IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis

Digital Public Goods

30th December, 2021 Polity

Figure 2: No Copyright Infringement Intended


  • India is pioneering the concept of digital public goods that enhance the ease, transparency and speed with which individuals, markets and governments interact with each other. 

Usage of Digital Public Goods:

  • Payments
  • Receiving the Passports
  • Checking the land records 
  • making the Payment using UPI
  • QR Coded Textbooks
  • Direct transfer of Money into Accounts

Need to export the Digital Public Goods:

  • Cheaper and Effective Usage: The cost of setting up an open source-based high school online educational infrastructure, to supplement the physical infrastructure, for an entire country is less than laying two kilometres of high-quality road.
  • No aid Conditionality’s: The investments required for transporting digital public goods are minuscule in comparison and there is no chance of a debt trap. Also, the code(platform) is highly reusable.
  • Visible Impact and Benefits: Unlike physical infrastructure such as ports and roads, digital public goods have short gestation periods and immediate, and visible impact and benefits.
  • Checks the Corruption: It eliminates ghost beneficiaries of government services, removes touts collecting rent, creates an audit trail, makes the individual-government-market interface transparent and provides efficiencies that help recoup the investments quickly.
  • Responsive State: Processes get streamlined and wait times for any service come down dramatically. Issuances of passports, PAN cards and driving licences are such examples.
  • Nature of Compounding: the digital public goods infrastructure compounds while physical infrastructure depreciates.

Reasons for Compounding:

  • First reason is the growth of technology itself. Chips keep becoming faster, engines more powerful, and gene-editing technology keeps improving. 
  • The second reason is the network effect. As more and more people use the same technology, the number of “transactions” using that technology increase exponentially — be it Facebookposts or UPI transactions. 
  • And the third reason is the rapid creation of new layers of technology. 
  • Development at Scale: Digital public goods spread speed, transparency, ease and productivity across the individual-government-market ecosystem and enhance inclusivity, equity and development at scale.


Benefits of Digital Public Good Diplomacy:

  • Boost India's Image as leading technology player: It will take made-in-India digital public goods across the world and boost India’s brand positioning as a leading technology player in the digital age. 
  • Earn Goodwill: It will enable quick, visible and compounding benefits for India’s partner countries and earn India immense goodwill. 
  • Counter Belt and Road Initiative:  it will create a strong foothold for India globally to counter the extravagantly expensive, brick-and-mortar led Belt and Road Initiative of China.


Challenges Associated with Digital Public Good Diplomacy:

  • Privacy Issues With Digital Public Goods: Potential violations of privacy and possible weaponization of data is a primary issue related to such digital initiatives.
  • Increase in Inequalities: Success in the digital provision of services is dependent on many underlying factors, including digital literacy, education and access to stable and fast telecommunication services.
    • In this setting, undertaking large-scale digitisation of services without bridging these digital divides could result in increasing existing inequalities.
  • Security Issues: There is a cybersecurity challenge in ensuring end-to-end protection of data throughout the whole ecosystem.
    • While channels and databases used by the Government for transmission and storage are usually secure, other players in the ecosystem may not possess the requisite expertise or security to prevent and respond to breaches.
    • The alleged breach of the Aadhar database is a case in point.
  • Unserved Remote Areas: With digital services not being uniformly distributed, communities in remote areas often require on-ground staff to deploy and supplement digital tools.

Way Forward:

  • Data Protection Bill: India needs to provide the framework for the data protection through data protection bill.
  • Check on Sharing of data: Key biometric data of the individual mustn’t be shared and only the transactional data can be shared.
  • Data localisation: India needs to ensure that digital goods diplomacy doesn’t become an exercise to gather the data and provisions must be made for data localisation.
  • Training of Individuals: Individuals across the countries needs to be trained in cyber security for successful digital goods diplomacy. A lead can be taken up by CERT.
  • No Authoritative nature: India needs to ensure that data with the state doesn’t lead to authoritarianism in these countries. Decentralized and distributed storage using the Block chain technology can be used by India.


  • India’s digital diplomacy will be welcomed by, all emerging economies from Peru to Polynesia, from Uruguay to Uganda, and from Kenya to Kazakhstan.