Computerisation and automation of government departments and processes does not alone make a government an e-Government unless they use ICT to deliver the services to the citizens in an efficient, fast and hassle-free manner. A major pre-requisite for an ICT enabled effective service delivery mechanism is, to have the necessary infrastructure in place. There has to be access nodes, which can serve as one-stop centres for people to get access to a host of government services and information and thus escape the need to travel to different locations for interacting with different government departments – thus saving time and money of citizens.
In India, this realisation came late. Andhra Pradesh State government became the pioneer in 1999 in deploying eSeva centres in the twin cities of Hyderabad with a similar objective. On the footsteps of Andhra Pradesh, parallel initiatives are now being taken by many other State governments like Maharashtra, Karnataka, etc.
These one-stop windows designed to leverage a range of government, education, entertainment and other services are termed differently by different sets of people in India. Examples are Common Service Centres (as mentioned in NeGP), Information Kiosk, Information Centres, Village Knowledge Centres (as mentioned in Mission 2007), Telecentres, Citizen Service Centres, etc. They all can be defined singularly as “ICT-enabled outlet set-up to bring access to a range of services, content and information to citizens in the village or town, in which it is located”.
The cities in India cannot be compared with its rural areas, where needs and service requirements are at a very different level. With poor infrastructure, government service delivery becomes a much-more formidable task in 6,40,000 villages of India. Therefore, Government and other organisations are taking a lead to bring ICT related benefits to rural India. Two ambitious national level programmes are planned in a big way.
Government’s promise: Common Service Centres
The Government of India has shown commitments to improve the infrastructure especially of villages, through its National eGovernance Plan (NeGP). The Plan envisages Common Service Centres (CSCs) as one of the integrated projects to provide a primary mode of service delivery channel and to bring the benefits of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to the citizens throughout the country, especially those in rural and remote areas. This initiative is based upon the fact that common service centres set up in rural areas, would need special financial assistance and other support from Government as compared to their urban counterparts.
According to the guidelines provided by department of IT, it is proposed that the government would create an enabling environment for establishment of at least 100,000 centres in rural areas by the year 2007 to provide all possible services.
A National Level Service Agency (NLSA)* at the central level would be given the respon-sibility to implement and manage this programme. State governments would be playing a major role in facilitating the estab-lishment of large number of CSCs in rural areas. These centres would be on an entrepreneurship business model at the Panchayat or village level and would en-courage opportunities for non-government or private entities to play a role in actual imple-mentation of the scheme. As a Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE) would not be in a position to manage and sustain a CSC from the very beginning, there would be a Service Centre Agency (SCA) to handhold VLE by providing business and technical support. One SCA may typically support 100 or more CSCs in a district/ part of a State. (See the flow diagram of Implementation Structure)
The SCA would be responsible for identifying the required applications and services, harnessing the network, identifiying and training the VLE, establishing the CSC (either directly or through the VLE), supplying, aggregating and updating the content and also addressing various requirements of the CSCs from time to time. The SCA will also be responsible to conduct a detailed benchmark survey for the specific area to assess demand and viability, identify content, create appropriate service package, evaluate the suitability of a location for establishing a CSC. The primary responsibility for economic sustainability of a CSC rests with the SCA and therefore the SCAs would be crucial to the success of the programme.
These centres would deliver a package of government and localised services as required by local citizens. As per the guidelines, a list of possible services covering – agriculture, animal husbandry, citizen services, health, education, land, employment, social welfare, utility services, business, panchayat matters, consumer welfare, tourism, transport and entertainment has been suggested.
The monitoring would be done through an appropriate State level Project Monitoring Committee with representatives from the Department of IT, GoI and State National Informatic Centre (NIC) Unit to review and monitor the process of implementation.
A Nationwide Movement: Mission 2007
Another similar initiative to Common Service Centres of GoI, is “Mission 2007: Every Village a Knowledge Centre”. Mission 2007 was initiated in July 2004. Its goal is to take the benefits of ICT-led development to every village by creating village knowledge centres i.e. in over 600,000 villages in India by August 15, 2007, which marks the 60th year of Indian Independence. (www.mission2007.org)
In order to achieve this ambitious mission, a National Alliance has been set up. The Alliance, which is the nodal agency for this programme, started with 43 members and has now become a national movement consisting of more than 150 members comprising of private sector, civil society organisations, bilateral agencies, academic and research institutions and government ministries. It has constituted seven Task Forces on Connectivity, Content, Policy issues, Organising, Monitoring, Evaluation and Resource Mobilisation to put forward recommendations for successful execution of Mission 2007.
Over the past one year, the National Alliance has generated immense support and commitment from various partners. The Government has supported this initiative by including it in the National Budget and providing Rs. 100 crore (approx USD 23 million) support out of the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) through the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). The seven Task Forces have given key Policy recommendations to the Government for the speedy implementation of the mission objectives.
It is still being explored how to find the synergy between Mission 2007 (10000 centres by 28 Feb 2006) and Deptt. of IT’s target (10000 CSC by 31st March 2006).