Rural entrepreneurship replaces digital divide

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Rural entrepreneurship replaces digital divide

Monday, 05 September 2022 | Dinesh Tyagi

Rural entrepreneurship replaces digital divide

Common Services Centres are playing key role in transforming the countryside with improving ease of doing business

On India’s 75th anniversary of Independence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced from the ramparts of Red Fort that India will become a developed country by the year 2047. The ambitious promise comes on the back of transformational initiatives that are changing the lives of citizens and driving the nation’s leadership narrative across the globe.

The Prime Minister stated that India will march ahead in this ‘techade’ and hailed the role of the Digital India Programme in bringing the digital revolution and transformation in the life of common citizens, especially in rural India. Like always, he underlined the role of over four lakh Common Services Centers (CSC) in providing access to services and opportunities to the rural population for empowering citizens and promoting digital inclusion.

A unique model rooted in the entrepreneurial skills of over five lakh Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs), CSCs provide last-mile access to digital technology, digital literacy, and a host of services to citizens across the nation. In 2014, there were around 83,950 CSCs. Over the last eight years, CSCs have grown from 83,950 to 5.30 lakh, and of these, three lakh CSCs are at Gram Panchayat level, signaling a shift towards a  digitally integrated economy and socially inclusive society.

Digital literacy of citizens is an essential tool for every citizen to reap the benefits of information technology to emerge as a leading knowledge society. In 2017, CSC started implementing the Government’s flagship digital literacy scheme, Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan, to provide training to six crore rural citizens focusing on one person from every eligible household across all the Gram Panchayats of the country.  The scheme specifically targeted marginalized sections of society like SC/ ST, Minorities, the Below Poverty Line (BPL), women, and persons with disabilities. So far, 5.34 crore citizens have been trained under the scheme.

In his address, the Prime Minister termed India as an aspirational society powered by a collective spirit. It is a similar collective spirit that led the VLEs to surmount the challenges and disruption caused by Covid-19 pandemic and provide citizens in rural areas access to various crucial services like healthcare, tele-law and banking during the lockdown.

During the lockdowns in 2020-21, the CSC offered free telemedicine consultations to citizens in rural areas through experienced doctors of Apollo and Fortis Hospitals, WelcomeCure, and Jiva Ayurveda. During 2020-21 and 2021-22, the CSC conducted over six lakh telemedicine consultations for citizens across the country.

The CSC also provided citizens much-needed access to banking services through its BCs and DigiPay (AEPS) during the pandemic led lockdown. Citizens could visit their nearest CSC or get their pension and other entitlements delivered at their doorstep during the lockdown. During FY 2020-2021 through Aadhaar-based DigiPay, CSCs carried out 857.26 lakh transactions for withdrawing Rs 10463.59 crore as entitlement money for  MGNREGA, pensioners, Ujjwala beneficiaries, Jan Dhan account holders, and PM Kisan Samman Nidhi beneficiaries, etc. In FY 2021-22, CSCs carried out 1112.17 lakh transactions for withdrawing Rs. 14562.38 crore of entitlement money.

Through Bank BCs and Bank Mitras, the CSC conducted 1122.44 lakh transactions yworth Rs 42838.71 crores during FY 2020-21. In the financial year 2021-22, 1053.26 lakh transactions worth Rs 46394.90 crore were conducted through CSC Bank BCs and Bank Mitras.

In his address, the Prime Minister also stressed on the country becoming Atmanirbhar by developing local industries and manufacturing. Grameen eStores started by CSC have been connecting producers to consumers at the local level. During the Covid pandemic in 2020, CSCs started delivering essential commodities to citizens at their doorsteps in  villages. From a humble beginning to serve the community during the pandemic, GrameeneStores today has 3.30 lakh CSCs registered on its platform. Around 46 lakh orders worth Rs 610 crores have been carried out through these stores. The CSC has  partnered with around 125 companies, both MNCs and Vocal4Local  companies, to provide a variety of products like FMCG, automobile,  mobiles, electronic items, and computer accessories to citizens across the  country.

The CSC’s ambitious Rural e-Mobility program, launched in 2020, has been contributing to the growing shift towards renewable energy options, through the supply of e-mobility vehicles, setting up of charging infrastructure, and solar energy units and rooftops in rural areas of the country. So far, the CSC has tied up with more than 23 companies l for e-vehicles and renewable energy options.

In his address, the Prime Minister exhorted farmers to take to natural farming to become self-reliant. He said, Nano Fertilizers have brought a new hope in the country to boost self-reliance. The CSC has set up an online platform for providing small and marginal farmers in India access to essential services and agriculture inputs. The CSC plans to onboard 6000 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs), one from each block of the country, on the platform. These FPOs will enroll about one crore farmers for availing various services like sale of farm produce, rent and hire of agriculture implements, soil testing, agriculture and animal tele consultations, easy loan facility and insurance services, etc., through the platform.

Agri inputs like fertilizers, organic manure, quality seeds, and Nano Fertilizers from IFFCO are also available on the platform. The platform will also provide farmers with the facility to avail government schemes.

The CSC has embarked on a new initiative called the CSC Bal Vidyalaya to provide technology-based quality education for pre-school children, particularly in rural areas. What differentiates the CSC Bal Vidyalaya from other schools is the use of technology to motivate the child to become an independent learner. Currently, 2000 Bal Vidyalayas with over 4000 educators are functional in 28 States.

The CSCs also empower children and youth with a range of educational and skill building courses. In rural areas where access to quality education is critical, the CSCs have stepped in to provide NIOS and NIELIT services to students to pursue school/ IT education. The CSC is also providing online coaching for school students, engineering and government exams.

India’s ongoing transformation and resilience displayed during the COVID-19 crisis are not only driven by the digital revolution and empowerment tapping into rural entrepreneurs but will also continue to be key drivers for India’s journey to become a developed nation. The Prime Minister’s pitch from the ramparts of Red Fort was rightly on making the rural India to lead the transformation of the Indian economy, and in this backdrop the scale of startups spreading in the rural parts of the country shows the remarkable changes being brought by the the ease of doing business in which the CSC is playing a key role.

(The author is Managing Director at Common Services Centers, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology)

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