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Public digital platforms with regulatory sandboxes to come up for multiple sectors: IT Secretary Ajay Sawhney

The Indian government is working on developing Aadhaar-like “public digital platforms” for healthcare, education, employment, logistics and so on, Ajay Sawhney, Secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY) said at an online event on March 5. Blueprints of public digital platforms in education,  agriculture, and primary sector are in an advanced stage; plans are being made for platforms for matching jobs with skills and for logistics, Sawhney said at India Soft 2021, a online conference organised by Electronics and Computer Software Export Promotion Council (ESC). 

The public digital platforms for the respective sectors will come with their own regulatory sandboxes in case of regulated sectors and development testbeds in case of unregulated sectors, he added. Sandboxes provide opportunities for companies to create new products that will eventually become part of the system, he added. 

The design and motive of the platforms will be similar to that to Aadhaar, which Sawhney said was the first public digital platform in India. Aadhaar is an online digital identity that is now used for multiple services, with a law and authority in place. It’s an entire ecosystem wherein a large number of industry have participated to make use of the Aadhaar and use it in their businesses, he said. Similarly, UPI has led to the growth of PhonePe, Paytm, and Google Pay at an exponential pace.

Public digital platforms can consolidate “fragmented implementations” in any domain and create a nationwide platform which is meant for not just the government to provide services but for the industry to build their businesses on top of it, he said. 

In October 2020, Sawhney had said that the Indian government will soon release a blueprint on a ‘”farmers digital platform” which can be used for artificial intelligence purposes. Work on the blueprint was at an “advanced stage” at the time, and a farmers’ database had been put together well. “But unifying things around a farm record and then building a large platform around that concept, I think, that is something that will come in through this nationwide blueprint. We should see this getting unveiled this quarter itself, hopefully in the earlier part of the quarter,” he said.

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Sawhney was likely referring to the blueprint for the Agri Stack or Kisan Stack, as mentioned in the Agriculture ministry’s report on “Doubling Farmers’ Income” from 2018. The report had envisioned the use of Aadhaar India Stack and Kisan Stack to help the government better target schemes and subsidies for farmers based on data about ecology, soil requirements, market requirements and so on. This, the report had said, could help with the vision of doubling farmers’ incomes.

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