The National Urban Digital Mission (NUDM) launched by the government in February this year like any other government programmes has ambitious goals. We have a long history of launching programmes for the public good but failing to deliver and there is no reason to be over optimistic this time either. Our programmes have always failed at the last mile delivery stage thus resulting in huge wastage of resources. Now the big question doing the rounds in our minds is will this time be any different?
National Urban Digital Mission
The National Urban Digital Mission (NUDM) will create a shared digital infrastructure for urban India, working across the three pillars of people, process, and platform to provide holistic support to cities and towns. It will institutionalise a citizen-centric and ecosystem-driven approach to urban governance and service delivery in 2022 cities by 2022, and across all cities and towns in India by 2024. NUDM will create a shared digital infrastructure that can consolidate and cross-leverage the various digital initiatives of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, enabling cities and towns across India to benefit from holistic and diverse forms of support, in keeping with their needs and local challenges.
Several other digital initiatives have been launched by the government – India Urban Data Exchange (IUDX), SmartCode, Smart Cities 2.0 website, and Geospatial Management Information System (GMIS). The India Urban Data Exchange has been developed to serve as a seamless interface for data providers and data users, including ULBs, to share, request, and access datasets related to cities, urban governance, and urban service delivery. SmartCode platform enables all ecosystem stakeholders to contribute to a repository of open-source code for various solutions and applications for urban governance. The Urban Learning and Internship Program (TULIP) aims to match opportunities in ULBs with learning needs of fresh graduates. These initiatives are aimed at making cities more self-reliant and enabled to meet the needs of and provide services to their citizens.
Need to educate people about initiatives
Though the mission has noble objective the main concern stems from the recent practice of rushing new processes and policies without taking the stakeholders into confidence. In recent years, we have seen some of the programmes being implemented too fast as there is no tomorrow. A case in point is the introduction of GST which was implemented while government machinery itself was not fully equipped to face the new challenges. Digitisation is an important evolution and its implementation too should be gradual after educating the people about its necessity and benefits accruing from it. Often most of the problems are being faced (by the common man) is due to lack of proper communication. Therefore, there is need for creating awareness about the various digital initiatives undertaken by the government and benefits likely to accrue from such measures to the common man.
Threat of cyber-attacks – The ugliest part
With proliferation in internet and mobile phone usage, there is a rise in number of cyber security incidents in the country as well as globally. In 2020, India witnessed highest number of cyber-attacks after Japan in Asia-Pacific region, as per a report by IBM X-Force Intelligence Index. The report further suggested that India accounted for 7 percent of the total attacks in Asia. As per the information reported to and tracked by Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), 3,94,499 and 11,58,208 cyber security incidents have been observed during the years 2019 and 2020 respectively. Given the fact that digital systems nowadays are interconnected or inter-linked, any computer network is vulnerable to cyber-attacks.
According to the government, the National Cyber Security Strategy is under finalisation. Public opinion and Stakeholder consultations were taken to draft a National Cyber Security Strategy. Perhaps we need to have this policy in place before we venture into our ambitious digital initiatives.
Further, India also lacks a cohesive nation-wide cyber-strategy, policies, and procedures. Regulations around data privacy, protection, and penalty should be enacted and enforced as these measures will help businesses evaluate their cybersecurity posture and seek ways to improve. Currently, incident reporting is not mandatory. By making it compulsory, there will be a body of research data that can provide insights on threats to India and inform the government on strategies it can undertake to strengthen the nation’s cyber posture.
Several risks including data leakage, phishing attacks, ransomware attacks are some of the common cyber threats plaguing Indians daily. Despite being the largest base of internet consumers, India continues to remain vulnerable to several national and international cyber-attacks.
According to NITI Aayog, “Cyber Intrusions and Attacks have increased dramatically over the last decade, exposing sensitive personal and business information, disrupting critical operations, and imposing high costs on the economy.”
Last year’s power blackout in the city of Mumbai is the latest example of how the conspicuous placement of malware in an adversary’s electric grid or other critical infrastructure has become the newest form of both aggression and deterrence — a warning that if things are pushed too far, millions could suffer.
Cyberattacks give them (our enemies) another option (other option being nuclear arsenal) — less devastating than a nuclear attack, but capable of giving a country a strategic and psychological edge. Russia was a pioneer in using this technique when it turned the power off twice in Ukraine several years ago. If the recent reports are to be believed, China too is not far behind in embarking on this technique. So, the caution should be the supreme word in mind before initiating this ambitious project which has several noble objectives which can be achieved only if implemented properly.