Gujarat will be the first state in India to provide high-speed connectivity through satellite-based data connections to all its 13,693 gram panchayats, as village administrative councils are commonly called, by July this year, enabling video, voice and data offerings in the areas of e-governance, distance education, telemedicine, agriculture and interactive advisory and counselling services.
Each panchayat will have its own email address and more than 13,000 of them will be hosted on the state-owned data centre.
The project will be connected through so-called very small aperture terminals or VSATs, which bounce data signals from one location to another via satellites, routing these signals through small dish antennas.
The project will cost Rs200-300 crore, a senior Gujarat government official said. “While a majority of the funds come from the state government, some capacity of between Rs20 crore to Rs25 crore comes from the Central government,” said Varesh Sinha, principal secretary of panchayats in the state.
The build-operate-transfer project, announced by the state government in September, has India’s largest mobile phone services firm, Bharti Airtel Ltd, which also runs a broadband business, as the implementing agency.
Bharti Airtel, which began work on the project in January, plans to connect the panchayats with broadband connectivity at speeds of 2mbps.
“One of the best things about Gujarat is that there is a lot of great digitization that has happened in the state than anywhere else. This will be further fuelled by the panchayat connectivity,” said T.R. Madan Mohan, managing partner at management consultancy firm Browne and Mohan.
But, he added, he was not sure of the development impact of such a network.
The VSAT-based solution is ideal for connecting far-flung villages, where laying copper or optic fibre cables is an expensive option.
Chris Tobit, Bharti Airtel’s director, sales and operations for enterprise services, said the project was on track for completion in July. The New Delhi firm was won the contract in October.
Gujarat is moving fast in taking information technology or IT to the village level, said an expert overseeing the Centre’s common services centres project that aims to roll out some 100,000 computer kiosks countrywide.
“Under this project, each panchayat will have advanced computerized systems and trained IT representatives. Also, every village will have email addresses that will connect them to the state through broadband,” said Aruna Sundararajan, chief executive officer of the common service centres project at IL&FS Ltd, the agency that has facilitated this project.
The state will also be the second to complete its set of 6,000 common service centres by September this year.
Haryana is the only state that has completed 1,000 kiosks.