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The Kerala state government’s Akshaya e-Centers, which distributes and provides government services might soon start selling products from private companies like Reliance Jio, and Patanjali, reports The Hindu. The report adds that the government might use Common Service Centers which is set up under the National e-Governance Plan for delivering Internet-based services to rural areas.

However, officials handling Akshaya centers were seemingly against the plan, as the report has quoted an official as saying “Akshaya centres are not commercial establishments. Earlier too, we got requests to sell computer peripherals, but we had refused as it goes against the very purpose for which these centers were set up.”

CSCs have already tied-up with private cos for services and products

MediaNama was not able to independently verify these developments, but note that CSC were earlier used to distribute products and even services offered by private companies. Flipkart signed an MoU with CSC centers pan India to help village entrepreneurs list products on Flipkart’s e-commerce platform. In 2014, Monster.com tied up with CSC to launch a new e-KYC based job portal for rural India, while Airtel had also tied up with CSC to provide its Airtel Money application to rural citizens.

Apart from this, CSC scheme also procured a license under the government’s Bharat Bill Payment Operating Unit (BBPOU) is to allow citizens to make phone recharges, electricity bill payments under the centralized Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS).  CSC are also managed and run by Village Level Entrepreneurs; this acts as a form of employment. A total of Rs 122.4 crore has been paid out as commissions to these Village Level Entrepreneurs as of May.

There are 199,325 Common Service Centers (CSCs) across 29 states and 7 Union territories as of March 2016. A total of 23,245 VLEs are women, according to the IT ministry. However it did not disclose the total number of VLEs registered in the country.

MediaNama’s Take

The Hindu report mentions that the government is looking to sell Jio’s services via Kerala government’s Akshaya e-Centers; even though officials seem pessimistic about distributing private products, it is impending that these centers are used for digitization initiatives as seen in the case of CSCs. The core objective CSCs are to help penetrate digitization and bring more citizens to use Internet-based services, and selling products from Patanjali, completely misses the point.

Vivek adds: It makes no sense for the government to market private organization goods at a center which is aimed to help citizens use internet based services. The govt should stick to initiatives like the one with Flipkart where it gets private players involved to directly benefit the users at CSCs and not for sole purpose of selling or marketing private products. The CSCs are not malls for rural areas for government to be profiteering, rather they are educational centers to get more users online.

In case the government goes ahead with plans to sell privately manufactured digital products or even SIM cards, it’s necessary that no private company should be given undue favors or arranged in way that seem beneficial to just one particular private organization.

Image Credit: Flickr user CIAT under CC BY-SA 2.0