The new normal

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The new normal

Sunday, 28 April 2019 | Deepak Kumar Jha

The new normal

DEEPAK KUMAR JHA tells you how India’s flagship programme Digital India is empowering the society by bridging the digital divide and ensuring that the advantages of information and communication technology are harnessed to empower ordinary citizens

Octogenarian Nanu Devi from a remote village in Alwar district, Rajasthan who keeps unwell due to old age now has no worries as which doctor to consult or who will take her to the nearby primary health centre or who will care for her medicines. Her neighbour’s daughter Shanti too has no qualms how to prepare for the Civil Services Exams as she is able to get every requisite study material at her doorsteps.

Prtihvi who is keen in excelling in spoken English is taking free tuitions in his village in Bettiah, Bihar. it would otherwise cost him Rs 20 to travel to the main town which he can’t afford. Riding a bicycle is out of the question. There are thousands of such stories from the rural India. Mahatma Gandhi once said: “India lives in its villages.” This can be cited bringing comfort and smiles to many families now part of a larger Digital India family.

A new generation of Women Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLE) are cashing in on the rapid growing Indian economy in the light of Digital India programme.

Take for example, Nilofar Khan. After completing BTech in Electronics, she joined a private ITI college with a determination to transform the access of technology and digitisation across Kota, Rajasthan. 

She joined Common Service Centres (CSC — a Government run digital India programme empowering the citizens) in December 2015 and till date has imparted digital literacy to 1,700 people, especially among minority and tribes from Bhil community who are often neglected because of their social status and habitual location.

Bhil, one of the most backward Rajasthani tribes, inhabit mainly in secluded areas away from the bustling city. They are also noted to be Sahariyas. They practice farming, fishing and hunting for survival. But due to Nilofar’s training and knowledge sharing, the community are now aware of their legal rights.

They have opened bank accounts and can now take all the investment decisions wisely with a little help from Nilofar.  Because of her the families in these communities realised the importance of education and the role it plays for emancipating an individual in their future. “Running the CSC center made me very strong — morally, socially and financially,” says Nilofar who has spread Investor Awareness Program among 600 villagers. Basuraj who takes care of making lives easier for his villagers in Melekote, Karnataka, has helped few of them getting their passports so that they could to visit their children abroad. “It gives me satisfaction; I call it a philanthropy profession,” says Basuraj. 

A couple visited the CSC and shared relevant documents uploaded by Basuraj and shared with the Regional Passport Office and sought the date of interview. The couple had to visit the RPO only once for interview. It was more than 100 km and within a month their dream to visit their children in the Middle-East was realised. “They brought gifts for me. While it was material thing, I understood the inner feelings of the couple,” Basuraj tells you. “Nothing can be more transparent than this and making lives of rural India easier by the use of technology,” Gokul Saini says.

The platform has also made it easier for rural India to think of making a passport which were detrimental to them over the experiences of harassments at various stages — from filling up the forms, to police verifications and documentations and lastly delivery of the instrument which at times even took a year or even did not reach them. The Ministry of External Affairs tied up with CSC E-Governance Services India Limited and launched passport services through the CSC and during the last four years a total of 8.10 lakh applications for Indian passport have been submitted through CSCs.

Nand Kishore Yadav, who hails from village Lalganj, had to spend Rs 50 to travel to main town of Saharsa district to collect his pension. “Now I get my pension in my village which is just three doors away CSC centre. They encash it for me saving me from travelling,” Yadav says. He also shared his experience of exploring and buying seeds and fertilizers from the CSC centre. CSC has tied up with IFFCO for sale of farm products.

Interestingly, the benevolence of Dr Dinesh Kumar Tyagi, the architect of this potential digital project, has yet another area on his mind to tap on help rural India streamline with the mainstream India.

“We are creating a pan-India network of CSC cash and carry stores covering all districts. Every district will have a registered CSC cooperative society for meeting demands of Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) in the region. These societies will create an online network connecting all villages in the district and will act as centre points providing services, products, logistics and warehousing facilities,” Dr Tyagi, CEO of the CSC, says. Tyagi quit IAS to dedicate himself to the cause of digital India for over six years now.

The Government’s rural e-Governance initiative have now embarked on a new project under which it will create a pan-India network of cash and carry stores run by  VLEs to sell FMCG products, smartphones and computers from companies like ITC, Samsung, Hewlet Packard, Godrej and Patanjali in rural India.

During February, the district VLE societies sold products from nine FMCG companies like ITC, Samsung, Hewlet Packard, Godrej and Patanjali worth more than Rs 35 lakh. For the first 11 months of FY19, they sold products worth almost Rs 4 crore, while between January 2018 and February 2019, the products sold were worth close to Rs 5 crore in villages across 265 districts.

The primary objective of the CSC is to provide e-Governance services within the reach of the citizen, by creating the physical service delivery ICT infrastructure. It helps in making a transparent service delivery mechanism and eliminating citizens’ effort in visiting Government offices.

Today, the CSC has a network of over 3.13 lakh centres across India. Of these over 2.13 lakh CSCs are operating at gram panchayat level. “With such a reach, CSC is the perfect partner to us to ensure that the scheme reaches to all needy people, particularly those living in rural and semi-urban areas. Altogether, these CSCs are becoming a game changer by providing a common Information Technology (IT) platform for rural citizens,” Tyagi tells Sunday Pioneer after a visit to its centres in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand.

The CSCs are Internet enabled access points for delivery of various digital services to the citizens. “These enable citizens to avail the Government and other services closer to their locality in a transparent and timely manner. The ability of CSC to avoid direct interaction of citizens with Government offices brings transparency, accountability and efficiency in services through a reduced turnaround time,” Tyagi says.

His credentials in financial departments are being exploited in empowering digital India programme as he worked as Director in the Banking Division, Ministry of Finance. He was Custodian of Special Court, 1992 (Harshad Mehta Scam) in the Finance Ministry.  He has been Director on the Board of Syndicate Bank, United Bank of India and Indian Bank. He has also been director on the Board of Financial Institutions such as Small Industries Development Bank of India.

The CSCs also aim to provide individual access to Internet and access devices to citizens in rural India where the ICT intervention is very low, thereby, reducing/ eliminating the digital divide. CSCs being well equipped ICT enabled centres, necessarily play a significant role in enabling universal access to plethora of e-Services for citizens and acting as cornerstone for the citizens’ digital empowerment, hence creating a transparent governance ecosystem.

But the most significant development that is taking place in at CSCs are the engagement of women and the government has made it mandatory to employ at least one woman at centres. Instances of rural areas where women and girls have been looked down and not allowed to step off home until marriage are now providing assistance to villagers in terms of digital treatments, financial transactions, information about institutions for the youngsters and also the best routes and mode of transportation for them from any destinations.

With the aim to provide grass root level access points for health consultation among the communities and effect a behavior change among communities to seek preventive healthcare, the CSC offers a range of healthcare services. The Digi Doctor Kendra comprises Telemedicine, JAN Aushadhi, Diagnostic Services, Health Homeo and also e-Pashu Chikitsa for cattle.

One such instance was at a Digital Doctor Kendra in Rajasthan’s remote village Nangal Bhau. Brajesh is the operator and a facilitator between patient and the doctor. After the patient is briefed about the disease, Shanti, another operator, dials a doctor on panel of the CSC and gave the earphones to the patient who briefed ailments. In two minutes the virtual doctor sent the medical prescription on the monitor and the print out was taken to the pharmacist. The options available to the patients are allopathic, homeopathic, ayurveda and Patanjali as well. In March 2019, a total of 13,924 health consultations have been made

“We take a briefing and look for doctors. It is a 24X7 facility. The best is that women feel comfortable about their problems and share with the doctors at ease. During the recent storm and rains in Rajasthan we served several people at this Tele-medicine Centre run by CSC,”  Shanti says.

Similarly, Ramsidha in Wadakkancherry, Kerala, helps the villagers in enhanced and improved breeding of the cattle through digital mode facilitated by e-Pashu Chikitsa.

In March 2019, eight lakh registered under the PMGDISHA Programme.  Courses on electronics, motor mechanic, mobile repair, health adviser etc are being offered. In the month of March, 2019, 486 CSCs have been registered as Skill Centres, while in total 15,506 CSCs are registered as Skill Centres till March, 2019.

Pensions for unorganised sector as envisaged by PM CSC e-Governance Services India Limited, a Special Purpose Vehicle under the Ministry of Electronics & IT, has also begun the registration process for the Pradhan Mantri Shram Yogi Maandhan (PMSYM) scheme covering unorganised sector workers up to 40 years of age making them eligible for a minimum monthly pension of Rs 3,000 after the age of 60 in lieu of contributions made under the scheme.

The CSCs provide grassroots penetration of digital services and, hence, foster participation in governance by all citizens. The number of services offered by CSCs has increased steadily over the years.  At present 52 Central Government services (Passport, PAN Card, PMAY, Swachh Bharat and Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana) are offered to the citizens through the CSC network. The Income Tax return filing started in Digital Seva Portal in association with Tax Genius.

The district CSC societies is looking forward to make arrangements for delivery, logistics and warehousing of the products and will facilitate as cash and carry stores. Employment Service, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY), Agriculture Service and Soil Health Card. State Government Services: e-District/State Service Delivery Gateway (SSDG) services, Land Record, Ration Card, Birth/Death Certificate, Income, Caste, Domicile certificate, etc are some of the other listed services through CSC.

The CSCs play catalysts in extending access to technology in rural areas.  “The CSCs are more than service delivery points in rural India. They are positioned as change agents, promoting rural entrepreneurship and building rural capacities and livelihoods. They are enablers of community participation and collective action for engendering social change through a bottom-up approach with key focus on the rural citizen,” Gokul Saini, who started from two computers under a small hamlet four years ago and has now all the CSC facilities under his wing, says.

Therefore, the Abrar Ahmed Rajakbhai Vora is a success story and an inspiring one for digital India project, especially with him suffering from a congenital disorder and belonging to a family with a weaker economic background in the district of Viramgam in Gujarat. Before his association with digital India programme, as a VLE, he ran a cyber café where he sustained at an average income of Rs 7,000 monthly.

Vora heard about the CSCs scheme in November, 2015 and decided to get associated with it. Now he provides services for initiatives like Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan, Railway ticket bookings, Passport, election cards, Aadhaar and banking services, e-Stamping, LED and PAN card. Even though not keeping with good health, Vora has now expanded to Viramgam, Karkphal, Dasalana, Motikumad, Jakhavada areas of Ahmedabad by providing various digital services to citizens in all of these villages. At present, his monthly income is between Rs 60,000-Rs 70,000.

“Before commissioning of CSC centre in the area, the people in the area travelled long to avail these services. Considering the cost and time involved, an operating CSC in their neighborhood made life easier for these people and was cost-effective. They could now avail these services almost at their doorstep, Vora says.

CSCs HAVE QUITE A ROLE TO PLAY

  • n Common Services Centres (CSCs) were formed as a part of government's National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). They are ICT-enabled front end service delivery points for villages providing government, financial, social and private sector services in agriculture, health, education, entertainment, FMCG products, banking, insurance, pension, utility payments, etc. At present, there are more than 3 lakh CSCs in the country with over 2.5 lakh are in the villages. These centres work under the CSC e-Governance Services India, a SPV set-up by the Information Technology Ministry.
  • CSCs are Service Delivery Centres for - Government to Citizen, Business to Consumer (B2C), Utility Services, etc.
  • Information centre for various schemes of the Government for creating awareness leading to digital empowerment among the citizens
  • Permanent Enrolment Centres (PEC) for Aadhaar; Electoral Registration centres
  • Business Correspondent Agents under Financial Inclusion for Banking & Insurance
  • Educational and Skill Development Centres
  • Telemedicine and Diagnostic Centres
  • 10.84 lakh Wi-Fi subscribers through e-Choupals at 8655 Panchayats
  • Advancing women's health and hygiene
  • 2 crore citizens trained for Digi Dhan Abhiyan
  • 49,49,404 Voter ID cards distributed till March 2019.
  • The IRCTC, Utility Bill Payment, E-Commerce, E-Recharge, etc are being delivered through CSCs.
  • Bhil, one of the most backward Rajasthani tribals are now aware of their legal rights. Now, they have opened bank accounts.

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