Ranjit K Maiti, Jt. Secretary, West Bengal State Rural Development Agency, attended the eIndia 2007 Conference, held in New Delhi. He spoke with Shambhu Ghatak, CSDMS.
What is West Bengal doing for the CSCs scheme?
West Bengal is involved in implementing the Common Service Centres (CSCs) scheme under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). In the state of West Bengal, besides other e-Government initiatives, which have been undertaken by the government particularly in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department to reach the people at large, the current e-Government scheme named Common Services Centre scheme, is being implemented not by IT department but by Panchayat and Rural Development Department of the Government of West Bengal through West Bengal State Rural Development Agency, unlike the case in other states. The WBSRDA is going to set up 6,797 CSCs in rural West Bengal.
How is the CSCs scheme going to be implemented in rural West Bengal?
Rural West Bengal has been divided into 8 zones, of which 6 zones have been awarded to SREI Infrastructure Finance Limited. However, SREI Sahaj e-Village Limited being a subsidiary company of the original one will set up 4,937 CSCs. Two zones comprising 4 districts have been awarded to Reliance Communications. They have to set up 1,860 common service centres in 4 districts. There are some constraints and problems too. SREI has already started setting up of their connectivity towers. Government has also started negotiating at the gram panchayat level for providing separate rooms of 12 feet by 10 feet floor area with sitting arrangements and access to electricity. In case there exists no separate rooms, the state Government has already issued instructions to utilise the 12th Finance Commission Fund.
In the case of G2C services, some Departments like Land and Land Reforms Department have come forward to issue copies (parchaas) of the Records of Rights. Similarly, other Departments like Social Welfare and Women and Child Development Department, Agricultural Department, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) West Bengal, Animal Resource Department, Horticulture Department, etc. have come forward for the e-Government services for the citizens. It is a fact that these departments are at various stages of e-Readiness for extending services to the citizens. Fourteen departments have been selected for taking up Mission Mode Projects under NeGP. They are now preparing Detailed Project Reports for approval of the Department of IT, Govt of India. The Government of India will be providing financial support for the CSCs programme in the coming 4 years as revenue supports to the CSC level VLEs. It is expected that these departments will be e-Ready by next 2-3 years for providing G2C services for the citizens. B2C services are coming up with business-models in the areas of banking, insurance, etc.
e-Learning, computer training and learning are making inroads in West Bengal through the two SCAs. By December, 2007 some CSCs are expected to come up in West Bengal. This is going to change the socio-economic fabric of rural West Bengal.
Could you explain the role of SWAN and SDC in NeGP in this respect?
In this respect, I would like to mention that CSCs scheme, is dependent upon State Wide Area Network (SWAN) and State Data Centre which are scheduled to provide connectivity up to block level with 2mbps and data storage for all G2C services. Both the components are being looked after by the IT Department of the State Government.
From block to gram panchayat, termed as last mile connectivity, how G2C services is to be provided is not very clear. This is a grey area. In West Bengal especially, when the CSC programme came up, it was decided at the state level (at the policy making cell) that the centres would be run by the suitable members from Women SHGs (self help groups). For this purpose, we moved to the Ministry of Rural Development to get some special funds to build the capacity of the prospective village level entrepreneurs. They have provided certain funds and we are now creating a conducive environment, where SCA, NABARD and P&RD department jointly can utilise such funds. SCA has the onus to select the village level entrepreneurs.
Despite all these, governments at the state-level have got some role to promote economic activities in the rural areas. We have very little experience. Within the next 2 years we would like to see the CSCs changing the entire scenario through such Public Private Partnership scheme.
CSCs scheme in West Bengal
In accordance with the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) of Government of India, 100,000 Information and Communications Technology (ICT) enabled e-Kiosks will be set up across the country. West Bengal emerged as the first state in India to finalize the Request for Proposal (RFP) and to sign the Master Service Agreement (MSA). The SREI Sahaj e-Village Ltd, a subsidiary of the Company kick-started its communication network for the Common Service Centres (CSCs) on July 18, 2007, under the National e-Governance Plan in West Bengal (India). The Company would be managing about 5,000 CSCs in collaboration with Wipro Infotech. While Wipro will be responsible for the technological inputs, the Company will chalk out the various services to be provided to the rural masses.
The IT-enabled e-Kiosks are being developed to provide information and services for meeting rural needs in relation to online payments, agriculture, education, vocational training, health and hygiene, micro-finance, railway ticket booking, digital photography and computer games, among others. e-Governance, information, utility, payments, deposits, insurance, and other financial services, along with a host of e-Information and e-Learning facilities will be delivered through these CSCs. SREI in technical collaboration with WIPRO Infotech, would implement the CSC project. The CSCs will be managed by 14 Regional Control Centres (RCCs) to be set up in the West Bengal districts- Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, South 24 Pgs, Howrah, Hooghly, Bankura, Midnapore (E), and Birbhum. A Central Control Centre (CCC) in Kolkata will monitor these. A Data centre/help line will be set up to manage and monitor. SREI has entered into a Master Service Agreement with the Panchayat and Rural Development Department, government of West Bengal, to set up nearly 5,000 common service centres (CSCs) in rural Bengal. The programme is drawn up on a public- rivate partnership (PPP) mode. SREI Sahaj e-Village Ltd. would be putting together over 5,000 nodes which is one of the largest network in the world. Under this programme, a number of village level entrepreneurs (VLEs) preferably from women self-help groups (SHGs) will get direct livelihood while rest of the population will get access to e-Governance and Internet related services at its doorstep at a very nominal rate. The minimum profit that a VLE can make from a CSC is INR 3,000 per month. Reliance has been given the charge of developing CSCs in 4 districts of the state, while SREI is slated to develop these CSCs in the 14 other districts. As per the memorandum of understanding signed between RCOM and the WB government, Reliance will set up 1,860 CSCs across the state. The CSCs have been termed as Tathya Mitra centres. SmartBridges- a provider of wireless connectivity products – and SREI – a private sector infrastructure equipment finance, infrastructure project finance, and renewable energy product financing company – have partnered together for this project. While smartBridges will be looking after Research and Development (R&D) and rural connectivity project implementation expertise, SREI will look after the successful implementation of CSCs.
Apart from SREI, the 6 contenders for the CSCs scheme in West Bengal were Zoom Developers, Wire & Wireless, Grasso, WEBEL, Reliance, and United Telecom. West Bengal Citizen Portal is another G2C-U project that aims to facilitate efficient interface between citizens and the administration. The project runs on PPP model and it is based in Kolkata (West Bengal). Since it is a portal so its reach is anywhere where Internet connection is available. The project has resulted in various direct/indirect social as well as economic benefits to the masses such as bringing transparency and better dissemination of government information resulting in better awareness about various Government schemes. The portal has saved cost and time of the people visiting district headquarters for getting information, lodging complaints and inquiring status. It has also led to reduction in response time by the concerned departments and thereby increased in departmental efficiency. On a scale of 0-100, overall score of the project was 72.27 which falls under the category of ‘Extremely Good’ projects.