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Emerging Technology is Transforming Governance in India

By Kamal Das

As India celebrates the 1 billion vaccination milestone, we raise a toast to applaud the health care workers and the vaccine manufacturers. We also need to celebrate the technocrats who designed the CoWIN app. While friends in the UK got their vaccine appointments after physical meetings in slips of paper, this process was fully digital in India. While US citizens have to carry handwritten vaccine record cards, Indians can breeze through with digital vaccination certificates in DigiLocker, Aaroya Setu app or by scanning a QR code! 

News reports suggest that over 50 countries have shown an interest in the CoWIN app, whose code has been open-sourced. From being a laggard in technology, India is showcasing its powers in the digital arena! 

Yes, emerging technology (ET) is here in India, and how!  It is just not the COVID vaccination setup that highlights India’s transformation in embracing ET. Almost every area and citizen is positively touched by the impact of the government of India and the state government’s steady adoption of ET to bolster transparency and governance in the country. 

India Stack

India Stack is the largest open Application Programming Interface (API) in the world. India Stack is a set of APIs that allows governments, businesses, startups and developers to utilize the digital infrastructure to solve India’s problems towards presence-less, paperless, and cashless service delivery. Some applications of India Stack include the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) with over 3.5 billion monthly transactions, DigiLocker, which allows access to digital documents including driving license, vehicle registration, academic records from the original issuers, and eKYC for establishing one’s identity in a paperless and electronic manner. 

We highlight some areas where the government at the central and state level and government and non-governmental organizations have effectively used ET, including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), Blockchain and Drones in India.

AI and ML

In farming, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, the International Crop Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has developed an AI Sowing App.  The app leverages ML to suggest advisories on optimal dates for sowing to farmers in the local languages of Telugu and Kannada, respectively. This has improved the yields by 10 percent to 30 percent for the farmers. Similarly, AI-powered apps are recommending the best time to spray pesticides in cotton cultivation.  IoT (Internet of Things) sensors are helping with water conversation by automated drip irrigation.

In health care, AI models are being used to reduce maternal and neonatal deaths. Research on the use of AI to develop a “precision public health” approach enables our limited resources to have a more targeted approach. AI models are being used to predict the dropout risk of expecting mothers from call logs and beneficiaries’ demographic information to reduce maternity deaths. Missed calls and automated calls are used to ensure the mothers, especially in low-income households, do not miss appointments with local health care works. 

In policing, many state governments, including Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, have begun to use AI and ML to control crime.  Many states have also started to use AI and computer vision to monitor traffic, identify traffic patterns and congestion trends, as well as issue challans to those breaking traffic rules.

Tax assessments and decisions for audits are investigations in both direct taxes (like income tax) or indirect taxes like GST are led by AI and ML. India’s ‘Transparent Taxation Platform’ uses AI and ML for outlier detection and taxpayer network analysis to detect tax fraud and tax evaders.

Even the judiciary is looking at AI to improve efficiency and reduce delays in cases.

Blockchain

In September 2021, CBSE and the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) announced “Academic {BlockChain} Documents”, which can be accessed online in a trusted and verifiable manner. BlockChains ensure that academic documents are recorded in a secure and tamper-proof manner. Once implemented should help reduce the time and effort to authenticate academic documents for higher studies, jobs or financial loans. This supplements the efforts of the National Academic Depository (NAD) through DigiLocker

Drones

The Ministry of Panchayati Raj has launched SVAMITVA to establish clear ownership of property in rural inhabited areas by mapping land parcels using drone technology and providing ‘Record of Rights’ to village household owners with the issuance of legal ownership cards to the property owners.  

Indian Railways, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and state highway authorities have also used drones to monitor stretches of the railway and road infrastructure.  Disaster relief agencies, including the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and National Disaster Relief Force, have used drones as part of their operations. Various state governments, including Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Karnataka, have used drones to monitor mining activity. The Drone rules 2021 should increase their usage further.

While it is early days and many improvements in the usage will happen over time, it is heartening to see the steady adoption of ET across the spectrum in India. Overall, we are confident that ET will help improve the efficiency and quality of governance in India.

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