economy: An enabler or disabler?
The Asian Age,
July 19, 2017
By Pradeep S. Mehta and Rohit Singh
A few decades since, we have witnessed
a lot of such concepts turning into reality, courtesy technology
The pace at which people are taking to digital technology defies
our stereotypes of age, education, language and income,” said
Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Star Wars series showcased some ultra-futuristic concepts, which
made us gasp with surprise and downplaying their practicality. A
few decades since, we have witnessed a lot of such concepts
turning into reality, courtesy technology and innovation. One
may easily pass the buck to the transition from analogue to
digital and kilometres to kilobytes. Its integration with all
economic activities, digital economy as it is called, has indeed
made the world flat, apart from enhancing accessibility and
affordability of goods and services. Further, stereotypes based
on age, caste, creed, race, gender, income, etc., which kept the
society disintegrated, could be fading too with technology
possibly facilitating societal equality. So is this all
happening for good? Will the new world ensure justice and
equality and alleviate poverty and hunger? Will it keep the
economic engine running? How will the government keep up with
the pace of technological disruption? These are some of the key
questions that we need answers to.
Tech as catalyst:-
From businesses to governance and from manufacturing to jobs,
everything is increasingly embedding the binary. Tech-savvy
consumers have embraced it, as now they can access goods and
services, from anywhere and at much lower cost. Lower costs may
be attributed to the shrinking of supply chain and higher
efficiency in manufacturing and delivery. Prime examples may be
drawn from sectors such as finance, urban mobility and commerce.
Seemingly, Herculean task of ensuring financial inclusion has
been strengthened with the use of digital platform. While the
Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) programme has already
achieved a near complete household coverage, the stats also
reflect an unprecedented improvement in women banks linkage.
PMJDY, along with the use of Aadhaar and Mobile, JAM as it is
referred, can be exceptional in facilitating financial services
through formal institutions to last mile consumers.
Similarly, taxi-aggregator model for urban mobility, has
garnered praises across numerous geographies and for the time
being, seemingly allaying traffic and pollution woes. Elsewhere,
e-commerce has shown exemplary growth over the last few years
and is expected to be a $80 billion industry by 2020. Another
grand success can be seen in healthcare domain. For instance,
e-hospital, which is a part of Digital India initiative, has
facilitated over 472,000 appointments until November 2016 — a
feat that may only be achieved through remote assistance.
Similar things may be said about the massive open online course
(MOOC), which offers students free or reasonably priced
educational courses or Krishidoot, an informational and market
place platform for farmers, and the list can go on.
The key question here is whether our regulatory framework is in
step with technology or will it choke the sector and deprive
millions from the benefits that technology promises to bring?
New business models, so emerged, do not fit into conventional
regulatory scope and the new regulations, thus emerged, have
grave implications on these businesses. For instance,
taxi-aggregators have found themselves in turmoil because of
regressive regulations imposed by few states, despite there
being facilitating guidelines on framing optimal regulations.
E-commerce players have also been affected by the policies
pertaining to FDI, operations (IPR/parallel import,
predatory-pricing, excise and custom duties, taxes), payment
mechanisms (two-factor authentication), etc. These
regulatory/policy hurdles may stifle innovation, which may undo
the immense benefits consumers have reaped so far. Thus, the
need for optimal regulations becomes highly critical.
Apart from this, to facilitate digital tools and platforms, the
telecom infrastructure also needs to be strengthened. This might
need a rethinking on use of the Universal Service Obligation
Fund (USOF) mandate and creating incentives for the telecom
operators to reach out to the last mile. Definite resolution for
issues like Net neutrality, IPR, predatory pricing, consumer
protection/information disclosure, et al is also imperative. At
the same time, we also need to be cognisant about whole new
array of challenges that will come along with a fully digital
world. Incidentally, it seems that worry has not percolated in
its entirety yet.
With everything being digitised, managing data and
security-related issues will become extremely critical. The
ownership, storage and access to the big data is being fiercely
challenged and counter-challenged, not only amongst
organisations but geographies. Apart from this, the recent
examples of ATM, Jio and Aadhaar information being leaked and
even the recent ransomware attack (WannaCry), the critical and
confidential consumer data seems to be at threat, both in terms
of safety and privacy.
To ensure privacy and security of consumer data, India has been
rather trailing behind other countries. Despite all the threats,
India does not have separate policies for the two, whereas other
parts of the world, such as Europe, already have policies in
place. While India is aspiring to become a cash-lite economy by
promoting use of digital payments, such threats have kept the
high cash usage intact, despite the recent demonetisation move
by the government.
That said, another huge challenge for the state would be to
limit the impact of digital economy on job creation, which is
increasingly under threat due to technology taking over
conventional skill sets.
Thus, there is a need to understand trends and evolve our
policy, action, governance and skills not only in response to
developments as they happen, but also before they happen. It may
not be entirely possible at all times but at least the endeavour
must be to be agile and flexible when it comes to regulating the
economy and disrupting the status quo that can cost us our
future. The future is all about evolution where the digital
technology may indeed relieve the society of traditional
barriers and stereotypes.
The writers work for CUTS International
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