Saturday, January 17, 2009

CSCs scheme in West Bengal

Ranjit K Maiti, Jt. Secretary, West Bengal State Rural Development Agency, attended the eIndia 2007 Conference, held in New Delhi. He spoke with Shambhu Ghatak, CSDMS.

What is West Bengal doing for the CSCs scheme?
West Bengal is involved in implementing the Common Service Centres (CSCs) scheme under the National e-Governance Plan (NeGP). In the state of West Bengal, besides other e-Government initiatives, which have been undertaken by the government particularly in the Panchayat and Rural Development Department to reach the people at large, the current e-Government scheme named Common Services Centre scheme, is being implemented not by IT department but by Panchayat and Rural Development Department of the Government of West Bengal through West Bengal State Rural Development Agency, unlike the case in other states. The WBSRDA is going to set up 6,797 CSCs in rural West Bengal.

How is the CSCs scheme going to be implemented in rural West Bengal?
Rural West Bengal has been divided into 8 zones, of which 6 zones have been awarded to SREI Infrastructure Finance Limited. However, SREI Sahaj e-Village Limited being a subsidiary company of the original one will set up 4,937 CSCs. Two zones comprising 4 districts have been awarded to Reliance Communications. They have to set up 1,860 common service centres in 4 districts. There are some constraints and problems too. SREI has already started setting up of their connectivity towers. Government has also started negotiating at the gram panchayat level for providing separate rooms of 12 feet by 10 feet floor area with sitting arrangements and access to electricity. In case there exists no separate rooms, the state Government has already issued instructions to utilise the 12th Finance Commission Fund. In the case of G2C services, some Departments like Land and Land Reforms Department have come forward to issue copies (parchaas) of the Records of Rights. Similarly, other Departments like Social Welfare and Women and Child Development Department, Agricultural Department, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) West Bengal, Animal Resource Department, Horticulture Department, etc. have come forward for the e-Government services for the citizens. It is a fact that these departments are at various stages of e-Readiness for extending services to the citizens. Fourteen departments have been selected for taking up Mission Mode Projects under NeGP. They are now preparing Detailed Project Reports for approval of the Department of IT, Govt of India. The Government of India will be providing financial support for the CSCs programme in the coming 4 years as revenue supports to the CSC level VLEs. It is expected that these departments will be e-Ready by next 2-3 years for providing G2C services for the citizens. B2C services are coming up with business-models in the areas of banking, insurance, etc. e-Learning, computer training and learning are making inroads in West Bengal through the two SCAs. By December, 2007 some CSCs are expected to come up in West Bengal. This is going to change the socio-economic fabric of rural West Bengal.

Could you explain the role of SWAN and SDC in NeGP in this respect?
In this respect, I would like to mention that CSCs scheme, is dependent upon State Wide Area Network (SWAN) and State Data Centre which are scheduled to provide connectivity up to block level with 2mbps and data storage for all G2C services. Both the components are being looked after by the IT Department of the State Government. From block to gram panchayat, termed as last mile connectivity, how G2C services is to be provided is not very clear. This is a grey area. In West Bengal especially, when the CSC programme came up, it was decided at the state level (at the policy making cell) that the centres would be run by the suitable members from Women SHGs (self help groups). For this purpose, we moved to the Ministry of Rural Development to get some special funds to build the capacity of the prospective village level entrepreneurs. They have provided certain funds and we are now creating a conducive environment, where SCA, NABARD and P&RD department jointly can utilise such funds. SCA has the onus to select the village level entrepreneurs. Despite all these, governments at the state-level have got some role to promote economic activities in the rural areas. We have very little experience. Within the next 2 years we would like to see the CSCs changing the entire scenario through such Public Private Partnership scheme.

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