Huffington Post recently carried an article by Rachna Khaira where the infamous journalist tried to malign the Digital India program by dragging it in the middle of a controversy. It is no surprise that a couple of months ago, through a similar shabby analysis, there was an attempt to malign the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA) program. The same journalist was also caught for sharing fake news regarding the sale of supposedly “stolen” Aadhaar data.
The first line of the article by HuffPost itself displays the deep inherent bias that the author has against the current government so we must take it with a pinch of salt. In fact, the article is based on an incoherent understanding of the Digital India program and it reflects the utter lack of knowledge and ignorance of the author. The claim in the article is that the government is fudging the data to show the success of Digital India, but the entire article fails to substantiate the much “explosive” and controversial claim.
First things first, the decision to refer to e-Taal (Electronic Transaction Aggregation & Analysis Layer) for e-transactions is a policy choice of the government. e-Taal is the government’s dashboard that measures e-transactions on a real-time basis, and it is used for the purpose of evaluation of the penetration and adoption of digital services across the country. Therefore, the benchmark has been set by the government for the purpose of evaluation of its performance. To question the benchmark and then say that the policy has failed is by far the most absurd logic that we’ve come across till date. It is worth mentioning that the author does not contest the facts or figures in the platform but simply distorts them and argues that we should have a different definition of e-transactions. Her distorted idea of e-transactions is then used to argue that the government has fudged the data but she provides no evidence to substantiate such a charge. The reason why she makes a charge of fudging of data is to undermine the success of the Digital India program and claim it as a failure but of course, the program has been one of the most successful programs of the current government.
As far as her distorted idea is concerned, that in itself is inconsistent with the understanding of what constitutes as e-transactions and what the objective of the government is with its Digital India program. One of the major goals of the Digital India program is to ensure that government services are provided over the digital spectrum. Thus, once the benchmark has been set to measure the success of the program, we must evaluate it using the stated objective of the policy along with the benchmark for evaluation. In the present context, the government has considered e-transactions as transfer of data and is using the eTaal platform to monitor them but Rachna has a problem with it only because it does not suit her preconceived notions about the current government.
There are several points that have been raised to express concern regarding the quality of data by her. For instance, she argues the inclusion of BHIM and UPI transactions in the figures of e-transactions post 2016 will inflate the number of e-transactions. It must be mentioned that UPI came into existence in 2016 so how could the data be included for something that didn’t exist before 2016? Digital payments are legitimate transactions over the internet so now that we have UPI, it makes logical sense to include it in the data. Based on the data for February, over 2 crore daily UPI transactions took place so that is a solid number to illustrate the rise in e-transactions. With cashbacks and other incentives, it is only logical that there has been significant and widespread adoption of digital payments. However, just because of the legitimate inclusion of UPI in eTaal goes against her hypothesis, she wants it to be removed from the eTaal platform. We must welcome the fact that in this dynamic nature of digital world, the government is using a dynamic platform like eTaal as a benchmark. But even when the government is doing something right, they’ve got to question it because how can Modi get it right?
The journalist who claims to understand IT also feels that card payments should not be considered as e-transactions. It’s absurd that someone who understands or rather claims to understand IT would make such an assertion but then again, when the objective is to slander and malign then where is the space for logic? For even those who are not that sound with IT, it’s obvious why card payments should be included in the e-transaction figures. A card payment by a person is essentially a request to transfer money from one account to another and this request would be processed by clearing houses which are connected to banks. The entire process is done over the digital spectrum so why should they not be included in the definition of e-transactions?
Her take on Aadhar and e-KYC were downright hysterical, we all know what happened after that fake story in tribune regarding Aadhar data. In fact, the world knows how she’s been on a mission to malign the Aadhar ever since the government started using it to plug leakages. But consider this, Aadhaar and e-KYC are critical towards the Digital India program of the Government. It goes without saying that whenever someone completes KYC over the internet using e-KYC, it is a digitally verified KYC so it should be an e-transaction. The fact that it is now possible to complete a KYC over the internet digitally without any “paperwork” or any hassle must be considered as the government offering a key service over the internet. By definition, it is an e-transaction so it is a part of e-Taal but then again, because it doesn’t suit her agenda so she doesn’t want it to be included irrespective of logic or rationality.
Similarly, railway bookings and cancellation are also an e-transaction since the existing Apps and website of IRCTC are used for online for bookings and cancellations. Booking such tickets online effectively implies that an online service is being offered by the government and thus these transactions must be included and recorded as e-transactions. Moreover, in August 2014, there was a revamp of IRCTC and since then its capacity and scale has been significantly amplified. The decision of removal of 2% surcharge has further encouraged more citizens to rely on the online service for booking of rail tickets and incentivize greater adoption of e-transactions. But who cares about logic, for her even this is not an e-service!! (double exclamation marks deliberate)
She has questioned the extension of SMS to farmers as being equated to be an e-transaction. We must appreciate the government, and rightly so, for considering Digital India to be a program that focusses upon bridging the digital divide that was prevalent in India before 2014. Even with the launch of UPI, the government ensured that a simple candy-bar phone could also be used too make a digital transfer of money over the 2G network using SMS. Thus, the government has consistently considered SMS as a part of an electronic transfer of information and there is no departure from this convention when the government considers SMS to farmers as a part of e-transactions. Additionally, these SMSs are provided with the intention of spreading awareness and sharing vital information about weather, prices in different markets and other information that is critical for the welfare of the farmers. This information is shared with only those farmers who have registered with the government’s Kisan platform so only those farmers who have registered get these messages. Additionally, as the penetration of mobile phones has gone up and more farmers have opted for this service by registering for the platform, it is evident that the number of SMSs would go up. Providing vital information for the wellbeing of citizens is also an integral service of the government so we see no reason why someone should question why the government is sending such vital information over SMS to farmers who have opted for these messages.
It was amusing to see the journalist asking for services to be reduced from the definition of e-transactions so that they can claim that Digital India has not really created much impact, but the fact and data remain contrary to her faulty hypothesis.
The fact that the entire data published by the government shows different components along with what is included and excluded for different years demonstrates the transparent nature of the statistics released by the government. Therefore, the allegations of fudging of data are hysterical at best and driven by a clear desire to mislead the people using convoluted logic, incoherent arguments, inconsistent facts and false equivalence.