Is a multilingual Digital India campaign required for its success?

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The Digital India campaign was launched by the Government of India in 2015. Its primary objective is to provide government services to Indian citizens digitally by connecting rural India with high-speed internet.

Under the initiative, the Indian government aims to accomplish:

  • The creation of digital infrastructure
  • Delivery of services digitally
  • Digital literacy

While this initiative has seen success, its awareness among the rural citizens of India is still low. The primary reason for this is that the initiative is not entirely language-localised. The landing pages and the apps involved are still mostly in the English language, which 88-90% of India is not literate in.

We will delve into the particulars of Digital India and the success of selective projects carried out under this initiative to understand whether it needs to be reinforced by a ‘multilingual’ Digital India campaign.

What is the current digital government in India like?

The National Informatics Centre, a central government body, helps with development and maintenance of the government IT infrastructure, including the government’s digital presence and services.

Complementing central government’s initiatives, state governments also have their local departments that often develop and maintain the state’s IT needs. These various departments have the authority to make their own decisions and often execute projects through tenders with assistance from external vendors or agencies. Such decentralisation and involvement of external specialists is required for faster decision making and near-perfect execution.

Under the Digital India Initiative, the Government of India wants to ensure that government services and information are available to citizens electronically by

  • Improving online infrastructure
  • Increasing Internet connectivity
  • Making the country digitally empowered in the field of technology.

In order to support such Digital India initiatives, state governments also ensure digital availability of information to its citizens and employees.

Recently, the Government of Uttar Pradesh completed a project called: “Innovative Multilingual Intelligent Search and Analytics Solution.” Apart from scanning and digitising legislative information of past 25 years, the project also enables users to search for information in multiple languages.

This project reduces the time to information from days, weeks or even months to mere seconds thus, enhancing application efficiency to a great extent. It is also expected to help the government in tackling problems of corruption and bring more transparency and governance in the system.

Can a multilingual Digital India facilitate inclusive Internet access?

More projects like the one mentioned above need to be executed by the governments (central and state) and private companies that address the challenges in the current Internet ecosystem and lays the foundation for an all-inclusive Internet of the future. These projects should aim at:

  • Creation of quality content in local languages overcoming some of the challenges discussed
  • Digitization of historic data, and data transformations so that data can be accessed by anyone in multiple languages
  • Ensuring the sanity of content generated so that it is searchable in multiple languages by search engines

By focusing on the above key areas, the foundation for an all-inclusive Internet ecosystem can be laid, which can benefit all the citizens and has the potential to boost Indian economy as well.

Success of multilingual digital initiatives

There have been many successful citizen centric digital initiatives by the governments (central and state governments) in partnership with the private sector.

IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL), a joint venture between Star Global Resources Ltd and Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited (IFFCO), is one such initiative that is a near-perfect example of socio-economic upliftment using technology.

Incorporated in 2007, IKSL has built an active user base of 1.61 million farmers and has seen massive success over the last decade. IKSL solves the information gap by sending out five SMSs on a daily basis in local languages on various topics like power availability, canal rosters, soil testing, fertiliser/seed availability, handling crop diseases, market prices of agri-produce, offering general solutions for agri-productivity issues, etc.

Availability of timely information helps the farmers in taking precautionary measures and thereby increases productivity. One of the key factors for high user adoption is the availability of information in local languages. The venture today, not only has a huge social impact, but is also economically profitable.

Reverie & State government projects

At Reverie, we have also tasted similar success where state governments have been able to increase user reach and engagement by adding multilingual capabilities to existing applications.

There are multiple government databases and applications that have low user engagement primarily because the content is available in only English. The unavailability of these databases/applications in multiple languages and in Unicode format (standard data format that new age applications can read) limits the success of many projects.

For e.g.:

  • Government of Rajasthan, realising the potential of such initiatives, partnered with Reverie to execute a program to sanitise 60 million citizen records and convert the database to Hindi. The program enabled front end applications to provide information in Hindi along with English, thereby increasing citizen reach. Reverie also provided its keypad Swalekh to enable users to type in their local language, thus improving user engagement to a great extent.
  • Government of Karnataka initiated a similar project that enabled citizens to access their caste and income certificates, rural development and panchayat raj services from the gram panchayat kiosk. This was made possible by ensuring data availability in local language, and it witnessed huge participation from the citizens.

In closing:

There are numerous other digital initiatives that have positively impacted citizen lives. However, in order to extend the success of such digital transformation at scale, these initiatives should be made available and discoverable at large.

That can only be made possible if the underlying challenges in multilingual information availability, access and discoverability on the digital medium are addressed and solved as soon as possible. Therefore, a ‘multilingual’ Digital India will truly help the country achieve its objectives faster and become a beacon for inclusiveness.

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