant technology players.
      • Finally, we need to develop sustainable financing models for developing DPI for the world. Currently backed by philanthropic funding, such models are at risk of becoming a tool of philanthropic competition and positioning.
    • India’s DPI marks our second war for independence — economic freedom from the day-to-day drudgery of life and transactions, which has made it become our new business backbone that is powering India towards a $25 trillion economy by the 100th year of our political independence. Imagine what new Cambrian explosion will happen when ChatGPT meets India Stack

    Conclusion

    • The world needs a new playbook for digital infrastructure that mediates the flow of people, money and information. This will facilitate countries looking to digitally empower their citizens. They can then rapidly build platforms that address the specific needs of people, while ensuring people are able to trust and use the platform – without fear of exclusion or exploitation.
    Daily Mains Question
    [Q] What is Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI)? Examine the key areas and opportunities of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) in India.