- Democracy is not solely about conducting fair elections alone. It is also not just about local governmental governance. Democracy thrives when citizens can establish two-way communication with the government, that is to have always an open channel of feedback in response to government actions. This feedback and delivery mechanism works in tandem towards strengthening the idea of democracy. Global advances, indigenous innovations, and the adoption of digital technologies for wider social & e-governance have worked as a catalyst in the process of strengthening our democracy.
Democracy and digital influence:
- Ideally, a digital-enabled democracy has to help society in being efficient, and in their view on governance. A democracy needs the ability for open debates, with civility and no fear. A democratic debate needs citizens to participate in it, which in turn makes them more aware about their surroundings.
- Democracy is about free choices, and not free of choices. The performance of public institutions and public awareness about them are vital for a democracy to develop. Globally, sufficient research and civil society voices have brought worries about unequal political participation.
- This is where digital inclusion can bring in increased social involvement for political participation. Governments and political parties can be transparent, accountable, and inclusive using technology.
- The Government of India over the past few years has been the biggest champion for digital inclusion across various spheres - public domain, business use case, banking and financial services, governance, judiciary, etc. The outcomes are still under observation with varying degrees of success so far. It aims in transforming India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. Digital India Mission focuses on three objectives:
- Providing digital infrastructure as a source of utility to every citizen.
- Governance and services on demand.
- To look after the digital empowerment of every citizen.
- Information and communication technology (ICT) is progressively facilitating the dissemination of information about, and discussion of, political issues, wider democratic participation by individuals and groups, and greater transparency and accountability in democratic institutions and processes, and is serving citizens in ways that benefit democracy and society.
E-Governance and Judiciary
- The purpose to include e-governance in government is to means more efficient in various aspects. Whether it means reducing costs by reducing paper clutter, staffing cost, or communicating with private citizens or public government. Right to Information is an act of the Parliament of India "to provide for setting out the practical regime of right to information for citizens". Other initiatives like e-passports, e-voter identification cards, SVAMITA (Survey of Villages Abadi and Mapping with Improvised).
- Crime and criminal tracking network systems are also available which help in booking criminals and help in their trials. Digitization helps majorly in dispensing off cases quickly and in providing Justice by the Judiciary which is an important pillar of democracy.
- Another step in this direction is “e-Court Mission” Mission Mode Project (MMP) was conceptualized with a vision to transform the Indian judiciary by making use of technology.
- The project had been developed, following the report submitted by the e-Committee under the Supreme Court on national policy & action plan on the implementation of information communication tools in the Indian judiciary. It can also help the judiciary to reduce the backlog of cases, thereby a forward towards timely deliverance of justice.
Health and Welfare
- Health is the responsibility of the government. In the health sector with the help of digitization people can check for the availability of doctors, and medicines and register for the same online. So now people do not have to wait in long queues for hours for their turn and hence it makes it easier for the government to have data ready for future policies.
- Also, there are various initiatives by the govt. to provide affordable, accessible Medicare at low costs for people from all walks of life. There are schemes like life insurance schemes, and general schemes which is available online like IRDA, and NRHM (for weaker sections, etc). There are medical researches that are carried out online as a means to develop cures and treatments.
- Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM) is a visionary initiative, stemming from the National Health Policy, 2017 intends to digitize healthcare in India. Other initiatives like Cowin, Aarogya Setu, and ABHA (Health ID) are a step towards ensuring an efficient delivery mechanism for government services.
Education and Digitization:
- It is the state's role to educate its citizens. The right to education is now a part of Article 21A of the Indian Constitution. It states that children from the age of 6 to 14 must be educated by the state. India is one of 135 countries to make it a fundamental right. Education is the reason for literacy. Literacy is the product of education.
- Digitization fosters education in the sense that it allows large quantities of information and books to be readily available on the internet. It fosters a participant democracy. It leads to effective and informed voting.
- Digitization makes media a powerful tool to reach the common masses. Today all the information, reports, and journals are available online, which in turn makes people aware of the government's functioning and happenings. Thereby strengthening democracy.
- Initiatives like the National Digital Library of India (NDL India), E-Shodh Sindhu, E-acharya, Global Initiative of Global Networks (GIAN), and National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL) are a few of the examples that are exemplary when it comes to inclusion of technology in education.
- JAM (short for Jan Dhan-Aadhaar-Mobile) trinity refers to the government of India's initiative to link Jan Dhan accounts, mobile numbers, and Aadhaar cards of Indians to plug the leakages of government subsidies. The use of technology in this trilogy has truly played an important role in ensuring inclusive growth translating into the participation of the masses. It is a remarkable example of technology in strengthening democracy by giving every eligible citizen a platform to engage in the nation-building process.
- Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is another initiative that has allowed multiple bank accounts into a single mobile application (of any participating bank), merging several banking features, seamless fund routing & merchant payments into one hood. This has completely revolutionized the way we avail banking services. Later on, enabling it on features ensured the inclusion of every single person and not missing out due to the digital divide of any sort.
E-Democracy: An Evolving Idea:
- Electronic democracy offers new opportunities to enhance public engagement and participation in democratic institutions and democratic processes. In this way, it helps empower civil society and improve policy-making procedures.
- E-democracy’s strength lies in its capacity to facilitate both bottom-up and top-down initiatives, and its growth can contribute to a redefinition of political priorities and a transformation of the ways our local and global communities are governed.
- E-democracy initiatives at all levels of governance are an effort to enhance transparency, accountability, access, and dialogue. These developments, when seen as complementary to traditional channels of democratic participation, offer a means to improve governance and consequently reinforce public confidence and trust in democratic procedures and values.
- Indians learned to use technology creatively to overcome social distancing requirements during the pandemic as children attended school online and religious communities met remotely.
E-democracy needs to be based on the following concepts
- Citizen participation: that is, the involvement of citizens and groups of citizens in public affairs, such as interest groups, corporations, associations, and non-profit organizations (NPOs), so that they can exert influence and improve the quality and acceptability of the results of democratic processes;
- Empowerment: namely, policies and measures to support citizens’ rights and provide resources for participation;
- Inclusion: That is, the political and technological empowerment of citizens irrespective of age, gender, education, socio-economic situation, language, special needs, and place of residence. Such inclusion requires an ability to use electronic tools (knowledge, e-skills, e-readiness), available and accessible e-tools, and a combination of electronic and non-electronic approaches.
- Deliberation: Rational debate among equals, where people publicly discuss, endorse and criticize one another’s points of view in a thoughtful, respectful discussion of an issue and action to be taken on it.
Outcomes of E-democracy
- E-democracy can result in a form of democracy that can be seen and observed, accessed and interacted with from anywhere, by all stakeholders.
- E-democracy can bring together policymakers and citizens in new forms of engagement and policy-making.
- E-democracy has great potential in the area of community building, including among, and with, minorities.
- By providing a means of reducing exclusion, e-democracy can foster social integration and social cohesion and thus contribute to social stability.
- E-democracy can enhance the increasingly European, international, and global nature of politics and facilitate the cross-border collaboration this entails
Sectors of E-democracy: E-democracy encompasses, in particular, e-parliament, e-legislation, e-justice, e-mediation, e-environment, e-election, e-referendum, e-initiative, e-voting, e-consultation, e-petitioning, e-campaigning, e-polling, and e-surveying; it makes use of e-participation, e-deliberation, and e-forums.
- E-legislation is the use of ICT for drafting, commenting on, consulting, structuring, formatting, submitting, amending, voting on, and publishing laws passed by elected assemblies. It makes legislative procedures more transparent, improves the content and readability of legislation, provides better access to it, and thereby enhances public knowledge of the law.
- E-justice is the use of ICT in the conduct of justice by all stakeholders of the judiciary in order to improve the efficiency and quality of public service, in particular, to individuals and businesses. It includes electronic communication and data exchange, as well as access to judicial information.
- E-mediation is the use of ICT to find means of resolving disputes without the physical presence of the opposing parties: e-tools can serve as mediators.
- E-initiatives allow citizens to develop and put forward political proposals by means of ICT and thus engage in political agenda setting.
- E-campaigning is engaging by electronic means with people in a coordinated way and encouraging people to engage with one another in order to mobilize individuals in electoral and other campaigns and/or persuade them to promote a particular cause, in an endeavour directly or indirectly to influence the shaping or implementation of public policy.
Enablers, challenges, barriers, and Risks:
- Enablers of e-democracy: It can be initiatives by any stakeholder or factors conducive to the introduction and operation of e-democracy, such as new ICT and ICT-readiness, government and public interest, legislation and regulations, adequate resources, a well-developed civil society and systems to enhance democracy.
- The challenges facing e-democracy include ensuring that citizens and politicians are willing and able to engage in democracy by electronic means and have confidence in those means, closing the digital and social divides, and responding to new forms of communication.
- The potential barriers to e-democracy include, on the supply side, differing understandings of democracy, a lack of resources, organizational constraints, and structural limitations, and, on the demand side, the differing interests of the various stakeholders and their misgivings.
Promoting Participative Democracy:
- There is an unprecedented opportunity for community collective choice, whereby citizens who are affected by a set of governing rules can help to select and frame policy, rank spending priorities, and can, in partnership with their local government representatives. Such a Mechanism may help in strengthening social audit. For example, citizens can directly give suggestions to the government on myGOV platform.
Implementing Good Governance
- Information Technology has ensured that a policy decision taken by the government can be quickly executed and implemented at multiple locations, across the length and breadth of the country. It also ensures transparency, and accountability—while assuring quick and effective responsiveness of government to citizens’ problems and suggestions.
Achieving Sustainable Development Goals
- The government has taken much of the e-governance initiatives for effective public service delivery. Also, when combined with emerging technologies, it can help in achieving sustainable development goals.
Digitization and Indian Democracy
- Digitization is the integration of digital technologies into everyday life by digitization of information. It means storage in computing machines, electronic devices, etc. So that it can be readily transmitted and retrieved. Hence strengthening Indian democracy.
- Digitization has brought about a deep revolution in the country and across the globe as well. Planning is an important feature of any democracy. Provisions like the Aadhaar card provide each citizen with a unique Identification number in a digitalized form. Therefore, making the working and planning of the govt. easier and more convenient.
- Tasks like filing tax returns, paying water bills, and electricity bills are all easy and manageable at the click of a button through ICT and digitization.
Technology: Power tool to make oneself heard:
- The free flow of information via the internet and social media contributes to open debate and an exchange of ideas, two crucial tenets of democracy. Social media is a useful tool for political advocacy, as well as effective for creating sustained social change.
- Pro-democracy activists rely on open internet access. They use social media to promote voting drives and other community engagement initiatives. While activists of many stripes avail themselves of social media tools, open internet is especially valuable for marginalized voices that might not otherwise reach their intended audiences. We have seen how the MeToo hashtag sparked worldwide activism. Social media tools can transcend state boundaries, empowering citizen action.
Democratization of technology
- Democratization of technology refers to the process by which access to technology rapidly continues to become more accessible to more people. New technologies and improved user experiences have empowered those outside of the technology industry to access and use technological products and services.
Role of media in strengthening democracy:
- The media has given political parties the tools to reach large numbers of people and inform them on key issues ranging from policies to elections. The media can be seen as an enabler of democracy; having better-educated voters would lead to a more legitimate government.
Impact of the Internet on Democracy:
- The internet gives interested citizens better access to information which allows them to impact public policy. Using online tools to organize, people can more easily be involved in the policy-making process of government, and this has led to increased public engagement.
Media and democracy
- In a democracy, the media plays a very important role in providing news and discussing events taking place in the country and the world. It is based on this information that citizens can, for example, learn how government works. And often, if they wish to, they can take action on the basis of these news stories. Some of the ways in which they can do this are by writing letters to the concerned minister, organizing a public protest, public protest starting a signature campaign, asking the government to rethink its programme, etc. Given the role that the media plays in providing information, the information must be balanced.
Concerns about Democracy in the Digital Age:
Empowering the powerful:
- Many times, the Corporate and government agendas generally do not serve democratic goals or achieve democratic outcomes. They serve the goals of those in power. It’s been argued that the governments (and their corporate partners) are broadly using technology to create a surveillance state.
- The digital divide poses a large risk of exclusion in societies where information, governance, and citizenry discussions have gone digital. In the current digital century that we are in, digital skills are as important as conventional literacy. This is where policy leaders will be expected to fast-track investments and efforts toward digital education.
- We need to worry about Digital Exclusion too, where we have to solve for barriers that hinder accessibility due to geography, gender, caste, religion, social or economic segment, language, physical or mental health, educational level, etc. In this entire digital journey as a nation, we have to create safe layers for accountability and transparency and to bridge the gap between what’s public and private
- However, the commercialization of newer technologies poses a challenge to both mature and aspiring democracies. Creating a trusted space between citizens and their elected representatives is a prerequisite for creating a digital society. e-Governance, when designed efficiently and executed transparently, can deliver high levels of transparency and accountability; and can help citizens relate to their public institutions. This can be helped with increased public participation, oversight, and scrutiny of such national institutions.
- Digital information & communication technologies offer us the possibility of a new world or type of freedom. Yet it brings together the possibilities of surveillance and control (of narratives). Society has to settle that debate between these two realms. Like any inanimate object, technology cannot be praised or damned. The real question remains: Is the user ready to use the technology in a transparent and participative manner?
- Digitization can have an unequivocal impact only when the whole structure of ICT is affordable, accessible, and readily available. Citizens must have access to all the information and it should be feasible and affordable. Keeping in mind the Per Capita Income the government must take up the plan to convert lengthy records into digitalized plans. As Amartya Sen said the state's focus should be on the 'capability approach' as against 'commodity approach' which is largely possible through digitization.