The BJP’s manifesto for Lok Sabha Elections 2019, termed as ‘Sankalp Patra’, has an entire section dedicated to BJP’s plans in the field of Information Technology and e-governance initiatives. While in our report card on the BJP’s 2014 manifesto on IT and e-governance, we found that BJP had been able to fulfil most of its promises, there were still some gaps. In the 2019 manifesto, some areas such as Smart Cities, India enterprise architecture for e-governance don’t get any mention in the Sankalp Patra.

So how effective is BJP’s IT and e-governance related manifesto? We analyse.

According to Tanmoy Chakrabarty, group government affairs officer at Tata Sons Limited, “There is a very strong undertone of application of information technology on many of the missions as stated in the BJP manifesto. For example, in the 75 goals, there is a commitment to digitise our Armed Forces. There is a commitment to digitise all of the land records of the country. Another aspect is the modernisation of all police stations as well as courts. These are three fundamental pillars of governance transformation namely the judiciary, the law enforcement agencies and the land records.”

Strengthening national security, the manifesto also refers to the pilot project on the use of technology to strengthen border security (Smart Fencing) which was implemented in Dhubri (Assam). The party promises to implement the same on all borders.

In agriculture, the Sankalp Patra goes one step ahead and suggests that it will develop young agri-scientists to take advantage of artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain technology, big data analytics, etc., for more predictive and precision in agriculture. As Chakrabarty puts it, “In the next five years, these technologies will play a vital role. IoT in air quality monitoring of city, IoT in monitoring water quality of rivers, and all of such initiatives are embraced by the government and will bring about data democratisation.”

Rural Wi-Fi underutilised

For villages, the BJP says in its manifesto that it will ensure that every gram panchayat is connected with a high-speed optical fibre network by 2022. Prasanto Kumar Roy, a Delhi-based technology analyst says, “The BharatNet promise is old. Connecting every Gram Panchayat via fiber by 2022 doesn’t tackle the basic issue with BharatNet, which already has fiber in 125,722 GPs (with equipment installed in 117,903 GPs). But there is virtually no utilisation of that 320,000 km of fiber — there is no business model for last-mile end-user access over Wi-Fi, nor any deal with telcos to use it for backhaul. Even with 11,000 or more rural Wi-Fi hotspots, usage is reportedly abysmal and BBNL does not share actual data usage figures. The telcos have been promised a subsidy (from the same USO fund that’s funding BharatNet) for viability gap funding if they set up rural Wi-Fi.”

However Rameesh Kailasam, CEO, IndiaTech.org differs a bit from Roy’s opinion. He says, “From the e-governance perspective, the base services are covered in some form or the other. But what is critical to have now is the connectivity part which was a promise in successive governments. It should have happened in UPA II and NDA II regime. Whichever party comes to power, digital connectivity is fundamental in promoting government services.”

Smart City 2.0?

The Sankalp Patra lacks any reference to the Smart Cities project and government plans on National Urban Innovation Stack (NUIS). NUIS has been conceptualised as a national digital infrastructure for urban e-Governance by Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) and National Institute of Urban Affairs (NIUA). But Chakrabarty highlights that though there isn’t a direct mention of Smart Cities, “The party plans to establish Urban Renewal Regional Centres for capacity building of states and municipalities. The same will have much more impact than a knee-jerk programme like Smart Cities”.

Apart from the e-courts and land record digitisation mission mode projects (MMPs), the manifesto lacks reference to the other MMPs which are part of the Digital India programme. Is it that other MMPs will be abandoned or go on the slow pace of implementation as is the case right now? The manifesto also lacks how will BJP will deliver services digitally. It also lacks how it will achieve end-to-end digitisation of government processes.

Kailasam counters that by stating, “For India to become the third block after USA and China, two things have to happen. One is the digital connectivity and the second is digital transactions whether card or vault or anything. The same has to increase. Digital Infrastructure backed by digital transactions backed by startups is a combination that will help India to not only reach out to a higher level but will also provide employment.”

Capacity building and startups

For capacity building, the government has taken a major step in expanding ‘Technology Centres’ and plans to achieve more than 150 such centres all over the country by 2024. These Technology Centres would help in mentoring, skilling and prototyping of MSMEs.

Kailasam says, “The national parties have now begun to appreciate the need for promoting new technologies and startups. This is the next wave which will take India to the next level. These are the things that will give employment to both India and Bharat. On one side, the knowledge economy guys building nuts and bolts for enabling technologies and on the other side you have Bharat ensuring the leg-work for making the services happen. If people are digitally connected, it will be easier for startups to reach to them.”

The party has also promised faster customs clearance of international cargo by relaxing clearance procedures, introducing self-declaration, etc., by adopting new scanning technology.

In a way, the promises made by the party across the information technology spectrum will take the nation to a step ahead towards technological progress. If we look at the manifesto of 2014, the party has delivered on most of its promises across the IT and e-governance sector. However, it needs to be seen how many technology-led interventions the party will be able to live up to from this Sankalp Patra if elected to power. While the government has used a lot of jargon such as blockchain technology, in the manifesto, it would be great to see something functional and concrete come to light using this technology. Also, it’s good to not see any ridiculous promise such as ‘100 Smart Cities’ anywhere in the manifesto. India is in the lead when it comes to mobile internet data usage, but last mile connectivity and optimal use of technology in rural areas has still been an issue. With 5G on the anvil, let’s hope that situation is resolved sooner too and more Indians are able to benefit through technology.

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