One of the key facets of the government’s flagship Digital India programme is increasing connectivity in rural areas of the country. The National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) programme, which proved to be a laggard in the early days was rebranded by the government as Bharat Net and several new frameworks were developed to ensure the Centre’s target is met.
While the new optical fibre project may have only started picking pace, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology has put its eggs in other baskets too, to ascertain that its aim of boosting rural connectivity does not go unmet.
Common service centres (CSCs), according the government, are “a strategic cornerstone of the Digital India programme”. They are the access points for delivery of various electronic services to villages in India, thereby contributing to a digitally and financially inclusive society.
Speaking at a conference on Digital India, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad emphasised on the need for setting up of CSCs in remote areas of the country that lacked telecommunication connectivity otherwise.
“In creating the digital infrastructure, common service centres (CSCs) are the second limb … the common service centres are those which provide digital services, banking, insurance, making of passports, facilitation of e-ticketing … in those areas where digital connectivity is not available,” Prasad said.
He added that there were 1,57,000 CSCs in the country already, and over the next one year, the government would set up another one lakh such centres in areas to improve connectivity. “When I became minister there were only 83,000 CSCs, now there are 1,57,000. In the coming year, I’m going to make it one- lakh-plus more. And all these are in small mofussil areas of India,” he said adding that 20,000 of these CSCs are being run by women entrepreneurs alone.
In India, CSCs are set up by CSC e-Governance Services India Ltd, which is a special purpose vehicle created specifically to monitor the implementation of the Common Service Centre scheme of the government and ensure a centralised collaborative framework for delivery of services to citizens.
The government had revamped its scheme for CSCs by rebranding it as CSC 2.0. Under the new programme, at least one CSC was envisaged in each of the 2.5 lakh gram panchayats for delivery of various electronic services to citizens across rural India. This would also include strengthening and integrating the existing 1,00,000 CSCs under the new CSC scheme and making operational an additional 1.5 lakh CSCs in gram panchayats.
“For me the happiest day would be when a mason, a carpenter, an electrician are all using their smartphones for picking good business. It has started happening in India,” Prasad said.