India must use the upcoming G20 presidency for a fair, enabling and robust digital economy.
India has a unique opportunity during its upcoming G20 presidency to make the case for a fair, enabling and robust digital economy. This can be a watershed moment for digital inclusion and connectivity everywhere. We must use our presidency to give greater voice to the Global South that has the most to gain from increasing democratisation of knowledge and resources through digitalisation. In our recent interaction with Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Chief Coordinator for India’s G20 Presidency and former Foreign Secretary, he said that “Our G20 Presidency will highlight India’s extraordinary achievements in digital transformations for socio-economic growth and development, which can be replicated to scale on a global basis.”
The G20 has worked to resolve a number of challenges in the digital economy space which include reducing the inequality of the digital divide, attempts to measure the scale of the digital economy and its contribution to the GDP, facilitating e-commerce operations, promoting digital skills and training, enforcing intellectual property rights, ensuring consumer protection and security, helping data flow freely with trust and supporting MSMEs to accrue benefits from digitalisation. G20 leaders have affirmed the need for policies that create a forward-looking, open & inclusive ecosystem.
In this same period, India has worked relentlessly to expand its digital footprint. In the last seven years, broadband subscribers have more than doubled from 302 million in 2015 to 824 million in 2022. India has one of the highest data usages in the world, with the average mobile data consumption touching 15.8GB per user per month in 2022, according to TRAI. The growing number of users and consumption of data per user is allowing the country to advance towards its vision of Digital India. India is also one of the fastest-growing digital market and a hub for global technological services. The recent rollout of indigenously developed 5G technology heralds a new era of development and innovations in the country. With the capability of delivering data speeds 100 times faster with 5G than current 4G networks, it is expected that tech-based industries will grow exponentially.
Digital innovation and communication are at the core of the rapid socio-economic transformation that the country is witnessing. India Stack is the beating heart of India’s digital transformation. It describes itself as “a set of APIs that allows governments, businesses, startups and developers to utilize a unique digital Infrastructure to solve India’s hard problems towards presence-less, paperless, and cashless service delivery”. It has allowed the creation of a variety of services towards a more digital society. The combination of use of Aadhaar, UPI, eKYC & the expanding infrastructure for digital products have allowed for tax streamlining, electronic identification, direct benefit transfer, reducing red-tape and speeding up delivery of public services. The financial inclusivity program Jan Dhan Yojna have brought in additional hundreds of millions of Indians under the ambit of mainstream banking and financial services. Additionally, with a total volume of 6.7 billion transactions in September 2022, with a value of transactions exceeding INR 11 lakh crores, UPI has been a huge impetus to many small, medium, and large enterprises that have chosen to adopt it. India is increasingly going in the direction of a cashless economy in the future. In light of these rapid developments, the Deputy Secretary-General-Elect of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Tomas Lamanauskas pointed out in a conversation with the authors that the “Success story of India’s digital development makes it well positioned to lead the discussion on how to bring digital empowerment everywhere. ITU has a strong track record in supporting such work of G20 Presidencies, including as a knowledge partner. We will be ready to support India in this role as well – to ensure that we together bring prosperous, sustainable and inclusive digital future to all”. The ITU is the United Nations specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs). It works to facilitate international connectivity in communications networks.
India’s priority at the G20 should be to lead in the direction of setting policies that are digitally inclusive, fair, just and facilitating for rapid digitisation of all stakeholders. More specifically, we should support greater digital skilling from early on. We must encourage use of technologies such as the distributed ledger technologies or blockchain to ensure grater transparency and accountability. We should also look to secure the digital economy against shocks and risks such as the recent pandemic and anticipate other similar black swan events of low probability but high impact that may get in the way of future digitalisation. Co-operation with other G20 countries for knowledge and technology sharing for faster development of ICTs must be encouraged. It is to everyone’s advantage if the foundational structure of the digital economy is set up to allow citizens around the world to be part of it. The returns are disproportionate as it eliminates the barriers of distance and geography. It also brings huge access to knowledge at a fraction of the previous cost, leading to an exponential rise in skills, rise in sales of goods and services and marked improvement in the quality of life of citizens.
Rajesh Mehta is a leading international affairs expert. Krishanu Ranwan is Founder, Public Policy Network.