Digital Bharat – A Template of Digital Public Infrastructure and Digital Governance

Bharat is taking a lead in a technology-driven global shift.
Keywords: Digital, Bharat, Policy, Global, UPI, Transaction, RuPay, Technology
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“India’s Digital Public Infrastructure offers scalable, secure, and inclusive solutions for global challenges,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi, G20 Digital Economy Ministers’ Meet, August 2023.

Bharat’s Digital Public Infrastructure and Digital Governance, is making headlines across the world. From doubts to curiosity to appreciation to trust, the country has shifted the gears of global perspectives, in a remarkably short period! 

On the topic of Digital Transformation, Bharat is in a unique situation, where the countries on both sides of the globe – North and South, are taking inspiration from its approach, few are admitting it in public, and others are introspecting in private. But somewhere, everyone is trying hard to match its pace!

So, the question comes: what is there in Bharat’s approach and its efforts over the last ten years that others are missing? How can a country of a billion plus be capable of leveraging the technology for its governance and delivery so smoothly, while those with a few million could not?

According to the IMF, the three foundational elements for a robust DPI (Digital Public Infrastructure) are: digital identity, payments system, and a data exchange layer, and Bharat has demonstrated remarkable progress in all three!

Some Facts/Numbers

It started first with providing internet access in the remotest corners of the country, at a pace that was never seen before! And that resulted in: from 243 million internet users in 2014 to over 850 million internet users in 2023. Today, in internet usage Rural Bharat is a way ahead of urban areas!

With a goal to leverage technology to reform and transform old dysfunctional Governance structure, the country started a mega drive to provide a digital identity platform called Aadhaar, and today there are 1.3 billion Aadhaar holders in the country (as of 29th September 2023, the Authority has generated 138.08 crore Aadhaar numbers to the residents of India). 

In parallel to these efforts the government started another mega drive called ‘Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY)’ – one of the biggest financial inclusion drives in the world! The goal was to provide at least one basic banking account with a debit card and inbuilt accident insurance (through the opening of zero-balance bank accounts) to every household in the country and to bank the unbanked, making them part of the financial mainstream. The government has outperformed on this front too, and today there are over 500 million Jan Dhan bank accounts in the country!

Then a craft to link all this together was proposed, with the introduction of the JAM trinity, which stands for Jan Dhan bank accounts, Aadhaar, and Mobile and it is this JAM trinity that revolutionized and took the idea of ‘Governance’ to the next level! This integrated architecture and vision, revolutionized financial inclusion, streamlined service delivery, and enhanced transparency in governance, something that the country waited for years!

The JAM trinity enabled Direct Benefits Transfer (DBT) of government services and support to citizens, stopped leakages in the System, reduced corruption, saved over 33 billion dollars for the country, and proved one of the biggest lifesavers of millions of our underprivileged people too, when the Corona pandemic, knocked the country. But above all, it boosted the confidence of the common people, in their government’s ability to deliver! 

And the UPI (Unified Payment Interface) payment ecosystem that NPCI (National Payments Corporation of India) developed post-demonetization, is a success story on its own. 

When the fintech players of the world were busy discussing the blockchain/cryptocurrencies and investing in their branding strategies to target the most profitable segments and affluent class customers, NPCI, a public sector entity of Bharat, worked on a broader vision of financial inclusion and has developed not just an app but an entire ecosystem. It launched a series of revolutionary payment systems like UPI, USSD, BHIM App, Bharat Bill Pay, BharatQR, RuPay Card, and several other AEPS (Aadhaar Enabled Payment System). 

In Bharat, every month nearly 10 billion transactions take place on UPI. In the month of January itself, the UPI transactions touched a new height, when they crossed 12.20 billion in numbers (worth Rs 18.41 trillion in value). 

According to the data released by the government (in the month of Dec 2023) “Unified Payments Interface (UPI) transactions have grown from 92 crore in FY 2017-18 to 8,375 crore in FY 2022-23 at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 147% in terms of volume. Similarly, the value of UPI transactions has grown from ₹ 1 lakh crore in FY 2017-18 to ₹ 139 lakh crore in FY 2022-23 at a CAGR of 168%.”

UPI and a Vision of ‘Uniting Partners with India’

“India’s Unified Payment Interface, i.e. UPI, today is fulfilling a new responsibility- Uniting Partners with India,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the occasion of the launch of Bharat’s Digital Payments Connectivity with Sri Lanka & Mauritius (Feb 12, 2024). Apart from Sri Lanka and Mauritius, there are five partner nations: France, UAE, Singapore, Bhutan, and Nepal, where Bharat’s UPI has gained acceptance and endorsement! 

Earlier this month, NPCI International Payments Limited (NIPL) of Bharat and Lyra Group of France, announced their partnership on UPI, and Eiffel Tower became the first merchant to offer UPI payments in France. Acceptance of UPI in France has not only provided a seamless payment facility but opened up new opportunities for retail and tourism merchants across France and Europe too and soon this trend is going to expand further!

Similarly, NIPL of Bharat and NEOPAY (a subsidiary of Mashreq Bank) of UAE have already partnered to create a more robust payment infrastructure in UAE. BHIM UPI is now live at NEOPAY terminals across UAE. During PM Modi’s recent visit, both sides signed an MoU to enable seamless cross-border transactions, which includes, an agreement on interlinking of the instant payment platforms – UPI (India) and AANI (UAE) and an agreement on inter-linking domestic debit/credit cards – RuPay (India) with JAYWAN (UAE).

If we talk about Singapore, the fintech hub of the world, last year, the Prime Ministers of Bharat and Singapore, launched the real-time payment linkage between the two countries, using their fast payment systems, UPI and PayNow. As per RBI’s official press release, “The UPI-PayNow linkage will enable users of the two fast payment systems in either country to make convenient, safe, instant, and cost-effective cross-border funds transfers using their respective mobile apps.” And the “funds held in bank accounts or e-wallets can be transferred to/from India using just the UPI-id, mobile number, or Virtual Payment Address (VPA).”

The PayNow-UPI linkage is also the world’s first real-time payment systems linkage to use a scalable cloud-based infrastructure, which means the system is capable of accommodating a growing volume of remittance traffic, in the future. 

And if we talk about our neighbourhood, Bhutan is the first country to adopt UPI standards. Back in 2021, the NIPL of Bharat and the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) of Bhutan partnered to enable BHIM UPI QR-based payments in Bhutan. On 15th February, 2024, following the current trend, Nepal’s Rastra Bank signed and exchanged terms of reference for the integration of fast payment systems through the UPI of Bharat and the NPI (National Payments Interface) of Nepal too.

In this post-Corona protectionist sentiment-driven world, the way Bharat is sharing its experiences and expertise with the world, with an open mind, reflects that for us, the idea of ‘वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम्’ is not a mere slogan or gesture, it’s a part of our foundational approach, our core value system and worldview, which puts ‘welfare of all’ (Sabka Vikas) at the center of our national approach! 

“I dream of a DIGITAL INDIA where: the World looks to India for the next Big Idea,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the launch of Digital India Week, 2015. 

When we observe the current trajectory of Bharat and its ongoing exchanges with the world, we come to the point that somewhere, the intent and approach of leadership matters!

To conclude, we can say that for the first time (since independence), Bharat is taking a lead in a technology-driven global shift! Globally, there is an environment of trust that Bharat is well positioned to shape this drive and to show a path for the future, and the country is humbled toward this trust and environment.

In a world where even developed countries are still struggling to figure out how to approach the ongoing technology-driven revolution and seem incapable of producing a vision for the future, Bharat is emerging as a hope and a source of inspiration for others!

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Devsena Mishra

Devsena Mishra promotes advanced technologies, startup ecosystems and Indian government’s business and technology related initiatives like Digital India, Make in India and Startup India etc. through her portals, articles, videos, and books.

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