India Stack: Plans for a Digital Government

Economic Times reports that over the past few weeks there has been considerable excitement over the passage of the Aadhaar Bill in parliament. While one section has hailed it as revolutionary, another section has been alarmed by the privacy and security risk this has brought about. I will not get into this debate, but highlight another aspect that is hugely exciting. With the passage of this bill, the concept around India Stack is slowly, but steadily becoming real. 

If we imagine India Stack as a pyramid, at the bottom is the Identification and authentication through Aadhaar, next is Digital Locker for documentation, then e-sign based on Aadhaar and on top of the stack is UPI (Unified Payment Interface) for payments. Therefore, to do any transaction we firstly need to establish the identity of the parties, which is being done by Aadhaar. We then need to authenticate documentation, which the Digital locker provides as the documents are directly pushed and authenticated by the issuer, e-sign lets the parties sign and lastly UPI enables the money movement. 

The genesis of India Stack and what it aims to do can be traced back to the Open API Policy that Government of India formulated in 2015. The policy stated that the Government envisaged making available services digitally accessible to citizens through multiple channels, such as web, mobile and common service delivery outlets. "To meet this objective, there is a need for an interoperable ecosystem of data, applications and processes which will make the right information available to the right user at the right time. Given the enormous advantages in this regard, there is a need to formulate a policy for the Government organizations in India to provide Open Application Programming Interfaces (APIs)," said the policy. 

So what is API? Application Program interface (API) for a layman is the code that tells the developer the correct way to programme his software or application so that it can communicate with other applications or operating systems. API helps one software or application to communicate and work with another app or software and decides what information will be transferred so that it works in a seamless manner. The problem till now was that even if government entities have their own software or systems to undertake a work, more often than not they were not compatible with each other. For example, every state electricity board will have its own software or application to reach out to customers, which were developed independently and it would be very difficult to get them to work together or "talk" to each other. With an open API, you will not only make sure the standards for software and app across electricity boards are similar and interoperable, but also provide avenues for a citizen to develop an app or software that can, for example, provide analytics and data.

What it does: Firstly, India Stack is creating a digital architecture for paperless and remote transactions. Despite the best efforts in going Digital, the documentary paper work that every individual, organization and the government has to maintain is humongous. Add to that, there are several layers of verifying each document, which includes getting it signed by a Gazetted officer among others. This has created layers and made the system very complex to navigate. India Stack has the power to become a principal repository that can provide services and enable transaction digitally and remotely. By connecting every individual through an authenticated digital network, interactions, applications and delivery of services will be targeted and faster. This will plug leakages, ensure timely availability of services and open a system where every individual will have the power to seek the services they desire and deserve. 

Perhaps, the biggest plus for India Stack is that it is an open source where anyone can build apps and services using the India Stack Back backbone. India's innovative and entrepreneurial bent of mind is well known and this will enable startups and even individuals to develop apps and services that look to make government services more efficient and easier to access.

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