India Stack

Finally, this week, much coveted, and long awaited Goods and Services Tax(GST) bill has been passed. It will be interesting to see its impact on Indian economy going forward. Last week I read two interesting articles in Times Of India. One was from Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilkeni and other was from Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal. Nilkeni’s article was a speech about Digital India and Bansal’s article was about GST. Interestingly, both of them referred to something called India Stack. I intend to write about it on this blog today.

Few years ago when Government of India embarked on unique identity project for all Indians, under leadership of Nandan Nilkeni, I still remember the ruckus it had created in Indian IT industry in terms of bidding for various projects there which involved usage of various high tech technologies such as big data analysis. The amount of data generated by this project, for India”s 1 billion plus population, could give insights to all sorts of information for government. Linking unique identity to bank accounts also was most welcome idea. This allowed direct transfers of various government benefits to people. This directly impacts corruption which is single most concern for India. It has removed bureaucracy, and reduced dependency on paper. All this brings in efficiency, speed and transparency.

Now after unique identity project got over, the data has been amassed. And government started making use of that data to make decisions. Couple of years earlier with advent of Modi government, there was renewed focus of Digital India mission, and people oriented schemes such as Jan Dhan, and usage of mobile technologies to provide services to people of India by government, popularly called as JAM(short of Jan Dhan, Aaadhar, Mobile), has created huge potential. Government has decided to open up the access to this data(may be in limited way of course), to other government agencies, organizations, startups. Any access to data is generally through something called application programming interface(API). The ecosystem of API, data and associated tools generally form a stack, meant for specific purpose, solving specific problems. That is where India Stack was born. This is open and secure API for this data.

This is what India Stack web site says about it:

IndiaStack is a complete set of API, made available under the Open API Policy, which enables development of payment-enabled Apps. It includes Aadhaar for Authentication (Aadhaar already covers over 940 million people and will quickly cover the population of the entire nation providing the world’s largest authentication system), e-KYC documents (safe deposit locker for issue, storage and use of documents), e-Sign (digital signature acceptable under the laws), unified payment interface (for financial transactions) and privacy-protected data sharing within the stack of API. Together, the India Stack enables apps that could open up many opportunities in financial services, healthcare and education sectors of the Indian economy. What this essentially means is that developers and tech startups can now build software and create businesses around the readily available infrastructure offered through India Stack, thus opening a huge potential to tap into the booming smartphone market in the country. Since the consumer market in India is very large, such startups could also hope for institutional funding and gain from the early mover advantage.

The API documentation for IndiaStack is available here which includes now Aadhaar API, eKYC API, eSign API, Digital Locker API and recently introduced RBI’s Unified Payment Interface(UPI), which is developed by National Payments Corporation of India(NCPI). The specification for UPI can be found here. There another project under Digital India initiative which has been undertaken is called Open Data Portal. This platform also provides many APIs for data made available by central, state and local governments as well. Anyone developing apps on government data can use these APIs in their apps. I am not sure why this set of APIs is not part of India Stack as yet.

Nilekeni noted that India’s economic revolution come from services and not from manufacturing unlike China. And this is so proven, as India is leader in providing services not only its own people but also the world. And in this context passing GST bill, which is related to services as well, apart from goods, is so critical, as Bansal notes in his above said article, in terms of using IndiaStack for production and consumption.

Update as on Dec 11, 2016: This update is coming little over 1 month after demonetization drive was initiated. What an effect and dramatic change it has caused to digital payments industry? Mobile wallets apps such as Paytm has seen many fold growth. UPI based payments has caught up fast as well. Paytm has announced that it will make its system compatible to IndiaStack, as per this report in Dec 11 The Economic Times.

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