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TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: Bhoomi, eSeva and Information Village

March 19th, 2003 · 2 Comments

Next, we look to Karnatakas Bhoomi, Andhra Pradeshs eSeva and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundations Information Village Project in Pondicherry.

Bhoomi

The Karnataka government launched Bhoomi to create a service to computerise land records and make them available to the people for a nominal fee (in this case, Rs 15). Bhoomi is a finalist for the Stockholm Award 2002. Here is a brief overview from the contest website:

Bhoomi is a self-sustainable e-governance project for the computerised delivery of 20 million rural land records to 6.7 million farmers through 177 Government owned kiosks in the Indian state of Karnataka which has eliminated red tape and corruption in the issue of land title records, and is fast becoming the backbone for credible IT-enabled Government services for the rural population.
Rural Land Records are central conduits to delivering better IT-enabled services to citizens because they contain multiple data elements: ownership, tenancy, loans, nature of title, irrigation details, crops grown etc. In addition to proving title to the land, the Land Record is used by the farmer for a variety of purposes: from documenting crop loans and legal actions, to securing scholarships for school-children. These records were hitherto maintained manually by 9,000 village officials who often extracted a price for issuing copies.

Under the Bhoomi (Land) dispensation, computerised kiosks offer farmers two critical services (currently): procurement of land records and requesting changes to land title. With 20 million records legally maintained now only in the digital format, Bhoomi has brought the power of IT to dispel the insecurities of the farmers in 27,000 villages. To ensure authenticity of data management, a Biometric Finger Authentication system has been used for the first time in an e-governance project in India. To make the project self-sustaining and expandable, Bhoomi levies user charges. Already, about 1.25 million farmers have paid Rs 19 million. As a pilot for additional cross-selling initiatives, one kiosk is currently being used by citizens, thus validating the potential of this platform.

eSeva

The Andhra Pradesh government has launched eseva, with the aim of providing one stop non stop service to the citizens. It is, perhaps, one of the most ambitious projects in India, in the realm of government-to-citizen (G2C) services. It is currently operational through 29 eSeva centres (with 280 service counters) spread over the Twin Cities of Hyderabad and Secenderabad, and Ranga Reddy District. eSeva offers a wide spectrum of services ranging from Payment of Utilities Bills, Certificates, Permits / Licences, Transport Department Services to Reservation, Passport Applications and Downloading of Forms. The government is planning to, according to a report in the Business Line, to reach out up to all the 1,100 mandals (blocks) across the State, [and] it is proposed to deploy up to village in a phased manner.

Information Village

The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation has set up an Information Village project in Pondicherry. It won Stockholm Challenge Award under the Global Village category 2001. Here is a description from their website on the project:

In an experiment in electronic knowledge delivery to the poor, we have connected ten villages near Pondicherry in southern India by a hybrid wired and wireless network — consisting of PCs, telephones, VHF duplex radio devices and email connectivity through dial-up telephone lines — that facilitates both voice and data transfer, and have enabled the villagers to get information that they need and can use to improve their lot.

The entire project draws its sustenance from the holistic philosophy of Swaminathan, which emphasizes an integrated pro-poor, pro-women, pro-nature orientation to development and community ownership of technological tools against personal or family ownership, and encourages collective action for spread of technology. The bottom up exercise involves local volunteers to gather information, feed it into an Intranet and provide access through nodes in different villages.

Value addition to the raw information, use of the local language (Tamil) and multimedia (to facilitate illiterate users) and participation by local people right from the beginning are the noteworthy features of the project. Most of the operators and volunteers providing primary information are women, thus giving them status and influence. All centres evolved themselves to meet the information demands made by the community.

We have shown that empowering people through access to timely and relevant information can make a difference in the life of the rural poor. We have also demonstrated that new ICTs can play a crucial role in this effort. Information provided in the village knowledge centres is locale specific and relates to prices of agricultural inputs (such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides) and outputs (rice, vegetables), market (potential for export), entitlement (the multitude of schemes of the central and state governments, banks), health care (availability of doctors and paramedics in nearby hospitals, women’s diseases), cattle diseases, transport (road conditions, cancellation of bus trips), weather (appropriate time for sowing, areas of abundant fish catch, wave heights in the sea), etc.

A discussion paper by Senthilkumaran and Subbiah Arunachalam provides more information.

Tomorrow: Tarahaat and Drishtee


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