Public Digital Backbone/Chapter 2. History in the Making

From Wikibooks, open books for an open world
Jump to navigation Jump to search

2. History in the Making

[edit | edit source]


"India is a place of infinite promise... It is also a place of endless patience." -Raghuram Rajan


India's journey in building an extensive digital infrastructure stands out as a remarkable achievement on the global stage. Here we chronicle the nation's strides in this domain, highlighting the catalysts for change, the challenges faced, and the milestones achieved. The aim is to provide a comprehensive overview of India's success story and its implications for other countries aiming to build similar infrastructures.

The Global South: An Analysis of Socioeconomic Divide

The concept of a digital social structure and debates around 'universalism' may not yet be fully understood. To grasp this, it's essential to first understand the ongoing debate of the global North vs. South and the reality behind it.

The term "Global South" generally refers to a group of countries including those in South and Central America, African nations, ASEAN countries, Pacific Island nations, the Indian subcontinent, Middle Eastern nations, and China. In essence, the Global South typically represents regions such as Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. Interestingly, no European country is considered part of the Global South. The global North-South divide is a prevailing reality, signifying that Northern countries are wealthier and more developed than their Southern counterparts. Northern countries tend to suppress the South, hindering their path to development. The reasons for this divide include:

Legacy of the Colonial Era: Northern countries colonized and ruled over Southern countries for centuries, during which they exploited their resources, causing economic weaknesses.

Unjust Global Economic Systems: The current global economic system often benefits the North while disadvantaging the South. For example, international trade agreements restrict Southern countries from protecting their industries.[1]

Technological Shortfalls: The lack of modern technology in the South acts as a barrier to their development.

Instability: Often, countries in the South face political and social turmoil, stalling their progress.

Because of this division, Southern countries face numerous challenges, such as:

Poverty: A significant problem in the South, with more than 80% of the world's impoverished population residing there.[2]

Illiteracy: Over two-thirds of the world's illiterate population lives in the South.[3]

Health Issues: More than 90% of those affected by diseases like malaria and AIDS are in the South.[4]

Understanding this divide is crucial to acknowledging the global challenges and addressing them holistically.

Addressing the Global Divide

To eradicate this division, the global community needs to take several steps, including:

Reforming the Global Economic System: The global economic system should be restructured to provide equal opportunities to all nations.

Spreading Technology: It's essential to disseminate modern technology across countries in the Global South, allowing them to accelerate their development.

Establishing Stability: Stability needs to be established in the countries of the Global South, ensuring they can focus on their development without any hindrance.


"India is going from an offline, informal, low productivity, multiple set of micro economies to a single online, formal, high productivity mega-economy. And this is the trend of the next 20 years..." -Nandan Nilekani, Founding Chairman of Aadhaar Project.


“There is now a major move afoot to take this model to 50 countries in five years,” Nilekani said, speaking at the B20 Summit in the national capital. “So over the next few years, you will see the proliferation of how this new way of thinking about digital infrastructure at population scale, using an open architecture, is going to be more and more ubiquitous and prevalent around the world,” Nilekani said.

India, a land of diverse cultures, traditions, and languages, has always held a spirit of adaptability at its core. As the world hurtled into the digital age, India too began crafting its path, resulting in the formidable ascent of digital public infrastructure. The journey is as much about technological innovation as it is about reimagining governance.

The Starting Block: Aadhaar

Our tale begins with an ambitious project in 2009 – Aadhaar. India decided to give a unique identification number to each of its 1.3 billion residents. Critics wondered: could a nation with vast illiterate populations, lacking basic amenities, pull off such an ambitious feat?

Yet, by 2017, over a billion people had their biometric data registered. An anecdote often shared is of an elderly woman in a remote village, who for the first time had an identity outside her family – her Aadhaar card. For many, it wasn’t just an ID; it was a symbol of belonging.

Banking the Unbanked: Jan Dhan Yojana

Aadhaar paved the way for Jan Dhan Yojana in 2014, aiming to ensure financial inclusion. With the Aadhaar card as identification, millions opened their first bank accounts. In a poignant moment, a vegetable vendor in Bihar expressed his joy saying, "For the first time, a bank recognized me."

A Tryst with Digital Transactions: UPI

The Unified Payments Interface (UPI) story is nothing short of revolutionary. Launched in 2016, it made digital transactions as easy as sending a text. A tea seller in Pune amusingly recalled, "People used to ask for change, now they just ask for my UPI ID!" By 2021, UPI recorded transactions worth 5 trillion rupees in a single month.

A Transparent Approach: GST and e-Way Bill

2017 marked a landmark year with the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), aiming to unify the nation's complex tax structure. The accompanying e-Way Bill system ensured real-time tracking of goods movement. A cloth merchant from Rajasthan fondly remembers the pre-GST era, jesting, "We had more tax calculations than cloth patterns! Now it's simpler."

Towards a Digital Health Revolution: National Digital Health Mission

2020 was a challenging year for the world. But amidst the pandemic, India announced the National Digital Health Mission. With a vision to digitize health records and ensure efficient health service delivery, this initiative promised a future where medical consultations, prescriptions, and records would all be a click away.

Digital Literacy: Bridging the Digital Divide

While these initiatives created waves, the grassroots movement of digital literacy deserves a mention. Rural digital literacy campaigns transformed young children into village heroes. A popular story speaks of a 12-year-old teaching her grandmother to video-call her son in the city, bridging miles and generations.

As India continues to stride towards a digital future, these anecdotes remind us that at the heart of this transformation is the common citizen. Their stories, their adaptations, and their aspirations. With each digital step, India isn't just adopting technology; it's crafting history.

Portraying a holistic integral beautiful picture
  1. [1] 'The global economic system is in dire need of an overhaul'
  2. [2] World Bank data
  3. [3] UNESCO statistics
  4. [4] 'STATE OF INEQUALITY: HIV, tuberculosis and malaria'