Kolkata: Srei Infrastructure Finance Ltd, a non-banking financial institution, has won a tender to set up Internet kiosks in rural West Bengal to provide basic services such as filing land returns, registering births and deaths, and checking the weather pattern.
This is part of the National e-Governance Plan, as initiative to bring electronic services to villages.
Srei will set up 4,937 electronic centres called ‘Sahaj Mitra’ across 14 districts of Bengal. Every six villages will have a common e-centre that will be a one-stop shop for all e-governance requirements. Women entrepreneurs identified from self-help groups in the village will man the centres. Srei will train them and maintain the centres that will also provide commercial and general information such as commodity prices and booking of railway tickets. Besides, the centres will include modules of e-learning. Srei is collaborating with Wipro Infotech, part of Wipro Ltd, to set up and manage these centres.
This initiative is similar to the e-Chaupal project that ITC Ltd, India’s biggest tobacco company, launched in Madhya Pradesh.
Rural retailing and providing Internet access to villagers is catching up with companies as 60% of the country’s 1.1 billion population still lives in rural areas. Companies ranging from ITC to DCM Shriram Consolidated Ltd have set up rural information kiosks and shops and plan to aggressively expand these services and networks.
Srei officials maintain that while ITC’s kiosks are more for agricultural procurement prices and their rural supermarket, theirs would allow villages to access a range of products and services.
Srei says it will eventually invest Rs800 crore for a pan-India presence in this project. In Bengal, it will invest around Rs100 crore.
The government will pay a minimum support revenue per kiosk to the company on a monthly basis and Srei may charge the companies that advertise their products. Kiosk space advertising will be an integral source of revenue for the company and villagers will also be charged a nominal fee for accessing the service.
“We have been present in the rural sector through our microfinance initiatives,” said Hemant Kanoria, vice-chairman and managing director, Srei. “This would help us bring IT-enabled services to the doorstep,” he added.
Srei primarily offers financing for infrastructure, construction and mining equipment.