eGovernance in India

Improving eGovernance in INDIA

Village Resource Centres (VRC) – Working Paper

Posted by egovindia on June 26, 2006

Village Resource Centres (VRC) – Working Paper 

Man's future in Space will be determined more by Socio-Cultural imperatives rather than Science and Technology alone. Individual Liberty & Democracy along with deep and active concern for all living beings on Earth are essential features of a civilized society – Space programmes will have to pay attention to this.
              – Prof. Satish Dhawan
1.0 Introduction

The ultimate goal of any science is development of the community. With a firm belief in this principle, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) envisages to extend its expertise and achievements in the spheres of Space science and Information technology to rural development. With this prime objective ISRO has initiated the VRC concept i.e., setting up of the Village Resource Centres (VRCs) with a view to integrate its capabilities in satellite communications and satellite based earth observations to disseminate a variety of services emanating from the space systems and other IT tools to address the changing and critical needs of rural communities. The VRC is a totally interactive VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) based network. These nodes can be further extended using other technologies like Wi-Fi, Wireless and Optical Fibre. These extensions may serve as local clusters around the areas where the VRC is located.

 Millennium Development Goals

The United Nations declaration in September 2000 stated thus – “ We will spare no efforts to free our fellow men, women & children from the object and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty to which a more than a billion of them are currently subjected”.  This millennium goal statement was the natural products of world summit for social development 1995, in which a consensus was reached “on the need to put people at the centre of development:             

The Millennium Declaration was adopted by 189 world leaders who committed to – “free all men, women and children from object and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty by the year 2015.   For the purpose the major goals set were promotion and achieving universal primary education, improve maternal health care, eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, combact HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and to develop a global partnership for development.  These goals have given a direction for development among the countries, particularly the developing nations.  Our country being a signatory for these Millennium development goals has a committed responsibility to achieve this task.

Millennium Development Goals & VRC Concept

Technology plays a prominent role in development initiatives particularly more so in recent decades.  Space technology and Information communication technology are state of art technologies of modern civilization.  But unfortunately the benefit of these technologies never or rarely reach the poor.  The benefits that technology brings normally reaches or pocketed by the few affordable rich, further widening the poverty gap and also limiting accessibility capabilities within the community.  Information and Communication technology with space technology component can play a tremendous role in the development perspective.  It can be a tool to disseminate the knowledge flow of any kind to the rural masses; acting as a catalysts to the growth process. ‘Knowledge is power’, ‘We will be free only where we know’.  ISRO, has envisaged the VRC concept to enhance the knowledge of rural community of the country and thus to empower them. 

The vision is also to breath an air of freedom into their life, which are generated through enriched knowledge.  

The VRCs can help on:-·        

Spontaneous flow of information on health, education, etc., to the grass-root-level.·        

It will empower the poor and needy as they will also have an access to these.·        

Spread education, issues of equality and rural livelihood.·        

Promotion campaigns – particularly health and sanitation related.·        

Inter linking of development process.·        

Above all empowerment of the people through awareness and dissemination of knowledge as ‘Knowledge is power’. The remote sensing technologies and satellite support systems that are going to be used in the VRC are part of information and communication technologies.  They can play specific roles in fulfilling each of the Millennium Development Goals in their own way.  The objective set or perceived for the VRC, project is much akin to these millennium goals. The VRC project can be envisaged as tool to achieve there millennium goals in which the space technology plays a deciding role. 

Thus the vision referred at the beginning, for the Indian Space Research Organization is being visualized through VRC project. 

1)         The VRC’s are expected to provide wide ranging information like land records, natural resources, suitable sites for drinking water as well as sites for recharging to replenish ground water, water harvesting, wastelands that can be reclaimed, rural employment creation, watershed, environment, infrastructure, alternate cropping pattern, and so on. By suitably blending the information derived from earth observation satellites with ground based and weather related information, locale-specific community advisory services can be provided. Community based vulnerability and risk related information, provision of early warning and dissemination of severe weather related information could lead to reliable disaster management support at the village level.  

2)         VRCs will also provide a variety of services like tele-education, telemedicine, online decision support, interactive farmers' advisory services, tele-fishery, e-governance services, weather services and water management. By providing tele-education services, the VRCs act as virtual community centric learning centres. At the same time, VRCs will provide connectivity to speciality hospitals thus bringing the services of expert doctors closer to the villages.   This project  strives to promote a need based single window delivery system for providing services in the areas of education, health, nutrition, weather, environment, agriculture and livelihoods to the rural population to empower them to face challenges. 

3)         The VRCs will also address social issues through awareness and information dissemination. Information with respect to health, education, nutrition, gender issues, legal services and women empowerment. It also aims at creating a demand for services available through government agencies.  The VRCs can also provide for community assistance through help line which can be used for social issues. It can cater to livelihood accessibilities gender issues as  information related to this aspects also can be  disseminated.  The demand available in  the service sector can be depicted through the VRCs enabling a greater employment opportunities. This can also disseminate the required service in the Govt. sector and also the various development initiative projects that are initiated by the Govt.  It is planned to involve Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s), trusts, private entrepreneurs, Industries, State Government departments and the state remote sensing centers for the VRCs.    The overall implementation of the project will be the joint responsibility of ISRO / NGO / Partner Agency / Community.  The NGO / Associating agency at VRC level is expected to setup the VRC with the necessary infrastructure and ISRO will provide the equipments, hardware and software as per the required specifications.  The NGO / partner agency is also expected to collect the necessary information by conducting Participatory Rural Appraisal, Rapid Rural Appraisal,  Focused Group Discussions and from other sources (Recent Census) to arrive at suitable agriculture / land / water resources issues and also to identify health / education needs.    

2.0    Scope and Objectives

The VRC project aims at transferring the benefits of the space and IT directly to the communities at the grass root level to uplift the life and livelihood of rural areas. The project as envisaged is meant to serve as a resource centre to address various primary need based requirements of the local communities such as education, health, weather, agriculture and livelihoods opportunities. One of the main aims of the VRCs is to use developments in the field of IT and space technologies to empower rural communities by enabling greater capacity building and awareness. The project aims at increased productivity and sustainability of natural resources, human development and economic sustainability. Major objectives of the project are:

  • To generate advisories on agriculture, land and water management to better  utilize the available resources and to mitigate the negative impacts. This aims mainly on maximizing the economic output from the available resources. Existing land use and land cover pattern and planning for better and optimum land use pattern can be planned with these informations enabling better productivity results.
  • Ensure greater access to information on land, water, soil etc so as to educate and empower the local communities for greater conservation and sustainable utilization of these resources. The accessibility of information also will improve the capability of the rural communities for better development planning and ensure equitable bargaining power in a skewed social system.
  • Capacity building of the community to ensure greater awareness with respect to the basic human development indicators like health, education, child care, female literacy, adult education, etc.. This health related and social aspects will improve the standard of living and overall development.
  • Providing enhanced livelihood opportunities with wider dissemination of information for greater economic growth. This will create greater opportunities among the rural masses both at the entrepreneurial level creating greater employment opportunities and opportunity for self employment
  • Providing information on price, market, pests, diseases, livestock, govt. schemes, job opportunities, e-governance related information etc. The market services can result in better economic gains to the grass-root producer who is hitherto deprived of these opportunity costs.  The job opportunities and e-governance related information will widen the life scope of the rural youth.
  • To provide Tele education and tele healthcare services. Tele-educaiton and health care has a very wide scope to create a revolutionary change in the rural sector. One of the reason for educatiion and health care is the non-accessibility of our rural interiors. This has always bogged down our   development initiative and efforts.  The tele-network in this lines through VRCs can be a remedy in these lines.
  • Overall empowerment of the rural community by catering to Rural Human development through health, sanitation, child care, female literacy adult education informal education etc
  • To ensure and provide linkages with various development initiatives. To act as a catalyst for ensuring transparency in all sectors of rural development. The information and communication capabilities will breath a new life in the level of transparency in the public sector.

3.0   The Approach

3.1   Participatory Approach

Role of community participation in any development initiative needs no stress. Any programme or project aimed at rural development succeeds and sustains depending on the level of peoples participation. The project is mainly aimed at the community and hence its involvement is very much essential for the success of the project. The involvement of the community requires greater awareness about the project and its utility. This calls for greater involvement with the community and its capacity building.The participatory approach requires involvement of the community at different levels of the project implementation like formulation, planning, implementation and  also post project management and monitoring. The sustainability of any developmental initiative depends on collaborative management by the community with proper facilitation by external agency. The process of participatory implementation ensuring social sustainability requires sufficient capacitation of the user community. A successful development project should ensure a sound trade off between social acceptability with due concern for equity along with environmental sustainability. Only a reasonable participatory involvement in the project can ensure the expected results.

3.2   NGOs Partnership Approach

The strength of NGOs in social mobilisation is strongly proved over the years. The VRC project has chosen to depend on this proven capability of the NGOs and other similar grass root agencies.Rapid Rural Appraisals (RRA) and Participatory Rural Appraisals are required for greater dissemination of information about the project, its components and its utility to the rural community. All this calls for greater involvement at the grass root level, in which the NGOs have exposure and capacity. Thus, NGOs are mainly involved in the project to further the scope of the project to create greater awareness in the community with enhanced capacity to use IT enabled services for its benefit. The identification of the partner NGOs for project implementation is based on the ground presence of the NGO in the proposed area of VRC establishment. 

4.0   Components and Potential of

VRCs

Village Resource Centres will become single window delivery mechanism for tele medicine, tele education, natural resources data, agriculture advisories, land & water resources advisories; interactive farmers’ advisories; e-governance services and weather advisories. It will also be involved in capacity building of the community to enhance its awareness and knowledge levels. The VRCs will provide information on health, education, nutrition, gender issues, legal services and women empowerment. 

Tele education: Focusing on building indigenous skill and imparting training and capacity building, including formal, non-formal and adult education. As a community centric learning centre, VRCs aim to bring access to knowledge at the villager’s doorstep.

Telemedicine: Telemedicine system consists of customized medical software integrated with computer hardware, along with medical diagnostic instruments connected to the commercial VSAT at each location. Generally the medical record/history of the patients is sent to the specialist doctors, who will in turn study and provide diagnosis and treatment during videoconference with the patients end. Telemedicine helps patients in rural areas to avail timely consultations of specialist doctors without going through the ordeal of travelling long distances. The VRCs through their telemedicine network bring the services of specialty hospitals and expert doctors closer.  Any VRC can be connected to any of the 75 hospitals of the ISRO Telemedicine network, of which 19 are super-specialty hospitals. VRCs will also be connected to the nearest district / specialty hospitals. The telemedicine network will be provided at two levels.

1)      Specialty Consultation – Consultation with experts and specialists from various fields of medicine like Neurology, Nephrology, Cardiology, Gynecology, Pediatrics, etc., to ensure greater and better access to health care facilities.

2)      Basic Consultation – This would involve consultation for treating common and minor ailments at the village level probably at the primary health centers through paramedics in the absence of regular doctors.    The main causes for infant mortality in the rural areas are diarrhea, maternal mortality, infections, etc.. Though these are minor ailments, the absence of timely help and advice make them fatal, especially to the infants. The VRCs through its tele-medicine and tele-education components would address these issues through awareness, sensitization and capacitation of the community on personal health and hygiene, especially during pre and post natal periods.

Land & Water Resources Advisories: with the comprehensive databases on detailed scales extracted from high resolution satellite images, VRC will not only bring access to spatial information on various themes such as land use/land cover, soil, ground water prospects but also enable the farmers to get query based decision support. GIS databases comprising all thematic layers, cadastral boundaries, road network and drainage network will be created. A simple software package will be installed for accessing and querying the natural resource information and related advisories, which will enable farmers to get online decision support at cadastral levels.

Interactive Farmers’ Advisory Services/Tele agriculture: VRC will enable online interactions between the local farmers and agriculture scientists working at Scientific Institutions. The advisory will cover a wide range of subjects starting from alternate cropping systems, optimization of agricultural inputs – seeds, water, fertilizer, insecticides, pesticides and producer oriented marketing opportunities. Community centred advisories on soil and water conservation, on adopting water efficient cropping patterns, on practices related to rainwater harvesting/ground water recharge, on participatory watershed management, information on market/price, pests & diseases etc will also be made available. Farmers/villagers of one VRC can interact with farmers/villagers of other VRCs on crops, pesticides, water harvesting etc.VRCs would not only, thus ensure expert inputs for sustainable development but also provides for learning between communities through inter-community knowledge flow. The existence of such networks would allow for greater dissemination, adoption and replication of practices, with modifications if any. This flow of information would also bring in greater transparency and acceptance as the flow as will be established would be between the user communities. 

E-governance services: Services such as governmental schemes on agriculture, poverty alleviation, rural employment, social safety nets – food for work programme and other basic entitlements, animal husbandry and livestock related services, services related to Self Help Group (SHGs) etc, will also be made available at VRCs. The failure or negligible use of various programmes is more so because of lack of awareness rather than non-implementation. Creating greater awareness on the available opportunities and rights of the community would bolster the demand thus ensuring greater efficiency of the ‘supply’ i.e., implementation of the programmes. This would also help bring in greater transparency and accountability to both the programmes implemented and the implementing agency.

Weather Advisories: Short, medium and long-term weather forecasts will be converted into location and farming system specific advisories and will be made available to the community as relevant information for local consumption. Weather advisories, like those envisaged under the VRCs, are very much in requirement to ensure agricultural success, especially in agrarian economies like ours, as the success is greatly dependent on rainfall. 

Social Messaging and Rural EmpowermentSocial Information related to gender, sanitation, mortality, morbidity, legal support systems, livelihood accessibility informations, etc., will be provided by the VRCs. The proper information flow and time bound updation has to be ensured so as to ensure better results. The utilization of these informations can be at the local level or national to international level.

Project support SystemsAny developmental project initiated in the region can use this VRC to spread messages. Awareness and sensitization programmes through the VRCs about the projects can provide a faster track for these programmes to initiate upon.

Community Based Organisation (CBO) support system

CBOs are more and more being identified as catalyst tools in the process of development. They are seen as centres of community participation. The VRCs can cater to the needs of specific organizations like Self Help groups (SHG), User groups, youth services, etc.,  and can ensure both institutional building and successful participation in development process.

Panchayat Raj Institutions and VRCs

With greater thrust on the democratic decentralization, the panchayat raj institutions are going to play a greater role in the national development agenda. Particularly in Karnataka, the PRIs are proposed to play a decisive role in the rural development programmes. The VRCs can be an effective  and useful tool for the capacity building of these PRIs. Even Gram panchayats (GPs) can be thought as a centre for VRCs. The scope in this respect seems to be very vast and discussions with the state governments can yield very fruitful results in extending the VRCs.

5.0   Responsibilities of Partners

5.1 Role of ISRO

5.1.1 Technical Assistance

Major responsibilities of ISRO/DOS are to provide the satellite (VSAT) based communication back bone/connectivity, creation of natural resources database/advisories, providing telemedicine & tele education facilities, software for accessing, displaying, querying natural resource database/advisories.   The proposed network will be capable of catering to three types of requirements. 

  • The first one is the connectivity for telemedicine services wherein any VRC node can establish the connection with selected Hospitals in the ISRO Telemedicine network and with district hospitals/nearby specialty hospitals. 
  • The second type of the connectivity is for information and data services for the community where all the services will be provided from a central location. 
  • The third type of connectivity is for the services, which are exchanged among the VRCs, and interaction between VRCs and few expert centres.

However the exact communication configuration will be as per the recommendations of Communication Configuration Committee of ISRO. At present the telemedicine network is operating with a HUB at ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC),
Bangalore in Extended C band with Single Channel Per Carrier (SCPC) Demand Assigned Multiple Access (DAMA) System.  The proposed ISRO-NGO network will be on the existing ISRO NET, which is on SCPC DAMA technology.  For delivering the planned services, the technology options available are audio Tele conference; Videoconference and web based browsing.  The beneficiaries of VRC could access the services through broadcasting, point-to-point connectivity and intranet on a time shared basis.The communication system has three major components namely satellite, central hub and remote terminals. The remote terminal is a 2 way VSAT operating in Extended C band with 3.8m-antenna and 2W/5W RF power amplifier.  The selection of the power amplifier will be decided by the location of the VSAT with respect to satellite coverage.  The central hub consists of a 6.3m antenna and 40 W power amplifier operating in Extended C band. The base band system provides SCPC DAMA connectivity between various nodes. The hub function includes assigning channel frequencies, bandwidth, uplink power etc.  The network is flexible in terms of providing Star or Mesh as well as Demand or Pre-assigned connectivity.  The immediate requirement of the Network is 12 VSATs operating at various locations.  The required bandwidth for the proposed network could be on INSAT-3A at 93.5 deg East longitude that carries the Telemedicine traffic. The hardware at each node will include multimedia PC with a web cam and simple microphone for video conferencing. To include the telemedicine function, database server, application server with appropriate software, X-ray scanner, 12 lead ECG and telemedicine software are to be in place.  For training and data access functions appropriate software will be incorporated. Towards telemedicine / tele education, ISRO will provide the required equipment/facilities. The VRC nodes will get connected to any of the selected hospitals of the ISRO Telemedicine network.Natural resource database will be generated on 1:12,500 scale. Individual layers will be prepared on Land use/Land cover, Geology, Geomorphology, Soil, Transport Network, Drainage & Water bodies, Slope, Settlement, Watershed boundaries, Village/Taluk boundaries etc. Map showing ground water prospects/recharge, suggestive measures for agriculture and water resources (arrived at by integrating peoples aspirations understood through Participatory Rural Appraisal – PRA) will also be provided. The above said thematic maps will be generated using IRS LISS III/ LISS IV and PAN data. Cadastral data will be georeferenced and it will be superimposed with the above layers to enable survey number wise queries. ISRO will procure satellite data and will generate the thematic maps in association with the concerned State Remote Sensing Application Centres. All the layers along with other information will be part of the GIS database of particular taluk/block. User friendly, query system developed by RRSSCs will be made available for accessing the data/advisories. The VRCs will also be linked to expert agencies like the Universities of Agricultural Sciences of Bangalore and Dharawad for Tele agriculture consultations and Three district hospitals and two specialty hospitals for telemedicine purposes; towards this a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) will be signed between ISRO and these institutions/ departments. ISRO will bear the cost of running and maintaining the VRCs (including staff salary, training etc) for the first two years.

5.1.2 Technical Capacity BuildingISRO will also be responsible for technical capacity building of the NGO staff. ISRO will extend its technical know how to the partner NGOs to maintain the VRCs functioning. The capacity building, aimed mainly to increase the technical knowledge base of the community will be delivered as Training of Trainers (TOT) programme, where in the NGOs would act as agents of knowledge transfer. Experts form ISRO will prepare relevant course contents and training modules for the purpose and provide this training to the selected NGO staff or identified personnel.

5.2   Responsibilities of NGO

The NGO partners will act as a bridge between the technology and its social application. As part of the VRC programme, the responsibility of the NGOs will include to provide ·        

A building (a hall and two/three rooms) for setting up the VRCs with necessary furniture, lighting and space for the installation of VSAT antenna and for telemedicine, tele education/tele agriculture facilities in each location. ·        

Computer systems preferably, Pentium IV, for residing/accessing the natural resource database/querying and other services etc. ·        

Cameras and other required accessories.·        

Contents for tele-education / tele-agriculture programme will be generated / arranged by NGO through expert agencies or experts. ·          

Tele-Medicine – The NGO will network and facilitate services between local doctors, preferably from PHCs and expert doctors through telemedicine facilities. The honorarium for the doctors will be borne by the NGO.·        

Tele-Education – The NGOs will generate need based contents for capacity building. Interaction with subject experts will be arranged for the benefit of the rural populace, especially the student community. Possible networking with the existing ISRO tele-education facility will be explored for wider consumption.·        

Natural Resource Database – The NGO will capacitate the staff of the VRC to use the natural resource database to cater to the community. It will also capacitate the staff to further capacitate the community to use the resource bases. ·        

The NGOs will be responsible to record and document the priorities, perceptions, aspirations and requirements of the people through Participatory Rural Appraisal / Rapid Rural Appraisal. This would be used for deciding the deliverables and various advisories. Census data on population and other details will also be collected and suitably integrated by NGO. ·        

The information collected through PRA/Census will be used to arrive at suitable agriculture/land/water resources advisories and to identify the health/education needs. ·        

The NGO will collect all the details on governmental schemes, pests & diseases, market/price, livestock etc from various sources and will provide through VRCs. ·        

The required trained manpower for manning the VRCs will be provided by the NGO.  The VRC personnel will have the basic knowledge of computer operations.  

6.0    Capacity Building 

The participatory nature of the project calls for greater awareness and capacity building of the community. This requires a comprehensive training programme which can deliver both social and technical aspects to the grass root level regarding space available deliverables in an area-specific manner. The involvement of the NGOs would help the task of community training greatly. The process of capacity building involves training to the NGOs, who in turn would capacitate the community. The capacity building of the NGOs will cover two major spheres viz., Social and Technical. Social capacity building would involve modules on the VRCs, its functioning and utilities, Concept of VRC, Utility / Awareness / Data usage, Extension / Exposure, Community Participation, Sustainability of VRCs, Inter project linkages and Handholding and WithdrawalTechnical capacity building would involve Spatial data interpretation and utilization, Hardware usage & maintenance and Data generation and analysis.

This would be provided by ISRO as TOTs.                              

The trainings to the community would follow both formal and Non-formal modes of education.  Awareness and sensitization of the community would follow the non-formal pattern involving PRA / RRA exercises. IGA / Skill and other technical trainings would follow the formal training mode. Training to the community to be part of the awareness and sensitization of the programme. How ever all trainings to the community to be completed by 3-4 months from the initiation of the programme.

The training modules pertaining to the utility of VRCs to stress more on the concepts of tele-medicine, tele- education, Gender, Live stock and general health and sanitation.  The tele-medicine / tele-education concepts under VRCs to be evolved as need based programmes. NGOs to facilitate tele-medicine project  involving PHCs. Minimum awareness programme on health, including gender specific, AIDs awareness, human trafficking can be made as documentaries with popular appeal so as to evince intrest on these issues among the community for better living. Module wise time scale for training to be evolved based on content. Modules to be finalized in consultation with experts in the relevant field. NGOs with specialization in areas like education, health, rural development, computer knowledge, environment to be judiciously used / involved across the country. Modules to be administered on pilot basis with provision for feed back and corrections.  The material to be provided in the local language. Greater emphasis on audio-visual aids for capacitation. 

7.0  Withdrawal Strategy 

The project as planned involves only technical support and capacitation there off, by ISRO. These activities, as planned, will be completed with the initiation of the VRC’s or shortly thereafter. The exit of ISRO has to be planned such that it does not create any lacunae and affect the functioning of the VRC’s. Proper strategies for this withdrawal need to be put in place well in advance. The withdrawal has to be in phases and based on the feedback loop established by the PMU. Learnings, if any, from the VRC’s established on the pilot basis need to be incorporated for subsequent phases. Technical capacity building support has to be continued as handholding even after withdrawal. 

8.0   Summary 

The village resource centres can be an ideal tool to achieve the goal of utilizing the space and communication technology for human development. Information and communication technology can find a development outlet through the VRC concept. The Millennium Development Goals envisaged can be realized to a large extent by the VRCs properly networked. Proper utilization and extension of VRC can result in reduction of rural poverty and increase in the livelihood standard of the masses.  Using of realistic technology and to have knowledge partnership are the two basic requirements for the success of the VRC concept. 

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