When Mangalyaan (India's first interplanetary mission) entered the orbit of Mars in September last year, it registered many firsts. It was the first ever Mars mission to be launched successfully on its maiden attempt, the only Asian mission to do so and only the 22nd success of 52 attempts across the world. At just $74 million, the mission cost less than the estimated $100 million budget of sci-fi blockbuster Gravity, and a fraction of the estimated cost of the American rover Curiosity ($2 billion). Mangalyaan signalled the beginning of what can become a new era for India - an era where we come into our own. The "Make in India" campaign, the dream of a Digital India and the Jan-Dhan Yojana are contributing to a positive mood and renewed recognition of this nation - a nation so full of promise, and so ready to unleash its potential onto this world.
But this transformation won't be easy. After years of a predominantly agrarian economy and complex procedures that reduce ease of business, can we turn the tables to beat Made in China? Can we really become the Digital India of Modi's dream, where every citizen will have a digital locker? Can our roads and public areas become cleaner? The truth is that the time for ifs and buts in India is over. To paraphrase Jawaharlal Nehru, these are dreams that we MUST realise, if not wholly then at least substantially. We can take inspiration and even solace from several successes over the last few years. For example, successful examples of e-governance already exist - wide-scale systems for passports, IT returns and for the Pan card are all reasonably successful. India's banks have turned the digital corner too. Clearly we are on this road already; it is time now for acceleration.
But there are lessons we have learnt along the way. Flipkart taught us last that it is imperative to get tech infrastructure right to manage lakhs of transactions in a single day. And in a nation of a billion plus people, it will take true executive vision and technological heavy lifting to get the infrastructure right to make India's digital dream a reality. Calibrated planning for storing rapidly growing volumes of structured and unstructured data, data management and analytics will be as crucial as having applications that deliver efficiently and at scale, in order to eventually provide the seamless consumer and citizen experience that becomes the yardstick of success.
Let's take the example of a smart city. This means tools to monitor the quality of water flowing in taps and levels in reservoirs, a smart environment to monitor quality of air, technology to monitor changes in body vitals and sending alerts to hospitals. All of these are part of India's ambitious Rs 7060 crore smart city project (per the Union Budget 2014). A smart city like Singapore generates 2.5 petabytes of data every day and its population is approximately 5.4 million. It is estimated that by the year 2050, the number of people living in urban cities in India will touch 843 million. Clearly, India should be planning at least 150X the technology infrastructure of Singapore in order to realise the smart city dream. And this is just one project - a truly Digital India means ensuring every citizen in the larger Bharat is able to access more than essential needs, when it is needed, wherever it is needed, in a seamless manner.
The government cannot do this alone, and partnership with the private sector and citizens is imperative to ensure that structured and unstructured data come together to generate intelligent insights that make things work. A calibrated approach to realising our dream is the need of the hour so that India can take her rightful place in the world. Mangalyaan has shown we can reach for the stars. This is India's quest, to follow that star.