eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

Community Information Centre Project in North East India : Connecting the far-flung

Posted by egovindia on June 22, 2006

Community Information Centre Project in North East India : Connecting the far-flung

Subimal Bhattacharjee

Honorary Adviser (Information Technology) to Chief Minister, Assam

North East India is a region with strong natural and human resources. However, it has remained backward in the field of communications and even after fifty years of Independence, the region has a poor economy and connectivity remains a problem. While various development schemes and tools have been devised over the years, the emergence of Information Communications Technology (ICT) as a tool of development across different parts of the world opens up new possibilities.

The Community Information Centre (CIC) Project is meant to provide Internet connectivity and citizen services delivery. It is part of an economic package announced by the Prime Minister of India in January 2000 to speed up economic development in the North East region. It is meant to connect all the 487 administrative blocks of the region with ICT availability. The implementation period for the project is slated for two years while the total time of the project is five years. The project envisages a community center with Internet facility through V-SAT at each administrative block.

Each of these centers is equipped with a LAN having five PCs, a server and accompanying equipment like printers, UPS, furniture and power generating set. In some of these centers, facilities for video-conferencing will be made available. Each of the centres will be manned by two persons appointed by the respective state governments. These CICs would eventually be points of citizen delivery in a larger e-governance initiative. With an original allocation of Rs 100 crores, the project was started in the year 2000 with a pilot undertaken at 30 blocks of the region. The fund sanction has since been revised to Rs 220 crores, and the target date for connecting all 487 centers set as 15 August 2002. The project is being set up by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) under the auspices of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), Government of India.

The aims, as envisioned in the project are:

  • Interface between citizen and government
  • Connectivity to Internet through NICNET
  • Web Browsing and email facilitation
  • Distance learning programmes
  • Familiarising use of computers among special groups like children and women
  • Enabling IT-enabled services as needed for the local community
  • Generation of employment opportunities
  • Dissemination of information on matters of local interest

Possibly a very effective and cheap medium for reaching the masses, these community information centres can motivate the local people into starting entrepreneurial ventures.

The functioning of the CICs in the 30 blocks under the Pilot project, has had a mixed response. Shortcomings have been identified, and scope for improvement realized. These changes are being incorporated in the present round of implementation of the complete project.

The need for proper utilization of these centers has been emphasized and the Prime Minister’s Office, which monitors the project, has made it amply clear that the MCIT has to involve the respective State Governments, NIC, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) and other organizations to make the project successful. The involvement of the local and field officials has also been emphasized so that better public awareness can be created for the use of the CICs. The importance of local content has been given a top priority.

Community participation is the most important factor for optimized success of the CIC initiative. The State Governments are taking this factor into active consideration. Steps are being taken to familarise people with computers, and efforts to remove the initial awe for computers are being planned for otherwise reticent people, through easy and demonstrative lessons. People must feel comfortable using the facilities, and proper orientation must be given in that direction. Talent search initiatives will be undertaken to ensure greater and fair participation. Various steps in popularizing these centers will be undertaken by the respective governments.

Localised content is another important factor for the success of the CIC project. It is human nature to relate to surroundings, and so information about local conditions and features will find easy acceptance and also generate interest among people. The local content should have a strong database on local features and possibilities for the region. With the population in the far-flung areas not really conversant with English and still having a low literacy rate, it is imperative to have local content in local language for delivery at these centers. An example here in point, will be the Vancouver Community Network (VCN), a community-based computer information system in Canada, set up some 40 years back. Here, the availability of strong localized content has made it an indispensable reference point.

The delivery of education, including some basic IT training should be a critical feature of CICs. While some hours in the centers should be marked for educational delivery, the off-peak hours should be utilized for IT training for specific groups like children, women and the older generation. Some talent search mechanisms can be devised for students for their selection to courses. This can be followed by some placement opportunities across the region and even outside. The Commonwealth Service Abroad Program should be approached for such initiatives. Distance education should be encouraged through these centers and some initiatives of IGNOU in this direction are welcome. Education via community network is best exemplified by the revolution ushered in by Educor in Southern Africa. Here, the student and teacher communities have been involved in using ICT as a major tool for discussion and resource dissemination.

The use of CICs for medical delivery in the form of tele-prescription, medical discussion for professionals, and remote medical services can better serve the purpose. Considering the fact that most of the doctors in the rural service are often unavailable, these CICs could become the reference point to obtain treatment from experts. An example is the Community Medicine Program in Gambia. Here, nurses and doctors in remote villages contact specialists in London and offer treatment to patients. They also use this network for updating professional knowledge. Village councils can also be educated on basic health concepts so that they do not turn to quacks and faith healers. The example of Madhya Pradesh in training local youths for delivering basic health services should be followed here.

The possibility of using CICs as centers of e-governance is very appropriate. Citizen services like birth and death registrations, utilities, bill payments, and official correspondence to the Government can be provided at these centers electronically. Government announcements could be better diffused through these centers and thus administration could be brought closer to people. Similarly, petty litigations and disputes could also be undertaken through these centers.

Various social activities can be given a thrust through the CICs. NGOs and voluntary organizations can also be allowed to propagate their good causes through this network. Mass initiatives like AIDS Control programmes, information on family welfare and population control could be better served through these CICs.

Involvement of global organizations is a key factor in enabling the full success of the programme. Organizations like UNDP, UNESCO, UNIDO and WHO can give a new dimension to the growth of the project. Development activities in the region can also be given a new realistic thrust. Under the UNDP Thematic Trust Fund for ICT for Development, overall information resource development of the region can be organized. Similarly, the UNESCO initiative on ICT in Education, and UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education (IITE) can have a scheme and funding for the region with the CICs becoming centers for discourses and evaluation.

The World Bank has been providing technical assistance for the programme. A few State Governments in India are also lobbying for such a project in their respective states. Kashmir has already been awarded one. Thus the positive outlook is well established.

It remains to be seen how best the project is accepted by the people of the region. The strong support of different organizations as well as of the user community from the region needs to be channelized. One only hopes that the North East region benefits immensely from this project.


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