The outcomes of India’s G20 presidency will be debated and discussed well after the summit in Delhi. The one outcome that everyone can agree on, irrespective of how fractious international politics may play out, is India’s emergence as a global digital leader.
From the very beginning, the digital technology agenda was showcased as the centrepiece of India’s G20 presidency. India has promoted a human-centric approach to technology and knowledge-sharing between countries to achieve financial inclusion and tech-enabled development in sectors like agriculture, health and education. India’s unflagging digital diplomacy of the last year fits into its ambition to be a tech leader, and to be seen as a country keen to share its homegrown digital development solutions with the world.
The “digital transformation” agenda in India’s G0 presidency is based on its achievements with digital technology which have accrued over the last decade, by building a robust digital public infrastructure (DPI) framework. DPI is a set of shared digital systems, built on principles of digital identity, exchange of data and digital payments. To break down what is essentially a complex system, DPI links the digital identity of citizens with mobile phones and bank accounts. Its benefits have been manifold, it has helped India advance its development goals and enabled efficient delivery of public services. All welfare schemes by the government have been digitally linked to bank accounts of citizens which has helped to reduce fiscal leakages, eliminate corruption, and increase efficiency in the delivery of welfare.
DPI, which is built on a public-private partnership model, has fast-tracked financial inclusion in the country by four decades, India has achieved financial inclusion targets in just six years which would otherwise have taken at least 47 long years, according to the World Bank. The financial inclusion drive has reached a large part of the population, especially women, who were outside of the formal financial system.
India’s success with building DPI has leapfrogged its digital economy, which is projected to grow to $1 trillion by 2030. India is the largest and fastest-growing market for digital consumers. Its digital payments system, UPI (Unified Payments Interface) has grown exponentially. India’s digital payments transactions last year exceeded those of the combined digital payments of the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and France. The total value of UPI transactions last financial year was nearly 50 per cent of India’s nominal GDP.
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India’s digital payments system is being accepted in international markets. In July, the two central banks of India and the UAE agreed to cooperate on linking their fast payment systems, UPI of India with IPP (Instant Payment Platform) of the UAE. The UPI is accepted for cross-border transactions in France, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Nepal.
In the post-pandemic world, the digital economy has become essential as a driver of economic growth, particularly in low and middle-income countries. The digital transformation agenda was a big part of the Indonesian presidency in 2022, which pushed
for digitising micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), expanding financial inclusion and accelerating digital literacy and skills. It will likely be crucial to Brazil’s G20 agenda when India hands over the presidency.
At the summit in Delhi, the success story of India’s digital infrastructure was showcased at a specially curated Experience Zone for G20 delegates. India’s digital diplomacy is already showing results. One of its key recommendations to the G20 has been to create an international alliance to fund countries from the Global South to accelerate their digitisation.
In the run-up to the final summit, it has offered to create and host a global repository of DPI to support other countries in building DPI platforms. The repository will include a stack of applications, which countries can use, customise or modify digital public goods. Eight countries from the Global South have already signed on, India will work with Antigua, Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, Sierra Leone, Suriname, Armenia, Papua New Guinea and Mauritius to help them develop DPI solutions. More collaborations are likely to follow. Tech for the public good is an idea for the times.
Sunaina Kumar is Executive Director at Think20 India Secretariat under India’s G20 presidency and Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation