Union minister for communications and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad launches the new initiatives at an event in New Delhi on Monday. Photo: PIB
Union minister for communications and information technology Ravi Shankar Prasad launches the new initiatives at an event in New Delhi on Monday. Photo: PIB

New Delhi: The government on Monday expanded its Digital India programme, launching new initiatives and broadening the scope of existing ones, to make more services accessible to the masses.

The 22 initiatives launched under the Digital India programme include projects in the areas of digital infrastructure, digital empowerment, on-demand government services and promotion of industry.

Under the programme, Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to provide government services online, expand Internet connectivity to rural areas and boost manufacturing of electronic goods in the country.

“If the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government is remembered for laying down national highways, the Narendra Modi government will be known to have laid the digital highway of the country,” communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said while launching the initiatives in New Delhi.

The services launched on Monday include electronic payments for government services, a geographical information system (GIS)-based decision-support system, a request for proposal for selecting private cloud service providers for government departments, the setting up of an online laboratory for students to perform virtual experiments for all Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools, the incubation of 10 projects in the area of chip-to-system design and the development of a native operating system that will support text-to-speech technology for nine regional languages.

The government also announced the start of a new data centre for the National Informatics Centre (NIC) in Odisha entailing an investment Rs.189 crore and eight new software technology parks with an investment of Rs.78 crore. The new centres will take the total number of such parks in India to 62.

Prasad awarded three states and 55 districts across the country for significant contributions towards digital inclusion and innovative solutions.

“We would want all states to study the success of other states and emulate,” he said. He urged district magistrates and information officers to cooperate at the ground level to improve e-governance.

The government is also working on the concept of digital villages—rural areas that will have telemedicine facilities, virtual classes and solar power-based WiFi hot spots.

Speaking at the function, information technology secretary J.S. Deepak said digital governance is the best way to reach the remotest corners of the country.

“The basic objective should be to scale, because unless services are taken to the masses, digital inclusion will not succeed as asymmetry of information leads to asymmetry of opportunity,” he remarked.

Deepak said the curbs put on the use of Aadhaar unique identification number programme has made it difficult to implement Digital India initiatives.

The Supreme Court has through two orders limited the use of Aadhaar to the public distribution system, the distribution of cooking gas and kerosene, the rural jobs guarantee scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, central and state government pensions and the Employees’ Provident Fund Scheme. The issue of whether Aadhaar violates privacy has been referred to a constitution bench of the court, which is still to be constituted.

Prasad said the communications ministry is committed to the launch of the payments bank of India Post by March 2017.

The Reserve Bank of India in August gave initial approval to 11 entities, including India Post, to set up payments banks within a period of 18 months. Prasad requested Kavery Banerjee, secretary, department of posts, to adhere to the timeline.

Banerjee, in her address, said the department of posts is working towards making all postal transactions real-time and rolling out citizen-centric services. She announced that the current banking customers of the postal department will have access to mobile and Internet banking by early next year.

Communications minister Prasad also announced that state-run Mahanagar Telecom Nigam Ltd (MTNL) will offer free roaming services for incoming calls across the country starting 1 January.