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Last mile: India Inc connects to the country

30-August-2005
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Last mile: India Inc connects to the country

An APCO-like revolution is set to sweep through India's villages, taking the benefits of information communication technology to the people through 1 lakh common service centres (CSCs) by '07. The Department of Information Technology (DIT) has received nine proposals from the private sector to steer the Rs 3,000-crore mega initiative. These include proposals from IL&FS, ICICI Bank, Tata Consultancy Services and Reliance Infocomm, official sources said.

The CSCs, bearing a common logo and name, will offer both government and private services across 15 areas including agriculture, animal husbandry, citizen services, health, education, employment, panchayat programmes, tourism and entertainment.

The DIT has drafted a framework and invited expressions of interest for a National Level Service Agency (NLSA) to drive the programme and nine corporates, including the companies mentioned earlier, have responded.

“The NLSA is expected to suggest financing schemes, revenue-sharing policies and contractual frameworks for the public-private partnership venture for the first five years. We expect the CSCs to become self-sustaining after that. The government will, of course, pitch in with grants and loans. In fact, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) is working on the terms and conditions,” DIT sources said.

To be fashioned on a franchisee model, the CSCs will be run by village-level entrepreneurs to be trained and supervised by service centre agencies (franchiser) at the district level.

State Agency To Co-Ordinate Regional Schemes The Department of Information Techonology plans to set up 1 lakh common service centres (CSCs) in villages by '07.

The content will be in the local language and will cover at least 40% of gram panchayat locations in each block. While clear eligibility criteria - including prior experience - have been laid out, in remote areas, existing post offices may take on the role of franchiser.

In addition to the NLSA, state governments too would designate an agency to co-ordinate and customise the schemes to the region's requirements. “This agency would enter into service-level agreements with the franchiser and franchisee as it would entrust e-governance applications and services to them,” sources said. On the technology front, the CSCs will use the State Wide Area Network (SWAN) free of cost up to the block level, and wireless connectivity below the block level to deliver services to the rural citizens. ISP and terminal equipment costs will have to be borne by the agencies.

The DIT's SWAN project already has 14 states working on establishing the network that will provide bandwidth of at least 2 mbps up to the block level, thanks to a special tariff package from Bharat Sanchar Nigam. For the critical last mile, the government has stipulated that the CSCs should ensure wireless broadband connectivity that operates in multiple frequency bands, supports multiple devices and both domestic and international standards and is capable of supporting distance education, telemedicine and entertainment concurrently. Depending on location, CSCs may be plain cyber kiosk-like operations with computers and broadband connectivity.

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