'I dream of a Digital India where government services are easily and efficiently available to citizens on mobile devices,' said Prime Minister Narendra Modi while addressing the Digital India summit about a couple of years back, which has become the basic theme of his 'Digital India' initiative. There were 112 crore (1.12 billion) active mobile connections in India in November 2016, according to the latest TRAI data. Under the programme, UPI mechanism, apps like BHIM, Aadhar-based payment systems were launched by the Centre and many of them have become popular tools for payments and cash less transfer of money today. Cash crunch created by ban on higher denomination notes imposed in November 2016 also spurred digital payments through different modes like payment wallets, online payments and transfers, card-card payments etc., and resulted in extensive use of digital information sharing, and all these means were promoted as part of the government's fight against 'Black Money'.
Can an avowed national initiative like 'Digital India' succeed without the participation of power sector? Not really. The power sector willy-nilly is connected to about 20 crore families in the country. If all the stakeholders of the power sector, including its customer base, which spans every nook and corner, are brought into the digital fold, it could revolutionise the reach of digital technologies in the economy. Besides, having more customers in the rural areas, the sector has the potential to bridge the urban-rural divide in the use of digital technologies.
It is heartening to see that the Ministry of Power is taking several measures in this direction as is borne out by the resolutions passed at the 6th Power Ministers Conference held in New Delhi, a couple of months back.
If one remembers, the first impediment that has come to light against digital payments after 'demonitisation' was the additional cost/charges involved in digital payments/transactions. And the first of the summit's resolutions on 'Digital Payments' addressed this, proposing that the states will subsume all such charges like convenience fee, merchant discount rate (MDR) etc., from July 1, 2017 onwards.
Keeping aside the sanctity of the date, the intent is laudable. Above this, the next resolution enjoins upon state power distribution companies (discoms) to consider giving cash incentives to customers using digital mode for paying bills. And a provision was made so that regulators can verify the same. The other two resolutions pertain to promotion of and publicity to digital payments, and that the promoters of the same, discoms in this case, have to practice what they preach, that is, making all payments to their employees, vendors and other stakeholders only through digital means.
Besides, it has suggested several steps for making cyber security fool-proof, considering the professional hackers on the prowl, of late. The participating states have resolved to develop Crisis Management Plan at the state and utility levels, and agreed to a quarterly review of cyber security, consider regular audit of cyber security preparedness, and conduct mock drills for executing periodic disaster recovery/simulation exercises.
That way, Ministry of Power is coming of age in the area of digital technology adoption too, by setting the tone and tenor in this respect for the sector as a whole.
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