The Indian National Congress has promised net neutrality, privacy and protection of personal data, safeguards against surveillance, regulation against fake news, and other digital rights it will guarantee in its Elections 2019 manifesto. The Congress has promised that it keep Aadhaar voluntary but encourage it, and no person will be denied food security for want of Aadhaar. It also promises amendment of the Aadhaar Act 2016 restrict use of Aadhaar to government welfare services. Importantly, it will scrap the Niti Aayog and revive the Planning Commission.

It criticizes the BJP for demonetisation, and says that “Digital India, Startup India and Make in India have been colossal failures.” On demonetisation, it says that it “cost the people of India at least Rs. 4 lakh crores in lost output, lakhs of jobs and greater indebtedness”, and that a “poorly designed GST was implemented in a hasty and careless manner, with rules being changed haphazardly almost every day.”

All the promises it makes in relation to technology and the internet ecosystem here (see a copy appended at the bottom):

Digital Rights

  1. Internet and net neutrality
    • Provide access to all persons to high quality internet at affordable rates
    • Uphold net neutrality to ensure the internet remains a level playing field
  2. Open source: Promote the development and use of open standards, and free and open source software to enable citizens to avail of government services and access government information without being obliged to rely on proprietary software
  3. Personal data and privacy: Pass a law to protect the personal data of all persons and uphold the right to privacy
  4. Surveillance: Pass a law to provide adequate safeguards against unlawful or excessive surveillance and monitoring and provide for both independent and Parliamentary oversight
  5. Government transparency: Make all government departments publish all non-private data sets as open data, allowing citizens to access the data without having to file RTI requests
  6. Fake news: Pass regulations to stop the spread of fake news and hate speech and punish those who misuse digital and social media.
  7. Internet shutdowns: Congress promises to pass a law to preserve the freedom of the Internet and to prevent arbitrary and frequent shutdowns of the Internet.

National security

In the context of national security, Congress promised to formulate policies on data security, cyber security, financial security, communication security and security of trade routes.

Aadhaar

  1. Amending the Aadhaar Act: Promises amending the Aadhaar Act 2016 to restrict use of Aadhaar to subsidies, benefits and services provided by the government as, it claims, was originally intended under the law.
  2. Other identification documents to be allowed: Congress promises having regard to the inherent limitations of biometric identification, alternate instruments of identification will be allowed under the law.
  3. Voluntary but encouraged Aadhaar: Congress will ensure that the linking of Aadhaar will be voluntary but encouraged. No one shall be excluded because of non-linking of Aadhaar (the INC stated this in context of food and nutrition security).

Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) / Universal Basic Income

The Congress has promised to undertake a universal basic income scheme for the poorest 20 percent of the population, or 5 crore families. The party believes that the size of India’s GDP and the level of Total Expenditure (Central and State Governments) will allow it to undertake the cash transfer program without affecting the goal of fiscal prudence. The main features of the Minimum Income Support Programme (MISP) or Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) will be:

  1. Cash transfer of Rs. 72,000 a year to 5 crore families (or the poorest 20% of the population)
  2. The money will be transferred to the woman member of the family, who either has a bank account or who will be urged to open one
  3. A 3-month design phase will be followed by a pilot, and 6-9 month testing phase before roll-out
  4. The rollout will be implemented in phases
  5. The estimated cost will be <1 per cent of GDP in Year 1 and <2 per cent of GDP in Year 2 and thereafter. The scheme will be funded through new revenues and rationalization of expenditure.
  6. As the nominal GDP grows and families move out of poverty, the cost will decline as a proportion of GDP.

Independent panel for rollout: Congress will appoint an independent panel of eminent economists, social scientists and statisticians to oversee the design, testing, roll- out and implementation of the programme. The panel will give the go-ahead for the progression of the program through phases; the party said it will implement NYAY as a joint scheme of the central and state governments.

GST 2.0

The Congress said it will review current GST laws with the GST 2.0 regime that will truly reflect the intent and purpose of a non-cascading, value-added, indirect tax. The party is confident that GST 2.0 will promote growth, new businesses and employment.

  1. Basic elements of GST 2.0:
    • GST 2.0 will be based on a single, moderate, standard rate of tax on all goods and services.
    • The rate will be revenue neutral to the current indirect tax revenues of the centre and state governments and will take note of the potential of GST 2.0 to boost their tax revenues.
    • It will levy a special rate of duty on demerit goods.
    • It will be easy to administer and easy to understand by the taxpayer, and easy to comply with.
    • The website will be re-designed based on inputs from the taxpayers.
  2. Exemptions, levies, changes from GST 1.0:
    • Promises to bring real estate, petroleum Products, tobacco and liquor under GST 2.0 within 2 years as agreed to in the GST Council.
    • Essential goods of mass consumption (such as food grains, lifesaving drugs, vaccines, etc.) and essential services will be exempted from GST 2.0
    • All exports of goods and services will be zero-rated and not subject to GST 2.0.
    • Promises that threshold exemption for small businesses will not be affected by inter-state supply of goods or services.
    • No GST on purchasers through reverse charge mechanism to support small, unregistered businesses that supply goods and services
    • Promises to abolish the e-way bill. Tax evasion will be detected through the risk management mechanism and strengthening the intelligence machinery.
  3. Formation of the GST Council:
    • GST Council will be the policy-making body and will be served by a permanent secretariat of tax economists, tax policy experts and tax professionals. Its minutes will be put in the public domain.
    • Promises that the DTC and GST 2.0 will be essentially civil laws and any violations will attract civil penalties that will be proportionate to the tax evaded. Prosecution under DTC and GST 2.0 will be only in cases of criminal conspiracy or corruption or fraud.
    • Congress promises to take forward the idea of the GST Council of Ministers and establish such councils for agriculture, education and healthcare.
  4. Congress will endeavor to allocate a share of GST revenues to Panchayats and Municipalities.
  5. Promises that a taxpayer will be required to file a simple, single quarterly return for his/her business and an annual return. Every tax payer will be subject to assessment by a single authority based upon turnover.

Banking

  1. India Global Companies Fund: New Indian technology companies face a stiff capital barrier to scaling up to global size and standards. Congress will set up an India Global Companies Fund and create a policy environment to support Indian companies to become global companies.
  2. Rural banks & financial inclusion: Promises to strengthen and enabled technology in Regional Rural Banks and Banking Correspondents to accelerate financial inclusion so that citizens are provided banking services
  3. Simplifying KYC: Will work with the RBI to simplify the KYC process, avoid repetitive verification, and use a wider range of documents for the purpose.

Industry

  1. Law on doing business in India: Congress recognizes that business—be it manufacturing or supply or trade or exports—runs best on predictable and stable laws, protection of property rights and sanctity of contracts. It promises to enact a comprehensive Law on Doing Business to incorporate the best business practices and rules
  2. Endeavors to bring every Fortune 500 company to set up a business in India.
  3. Angel tax to be withdrawn: Promises complete withdrawal of Angel Tax on start-ups; promises to incentivise starting of new businesses and make India an innovation hub.

FDI

  1. FDI welcome: FDI will be welcomed in all sectors, subject to exceptions on the ground of national security. Rules and regulations will be minimal.
  2. Level playing field for foreign and domestic investors: FDI will be accorded national treatment and there will be a level playing field for foreign and domestic investors. There will be no expropriation and no retrospective taxation.

Media

  1. Preventing monopolies, cross-ownership in media: A new law to curb monopolies, cross-ownership of different segments of media, media control by other businesses. Congress will refer cases of suspected monopolies to the CCI.
  2. Amending the Cinematgraph Act for restrict censorship: Promises to the Cinematograph Act, 1927 to restrict film censorship only on grounds of national security and obscenity, it will direct the CBFC to be transparent and reasonable.
  3. Digital archives for art & culture: Allocation of sufficient funds and support to create digital archives of art and culture.
  4. Copyright Act will be strengthened; Copyright Board will be reconstituted and empowered to achieve the objects of the Copyright Act.

Digital Health and education

  1. Digital health records: Congress promises to promote, and eventually mandate, the digitization of medical records with “suitable provisions for privacy, mobility and inter-operability”.
  2. National Telemedicine Policy: Promises to formulate a National Telemedicine Policy based on international best practices.
  3. Tech-enabled teaching: Promises to use technology-enabled teaching methods and technology-driven, personalized and adaptive learning tools in all schools.

Supporting innovation

  1. Promises to increase the expenditure on science and technology to 2 per cent of GDP; promises to allocate sufficient funds to promote science, technology and innovation.
  2. National Innovation Council: Promises to make the National Innovation Council the premier body to formulate, debate, analyse and implement strategies for innovation
  3. Establishment of national mission focused on sunrise technologies such as Big Data, machine learning, IoT, 3-D printing and manufacturing, and knowledge networks.
  4. Promises to enhance the India Inclusive Innovation Fund to provide funds to innovative businesses scale and expand; it will also “engage with persons at the bottom of the economic pyramid” to promote grassroots innovation
  5. Promises to set up a National Data Science Institute to train and produce data scientists.

Other tech and digital promises

  1. Technology in judiciary: Will encourage the judiciary at all levels to adopt technological tools to track cases and expedite the hearing and decisions on cases.
  2. Modernizing police: Congress promises a “Model Police Act” which will, among other things, make police forces modern, technology-enabled, people-friendly, and upholders of human rights and legal rights.
  3. Patent laws: Promises to strengthen patent laws and support Indian inventors and innovators to secure international patent protection; creation of a patent patent pool, acquiring patents and providing affordable access to patented technology.
  4. Review of spectrum policy: Promises to review, re-formulate and implement the policy on spectrum and on exploration and extraction of natural resources
  5. Digitising land records: Congress promises to work with State Governments to digitise land ownership and land tenancy records and, in particular, recognise ownership and tenancy rights of women farmers and ensure women get the benefits of agriculture- related schemes.

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Other key promises impacting the digital economy

Steps towards reforming economy

Our economy is still over-regulated. Structural problems remain. Government control and bureaucratic interference are aplenty. Regulators have morphed into controllers. There is growing interference by the courts in economic policies. The BJP Government has reversed the clock of reforms. Congress promises to undo these distortions and restore an open, liberal market economy.

  1. Disinvestment of PSEs: Promises to disinvest from non-core, non-strategic central public sector enterprises.
  2. Open, liberal market economy: Unless we are vigilant, government has a tendency to interfere with markets as well as re-acquire control over trade, industry and business. Government has a role in an open and liberal market economy and it is worthwhile to state the Congress position on the role of government:
    1. Promises to get government out of gratuitous interventions in the market;
    2. Promises to get government into addressing notable market failures through regulation (e.g. capital market, banking, etc.); and
    3. Promises to build capacity in government for taxation, delivery of public goods and services, etc.
    4. Promises to review all laws, rules and regulations governing investments within 3 months. Instruments that are inconsistent with a market economy or outdated or obstructionist will be repealed.
  3. Role of private sector: Private sector must play the lead role in identifying opportunities, mobilizing resources, adopting advanced technology, producing goods and services, and securing domestic and foreign markets. Congress promises to extend full support to the private sector and to revive the “animal spirits” of our entrepreneurs.

Foreign policy

  1. Foreign Trade Policy will be reviewed and restated within 3 months. Exports and imports shall be free and consistent with WTO rules. Any instrument that has the effect of altering this guiding principle will be supported by sufficient justification and its operation will be limited to a sunset date.
  2. Promise to work closely with all countries and particularly India’s neighbours and the G-20 countries, in various multi-lateral forums and institutions.
  3. Promises to make every effort to significantly increase trade with other countries; also promises to strengthen its relations with other countries through enhanced economic co-operation, two-way investments and closer relations between businesspersons.

Scrapping Niti Aayog, new Planning Commission

“The BJP Government’s decision to abolish the Planning Commission was thoughtless and absurd.”

  1. Scrapping Niti Aayog: The Congress will scrap the Niti Aayog, “which has proved to be a noisy and incompetent intermeddler” and promises to constitute a Planning Commission which will formulate medium and long-term perspective plans, and function as “an independent expert body to perform crucial functions”.
  2. ‘Lean’ Planning Commission: The new Planning Commission will have a maximum of 100 members, including renowned economists and financial experts.

MSMEs

  1. Limited regulation, exemption from laws for 3 years: regulatory forbearance, and freedom from ‘Inspector Raj’ for Micro and Small Enterprises until they stabilize ; they will be exempt from all applicable laws and regulations (except the Minimum Wages Act and tax laws) for a period of 3 years from 1 April 2019 or, in the case of new businesses, the date of commencement of business.
  2. Revival plan: Promises to MSMEs devise a rehabilitation plan for MSMEs that were severely affected by demonetisation and a flawed GST and help them revive and grow.
  3. Promises to promote ‘Mass Entrepreneurship’ and support entrepreneurs to replicate tried and tested models of businesses

Congress’ manifesto for 2019: