New Delhi: Some of India’s leading telecom and tech companies, including Bharti Airtel, Reliance Infocomm, WiproInfotech and Sify, are among 3,000 bidders going after an ambitious project to provide online services in rural India.
The project—for 100,000 computer kiosks—is intended to offer online access to education, tele-medicine and other civic services. Dubbed as ‘common service centres’, these kiosks are public-private partnerships with the bulk of the Rs5,742-crore funding coming from the private sector. The government — Centre and states — will put in Rs1,649 crore.
The project, which seeks to bring ‘government to citizen and business to customer’ offerings through kiosks dotted across 6,00,000 villages, was approved in September 2006 by the Union cabinet. The centres are to be completed by March 2008.
The kiosks will offer web-enabled e-governance services in rural areas, including application forms, certificates, and utility payments such as electricity, telephone and water bills. Other services that can be accessed through these centres will be online vocational training, market and supply chain linkages, rural call centres and information on agricultural prices and weather.
The government is hoping that the private companies will help speed up the infrastructure needed to run these kiosks . “Involving private partners in this programme will help us address the issue better,” said R. Chandrashekhar, additional secretary heading the e-governance efforts at the ministry of information technology.
The common service centres project follows other initiatives such as the much publicised ‘e-choupal’ project launched in June 2000 by ITC. The tobacco and consumer goods company said the project now serves more than 35 lakh farmers spread across 31,000 villages in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan through 5,200 Internet kiosks.
The success of the government project will depend on the trust the service centres can earn from villagers, according to experts. “Anywhere, rural intervention of any type has to take into account community participation. One cannot do this without involving the farmers and winning their approach and trust,’’ said Kalyan Chakravarthy, country head for food and agriculture at Yes Bank’s Ne w Delhi offices.
The ministry had in January asked private companies to bid for the right to participate in the project. It has received around 3,000 responses from bidders, including companies, state-owned units and co-operatives, and non-governmental organizations, said Roy Mathew, vice-president at Infrastructure Leasing and Financial Services Ltd that has been contracted to implement the project.
Spokespersons for Wipro Infotech, Reliance Infocomm and Bharti Airtel declined to comment on the bids.
Thirteen states are in various stages of selecting bidders for the project, with Jharkhand taking the lead. West Bengal, Punjab and Haryana are shortlisting private partners for the project, while Assam, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, Tripura, Bihar, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat will soon request for participation. “The rest of the states will complete it by March this year,” Mathew said.
Each state will have at least two bidders implementing the kiosks.
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