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Only a tiny fraction of rural Indians have access to computers. The government has set up common service centres (CSCs) to give them access to online services such as filing tax returns, applying for passports, and updating Aadhaar details. But a study finds that residents in villages don’t use these centres much. The reasons include poor digital literacy, lack of awareness about the services, and the time and money it costs to travel to these centres.

The study’s authors, led by Sujeet Kumar Sharma of Indian Institute of Management, Tiruchirappalli, based their findings on interviews with 21 academics and industry experts as well as eight owners of CSCs.

Established in 2006 under the National e-Governance Plan, each rural CSC serves two to three villages. When a person travels to a CSC, they could lose a whole day for the journey and back, so they lose earnings if they are daily wage workers. They also lose money spending on their travel and meals, which deters them from using the CSCs more. The authors recommend setting up new centres through partnerships with private firms, so that there is at least one centre in each village.

People also have little idea of the various e-services on offer at CSCs and how they can make their lives easier. Awareness can be created by putting up details of the services on notice boards near ration shops, where villagers come to get subsidized food.

Another issue is that residents in villages lack the digital literacy and skills needed to use the computers themselves. Sometimes operators running CSCs lack the training to assist villagers who come over. The authors recommend training programs be arranged for operators to help them serve citizens in a more informed way.

Also read: “Challenges common service centers (CSCs) face in delivering e-government services in rural India"

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