During the Union Budget speech a few months ago, the Finance Minister mentioned that the government had allocated Rs. 75 crores would be allocated towards the setting up of Common Service Centres (CSCs, broadband enabled kiosks), Rs. 450 crores for the setting up of SWANs (State-Wise Area Networks) and Rs. 275 crores towards setting up State Data Centres. In all, not just in this fiscal, 100,000 CSCs have been planned, as a part of the National E-Governance Plan (NeGP).

A CSC essentially is a kiosk in a rural district, which allows online bill payments, booking tickets, applying for jobs, searching for market information and selling of local produce. CSCs are going to be managed by a Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE), which serves as the nodal point for services and government schemes.

In its earnings release, BSE listed SREI Infrastructure Finance mentioned that its subsidiary SREI Sahaj e-Village (Sahaj) had won bids for CSCs in 6 states – 4937 in West Bengal, 5565 in Bihar, 2282 in Orissa, 2833 in Assam, 8118 in Uttar Pradesh and 1045 in Tamil Nadu – a total of 24780 kiosks. These will cover 150,000 villages, and a population of over 21 crore. Frankly, if that’s what the government has targeted, I think it’s insufficient – approximately 1 kiosk for every 8475 people. Bridging the digital divide, indeed. Sahaj will be investing Rs. 1000 crores on CSCs. Hughes Communications India has signed up with Sahaj to supply 17,000 VSAT connections. Sahaj will also set up kiosks in Bihar, in Uttar Pradesh, in Tamil Nadu and in Assam.

Other companies that are setting up CSCs include CMS Computers (4962 CSCs) and Zoom Developers (1314 CSCs) in Orissa, and RCom in West Bengal. As per this article in DataQuest, the progress of CSCs has been rather slow.

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