Every year, India’s policymakers are enhancing and deepening the use of technology for governance.
The annual Budget for 2021 continues the effort to fund projects driven by emerging technologies.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman mentioned the use of technology several times during her speech. An important example was about the ministry of corporate affairs’ plan for digital compliance: “During the coming fiscal 2021-22, we will be launching data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning driven MCA21 Version 3.0. This Version 3.0 will have additional modules for e-scrutiny, e-Adjudication, e-Consultation and Compliance Management.”
GST collections have been rising in previous months, partly because of improved tax administration and compliance. The use of technology has aided the tracking of defaulters and fraudulent behaviour. “We have also deployed deep analytics and Artificial Intelligence to identify tax evaders and fake billers and launched special drives against them,” Sitharaman said in her Budget speech.
The National Language Translation Mission to enable voice-based services for government and enterprises will be encouraged to use artificial intelligence for its projects. Websites in all Indian languages will be possible while the broader objective is to strengthen voice-based internet in India.
Millions will be able to benefit from the digital revolution, since the written language will no longer be a hurdle. For many categories of society, writing on a computer or typing on a phone is difficult. With natural language processing technologies, devices will be able to understand voice commands in every language.
Perhaps the biggest project, though, is likely to be the digital census, as announced in the Budget. The government has allocated about half a billion dollars for the Census, which will be held digitally. India holds a national survey once every 10 years. The Census for 2021 has been delayed because of the pandemic. However, the government has planned on using the latest digital technologies to capture, process and analyse data of India’s citizens.
The government plans to use mobile phones to capture data during the Census. The Census is the largest such exercise in the world and has been held regularly for the last four decades. However, the systems that capture information are dated and therefore the results are often delayed.
The use of a digital platform for the Census will allow various agencies to interpret vast amounts of information using data analytics.
Such data will have the ability to feed other government programmes like the National Digital Health Mission and the direct benefit transfer schemes in the agriculture and social welfare sectors.
When the US conducted its census in 2020, it used several new technologies to get accurate data. This includes satellite imagery. The federal government’s Census Bureau “developed computer software that allows employees in offices to compare satellite images from 2010 to new ones taken in real time. This helps them identify new houses, apartment buildings and other units to verify in the traditional Address Canvassing operation.”
The bureau used an internet self-response tool for citizens to upload and save data securely. A custom application was also created for collecting information using handheld devices during door-to-door canvassing. The information was transmitted and saved to a digital data vault as soon as the device connected to the internet. The data didn’t stay on the device the moment it was connected, to ensure that information was not pilfered.
India is likely to deploy such technologies during its own Census for a significantly larger population. The foundation laid by Aadhaar identification will be enhanced by the new digital tools for the Census. Subsequent budget announcements can only increase allocations for digital deployment in government activities.