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18 November 2007

Grams going "e"

The eternal optimist in me who sees technology as a very powerful force for development is happy to hear that the eGram project in Gujarat is scheduled to complete by March 2008. (gram = village)

Under this project, Bharti Airtel will set-up telecom infrastructure to connect 13,716 village panchayats and Common Service Centres in the state. Once connected, the panchayat offices/eGRAMs are expected to form a socio-economic network supporting information dissemination and facilitating e-governance initiatives in the state.

Egram consists of an ICT system that will consist digitised data of family information that will provide all kinds of certificates that villagers require such as birth, death, property, domicile, marriage, employment, agriculture, tax-collection and land ownership(at sub-district level).

It was initiated in 2003 by the Gujarat government (with GIL and NIC etc.) as there was no way for the government to monitor the citizens charter that specified service levels for a variety of services.

Phew. Did we know they'd have something like this- citizens charter, specified service levels?

Love such stuff.

My last post for this month.

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For those who'd like more details, I have provided below an article on the gram pilot project, which I cannot find online to link here, so I have re-produced in entirety.

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Source: The Indian Express, November, 2003

Valukad: Gujarat’s first `e-gram’

Governance has been brought to the doorstep of these villagers thanks to the state’s first attempt at rural e-governance

Welcome to Valukad, Gujarat’s first e-gram, or Internet-enabled village, where the state’s pilot rural e-governance project is firmly in place. Situated in Ghogha taluka of Bhavnagar district, Valukad is the first village in Gujarat to have computerised all its land records, birth and death records, and created an exhaustive database of the 2,000-odd families living here.

And that’s not all. By accessing the state government’s online administrative network -- the Gujarat State Wide Area Network (GSWAN) -- this small village is linked directly to all government departments.

“Valukad has been chosen to become the first e-gram because all our records, especially land records, are in order. It was easy to feed them into the data pool,” says Dilip Bhatt, talati (administrative head) of the Valukad gram panchayat.

In fact, the talati’s office in Valukad is a far cry from the dusty smelly office overflowing with bundles of paper that one normally expects. The place is virtually paperless. The villagers of Valukad are pleased with the recent changes in their lives. Earlier, they had to travel 22 km to Ghogha (the taluka headquarters) for every small job, even a simple query. “We do not have to go to the taluka panchayat office to procure certificates, records and application forms anymore. It costs at least Rs 60 to Rs 100 if you do not get proper transport; and it is not always possible to get the work done in a day. Things will change now,” says Bhalabhai, a villager.

Sarpanch Pushottam Bhalia says that since the distance to the taluka headquarters was considerable, few villagers made the trip there to receive government grants. “The procedure was tedious and often there was corruption. Who would spend Rs 150 to avail of Rs 500 for a mother with a newborn baby?”

The talati can now issue computer printouts of land records, certificates of payment of property tax, income, birth and death, BPL (below the poverty line), caste and character certificates. Villagers can also apply for and get scholarships for deserving rural students, and the Rs 1,500 grant for a girl-child under the Dikri Rudi Sachi Mudi scheme without having to leave the village.
Thanks to the new network, information about the lifting of kerosene and foodgrain, health bulletins, training and employment will also be available to interested villagers.

The software for the initiative was developed by the National Informatics Centre (NIC) under the union ministry of information technology. “We have used Gujarati and the programme is totally self-explanatory,” says the NIC’s D K Chauhan. Data on the villagers was collected through an exhaustive 40-point questionnaire including questions about class, caste, occupation, date of birth, etc.

Another benefit to the villagers is the elimination of corruption. By giving his name, a villager can demand access to details about his taxes, how much he has paid and what his dues are.

Says district development officer Mona Kandhahar, who is spearheading the project: “E-grams will be the strength of Gujarat in the coming years. It will revolutionise basic administration at the gram panchayat level. The data that is being gathered in the e-grams will not (only) help in local administration but also in preparing election cards, providing health facilities, census etc.”
Valukad is the first of 31 e-grams in the Ghogha and Umrala talukas of Bhavnagar district where the project will be implemented. Villages with a population exceeding 5,000 will have their own, separate computer, while five smaller villages will jointly form one e-gram.

Since this is a pilot project, the state government is providing only Valukad with the hardware and infrastructure. In the other 30 villages, private donors will pay for the computers, printers and infrastructure.

Source: The Indian Express, November 2003

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