TECH TALK: Transforming Rural India: Gyandoot

Gyandoot was launched in November 1999 as an intranet in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh connecting rural cybercafes catering to the everyday needs of the masses. It has been since extended to other districts in MP. It was awarded the Stockholm Challenge IT Award 2000 in the “Public Service and Democracy” category. Said the citation: “Project Gyandoot is a unique government to citizen Intranet project implemented in a tribal district (Dhar) in Central India, with numerous benefits to the region, including a people-based self-reliant sustainable strategy. Gyandoot is recognised as a breakthrough in e-government, demonstrating a paradigm shift which gives marginalised tribal citizens their first ever chance to access knowledge, with minimum investment.”

The Gyandoot website lists the services that are available:

Commodity/ Mandi Marketing Information System
Income Certificate
Domicile Certificate
Caste Certificate
Landholder’s passbook of land rights and loans Rural Hindi e-mail
Public Grievance Redressal
Forms of Various Government Schemes
Below Poverty Line Family List
Employment news
Rural matrimonial
Rural Market
Rural News Paper
Advisory module
Driving License
Khasra (Land Record) Nakal Avedan
Varmi Compost Khad Booking

A World Bank summary on the project explains the context and the approach:

The Dhar district in central India has a population of 1.7 million; 60% live below the poverty line. The goal of the Gyandoot project has been to establish community-owned, technologically innovative and sustainable information kiosks in a poverty-stricken, tribal dominated rural area of Madhya Pradesh. During the design phase of the project, meetings were held with villagers to gather their input. Among the concerns highlighted by villagers was the absence of information about prevailing agriculture produce auction centre rates. Consequently, farmers were unable to get the best price for their agricultural produce. Copies of land records also were difficult to obtain. A villager had to go out in search of the patwari (village functionary who maintains all land records), who often was difficult to get hold of as his duties include extensive travel. To file complaints or submit applications, people had to go to district headquarters (which could be 100 miles away), resulting in a loss of wages/earnings.

The Gyandoot project was launched on January 1, 2000 with the installation of a low cost rural Intranet covering 20 village information kiosks in five Blocks of the district. Later, 11 more kiosks were set up. Villages that function as Block headquarters or hold the weekly markets in tribal areas or are located on major roads (e.g., bus stops) were chosen for establishing the kiosks. Seven centers are located in towns (urban areas), 8 in large villages with a population of 5,000-6,000, another 7 in medium sized villages with a population of 1,000-4,000, and the rest are in small villages with population less than 500. Each kiosk caters to about 25 to 30 villages. The entire network of 31 kiosks covers 311 Panchayats (village committees), over 600 villages and a population of around half a million (nearly 50% of the entire district).

Kiosks have been established in the village Panchayat buildings. Information kiosks have dial-up connectivity through local exchanges on optical fibre or UHF links. The server hub is a Remote Access Server housed in the computer room in the District Panchayat.

User fees are charged at the kiosks for the services provided. Local rural youth act as entrepreneurs, running these information kiosks along commercial lines.

Rajesh Rajora was the Dhar district collector who initiated the Gyandoot project. His presentation in a TICAD workshop in July 2002 discusses Gyandoot and other ICT case studies from India. TIME magazine had a story on the project (June 4, 2001 issue).

A report by the Centre for Electric Governance at the Indian Institute of Ahmedabad discusses the project based on a filed study conducted in May 2002. Its conclusions:

As an experiment, the Gyandoot project can be considered path breaking. It attempted to use the ICT in improving the delivery of government services to the rural community. At the time of conceptualization, it was a unique idea, not tried by many in the world. The project was launched during the period when the entire world looked at the web-enabled solutions as a new opportunity of reaching customers directly and improving customer relations.

It is very clear that the power supply, connectivity, and backend support (with new value propositions) are the essential pre-requisites to benefit from such technological advancements. Several such projects in the enterprise sector have failed, resulting in the dot com burst simply because they could not provide cost effective, sustainable solutions with improved value to the customers.

In achieving its intended objects, however, Gyandoot cannot be considered a success. In spite of being in existence for more than two years, the usage of the system has remained far below acceptable levels. The current status of the project illustrates that ICT alone cannot improve the service delivery to rural poor. Significant re-engineering of backend processes and introduction of services that directly contribute to the poverty alleviation are needed to make such initiatives sustainable.

The study team would conclude this report by stating that Gyandoot should address the main objective of servicing the rural citizens through improvements of the back-end processes and involvement of dedicated government officials. Current ICT solutions are too costly for the level of usage being experienced. The challenge for the management of the Gyandoot system lies in enhancing the services to make the system cost effective, while benefiting the rural poor, without worsening the digital divide.

A discussion paper by Naveen Prakash has additional information.

Tomorrow: Bhoomi, eSeva and Information Village

TECH TALK Transforming Rural India+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.