A journey through three states

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The crucial question to ask is if there is a gap in perceived benefits and those actually derived from such centres. A look at three state initiatives.

The CSCs (Common Service Centres) are being seen as a major governance intervention for enhancing efficiency, bringing in transparency and accountability, and reducing operating costs. India possesses vast human resources in digital technology. Given that societies like India are big and administering them would have time and efficiency hurdles, an introduction of the digital medium is perceived to be the best available solution for better governance. Common Services Centres is the front end of a long and complex process of providing better governance and other essential value-added services.

The Government of India has launched the prestigious National e-Governance Programme (NeGP) to bridge the digital divide existing today between the urban and rural areas. The NeGP is aimed at improving the quality, accessibility and effectiveness of Government services to citizens and businesses with the help of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), and consists of three interconnected components of State Wide Area Network (SWAN), State Data Centres (SDCs) and the Common Service Centres (CSCs), as the nodal points for front end citizen service delivery.

As part of the same efforts, The Government is planning to roll out Common Services Centres or IT kiosks in 1,00,000 villages as part of the ambitious National e-Government Plan through public private partnership (PPP).The plan is to establish such kiosks in one lakh villages in a ‘honeycomb model,’ which means that one out of every six villages would house a common service centre where people can avail a host of services, including providing tele-education, booking railway tickets, procuring caste certificate for jobs or even checking their children’s results online.  It is expected that the CSC scheme will generate one lakh jobs directly and two to three lakh additional and indirect jobs.

It is still premature to tell if this intervention will go a long way to improve provision of government services. An outcome mapping is in order, which looks at the usage patterns of already existing centres. The crucial question to ask is if there is a gap in perceived benefits and those actually derived from such Centres. A look at a few state initiatives follows.

West Bengal

The West Bengal State Rural Development Agency (WBSRDA) of the Panchayats and Rural Development Department has been selected as the State Designated Agency (SDA) for implementation of the CSC scheme in the State. The scheme is proposed to be implemented as per the following district wise break-up (Table1).

Total number of Common Services Centres (‘Tathya Mitra’) in West Bengal is 6797. The SDA has completed the tendering process of selection of SCAs to setup the ‘Tathya Mitra’ kiosks across the state. MSA have been signed on 5th April 2007 with SREI Infrastructure Finance Limited and on 7th May 2007 with Reliance Communications Limited.

M/s SREI Infrastructure Finance Limited has been selected as the SCA for the districts of Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, Coochbehar, Uttar Dinajpur, Dakshin Dinajpur, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia, 24 Parganas (S), Howrah, Hooghli, Bankura, Purba Medinipur & Birbhum.

M/s Reliance Infocomm Limited has been selected as the SCA for the districts of 24 Parganas (N), Paschim Medinipur, Burdwan and Purulia.

The SCA would be setting up CSCs across the districts as per the schedule and would complete the process within March 2008. Government of West Bengal is working on several dimensions for effective implementation of NeGP, be it –

i. State Wide Area Work,
ii. Computerisation of Mission Mode Projects,
iii. Setting up of State Data Centre or
iv. CSC Project: Tathya Mitras (CSCs) are envisioned as extended arms of Government for delivery of services to citizens.

Services at Tathya Mitra

Initially, Tathya Mitras (CSCs) will provide the following services-
Information on various government orders, rules, notifications, decisions, etc.
Key departments that have rural appeal will be streamlined with CSCs. Some of these departments are-

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