Pan-India roll outs of common service centres (CSCs) is facing a roadblock due to lack of funds and inadequate monitoring, causing existing centres to become non-operational. CSCs are Internet connected kiosks set up in villages that allow denizens to book tickets, apply for jobs, search for market information on crops and sell their produce. Schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) are also failing to reach the needy for similar reasons.
As of October 2009, a total of 55,979 CSCs have been established and the government anticipates the project to be completed by June 2010, by when there would be over 1 million CSCs across the subcontinent: a grand scheme that is failing before it reaches even mid-way.
According to the latest newsletter by Common Service Centers India, a scheme by the Department of Information Technology under the national e-governance plan, three states – Haryana, Jharkhand and Sikkim – which reported 100% CSC roll outs have now suffered a setback that has caused some centres to become non-operational. Financial problems and lack of G2C services have been identified as the causes. The CSC project is under a PPP (private public partnership) so the financial problems may be associated with not just the government’s inability to secure funding but also the private company’s performance.
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Nikhil adds: I’m not very bullish on the CSCs because it leads to the concentration of information and power in the hands of few – those running the CSCs, who have access to information which should ideally be available to all. The same is true of ITCs e-choupals. Of course, once the CSC project rollout is completed, the government will claim that a majority of the people in India are connected, but that will not be the true picture. In order to make information available to everyone, one needs to think beyond the “digital post offices” that the CSCs are. Which is where the mobile is far more important a device, than this CSC project.
Sahaj Reports Hold-Ups In NREGA Scheme
Similarly, private player Sahaj e-Village, a subsidiary of listed firm SREI Infrastructure Finance, has revealed in its newsletter that the government’s incorporation of NREGA (National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) scheme with Sahaj‘s own on-going CSC projects is also not progressing – lack of funds and clarity in assigning roles to all the involved parties has resulted in the scheme just about failing completely.
Under the NREGA project, daily wagers are guaranteed a minimum of 100 days of work in rural projects. Payment is credited at banks and post offices. If not provided with employment within 15 days of the Panchayat receiving their application they are to be paid through monetary grants. This is where the project faces an issue – to avoid having to cough up the grants, Panchayats are not taking applications.
We have reported earlier how NeGP’s roll out of CSCs were slowing down and deadlines for other projects (State Wide Area Network and State Data Centres) were also being pushed; this is continuing and progress is slow. It is clear that G2C projects in India are not being addressed as emphatically as they should be.