A new situation is emerging in India. Very rarely in history have we come across such a constellation: an ascending economic trajectory, rising foreign exchange reserves, reducing inflation rates, global recognition of technological competence, energy of 540 million youth, umbilical connectivities of 20 million people of Indian origin abroad, and the interest shown by developed countries to invest in our engineers and scientists, including in new R&D centres.
Governments have been emphasising economic development by ensuring growth rates of seven-eight per cent annually, enhancing the welfare of farmers and workers and unleashing the creativity of entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers. This opportunity must be fully utilised to bridge the rural-urban divide, using knowledge as a tool. As such, I would like to focus ‘‘Empowering Rural India’’.
THIS discussion will be in five parts. The first part cites experiences with knowledge centres working in the country. The second part presents a case for Village Knowledge Centres in relation to the integrated development of rural areas through PURA.
The third part deals with examples of PURA in action. The fourth part presents the working domain services for effective knowledge acquisition to the PURA complexes. The final part consolidates the flow chart of data needed for farmers, fishermen and the entire rural population in an integrated way for sustainable development.
It takes a village
IN June 2005, when I visited Nagapattinam, I saw the Village Resource Centre established by the Tata Tsunami Relief Committee in association with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation at Akkaraipettai.
Speaking to the young members operating the system, I found they were helping locals by imparting education through computers, helping the Self Help Group Members to maintain their accounts, providing weather and sea state forecast data.
While it was very good, the important issue of providing a live database on various services to fishermen and farmers needs to be upgraded. This has to be a coordinated effort.
Recently, I inaugurated six Village Resource Centres in Ettimadi, Coimbatore district, Tamil Nadu, established by Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetam in partnership with ISRO. They provide tele-education and tele-medicine to six villages in Tamil nadu and Kerala through video conferencing.
I also understand the RASI Scheme of Tamil Nadu, implemented at Mellur taluk in Madurai district, is providing knowledge connectivity to villages. This enables local unemployed youth to set up village kiosks to provide computer literacy, Internet access through CorDECT Wireless system with a limited bandwidth and allows small value-added services through computers, with digital photographs as well as e-mail access.
This also helps villagers get birth certificates from local government authorities and healthcare advice from the Madurai Arvind Eye Hospital through e-mail.
I appreciate the efforts by these organisations for knowledge enabling the villagers at the Village Knowledge Centres (VKC). These VKCs will act as a knowledge-delivery tool. How to equip the VKCs with knowledge and purpose in an integrated way, within a sustainable developmental framework, is the challenge.
Pure is as PURA does
NEARLY 700 million Indians live in 600,000 villages across rural India. Connectivity of village complexes providing economic opportunities to all segments of people is an urgent need. We need to innovate to increase connectivities to the villages, making clusters out of them even while retaining their individuality.
The integrated method that will bring prosperity to rural India is called PURA or Providing Urban Amenities to Rural Areas. This envisages four connectivities: physical connectivity through quality roads and transport; electronic connectivity through telecom with high bandwidth fibre optic cables; knowledge connectivity through education, skill training for farmers, artisans and craftsmen and entrepreneurship programmes.
These three connectivities will lead to economic connectivity through starting of enterprises with the help of banks, micro-credit and marketing of products. We need to establish 7,000 PURA complexes in the country, encompassing 2.3 lakh village panchayats.
FOR providing knowledge connectivity to PURA complexes, VKCs will act as frontline delivery systems. The VKC should provide the essential data required for the targeted population such as farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, traders, businessmen, entrepreneurs, unemployed youth, and students. It has to be acquired by visiting the village, talking to the rural people, by understanding their requirement and core competence.
Providing meteorological data for both farmers and fishermen has to be area specific, covering say 20 or 30 villages in the vicinity of the sea coast or farming area. Local relevance of information offered is essential.
Users have simple needs of information but often it is tough for system integrators because of the need to update data. Trained manpower has to be deployed to generate information that can explain in simple terms the meteorological data, weather data, marketing data on fish, agricultural and other rural commodities.
This data has to come from various connected institutions that provide service to the people on a timely basis. But the transformation of data into user-friendly information is the real challenge.
The main focus of the VKC should be to empower youth to undertake development tasks of villages and establish rural enterprises that will provide largescale employment. So it is essential to skill enable and knowledge enable through academic institutions, industry, banking and marketing institutions. The VKC should act as a facilitator. Blended knowledge is better knowledge.
Nuts and bolts of connectivity
A low-cost multi-task handheld computer with GPS and wireless mobility should be developed and should reach fishermen and farmers. They should add value to this tool for their benefit to increase their earning capacity. Every VKC should have a computer terminal, wireless (Wi-Max) connection or fibre broadband or satellite connectivity to connect to the nodal centres for acquisition of knowledge and dissemination of updated real-time data.
Each PURA should have ‘‘Nodal PURA Knowledge Data Centres’’, which should be the hub for all activities. These Centres should be linked to the nominated domain service providing organisations in agriculture — including fisheries, cottage and small-scale industries and commerce, education and HRD, and healthcare. These domain institutions will have a mechanism to create continuously updated information systems needed to service the VKC.