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Inclusive Initiatives: E-services provide a range of benefits to rural areas

July 13, 2015

Over the past few years, the government has undertaken a wide range of reforms to drive inclusive growth across the country. The focus has been on improving the lives of people in rural areas by giving them access to basic information and a host of valuable services by leveraging information and communications technology (ICT). At present, the central and state governments, in partnership with private players, are delivering a number of e-services to the rural population in areas like agriculture, healthcare, education and banking.

Under the government’s National e-Governance Plan, the concept of common services centres (CSCs) for delivering e-services has emerged as a successful model for leveraging ICT to empower rural India. At present, the country has more than 100,000 CSCs covering 600,000 villages in India. These centres serve as the front-end delivery points for providing government, private and social sector services to rural citizens. Equipped with a robust communication set-up, CSCs facilitate enrolment and employment opportunities under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act; health care services through telemedicine diagnostics; financial services like insurance and microfinance; and utility services such as the payment of bills, booking of tickets and recharging of mobile phones.

The wide CSC network has helped the government adhere to the concept of e-governance in a better manner by improving service access, enhancing transparency, and reducing response times. According to the Electronic Transaction Aggregation and Analysis Layer (eTaal), a web portal for disseminating the e-transaction statistics of national- and state-level e-governance projects, rural India is the leader in the use of e-governance for accessing various critical services. According to eTaal, half the 3.5 billion electronic transactions reported in 2014 were carried out from rural areas, as compared to 20 per cent transactions carried out in 2013. The e-services were most frequently used in the agricultural sector, with around 980 million transactions reported in 2014. Data from eTaal shows a threefold increase in the number of farmers registering for advisories on agriculture, from 3.7 million in 2013 to 9.3 million in 2014.

Ranking second after agriculture is the public distribution system, which recorded 530 million transactions, mainly in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. The third most commonly used e-governance service relates to bill payment and other utility services. Gujarat has emerged as the leader in the adoption of e-governance services, despite offering fewer services than states like Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. With 224, Andhra Pradesh offers the highest number of e-services, followed by Telangana and Gujarat, which offer 186 and 181 respectively.

Data from eTaal highlights the fact that rural India is increasingly using mobile phone- and computer-based transactions for interacting with the government and third-party players. In addition, it indicates a strong demand and potential for innovative e-services.

tele.net takes a look at the usage and potential of e-services in various areas…


At present, around 41 per cent of farmers need vital agricultural information on a daily basis. For this, they usually rely on fellow farmers for information in the absence of reliable sources. Along with the government, a number of telecom players and content developers have taken the lead in providing crop insurance services, real-time weather information, crop and market prices, and farming tips through mobile-based text messages or voice-based services. These services are also offered in rural areas through village kiosks and CSCs.

Successful initiatives like mKrishi, e-Choupal and eKutir have proved that the deployment of ICT tools can help increase income of farmers by up to 400 per cent. For example, the mKrishi platform developed by Tata Consultancy Services provides farmers with information on local weather, fertiliser requirements depending on soil conditions, pest control, and the current foodgrain prices in local markets. Farmers can receive this information on low-end mobile handsets. The platform also allows them to send queries and crop images from a mobile phone, with advice or relevant information being provided in return in vernacular languages. Similarly, Vodafone India has introduced an SMS-based service called KisaanMitr, which allows farmers to access real-time customised agricultural information services that give farmers access to basic agricultural and market-related information. Farmers can also opt for personalised crop advisories, weather information, pesticide compositions, and market price services. The KisaanMitr service is available in 10 Indian languages, and farmers can sign up for the SMS-based service to get three free SMSs every day. At present, the service is free and available on a trial basis. Over the next few months, Vodafone India intends to make it a subscription-based service with a low-price subscription model to ensure that it continues to be affordable and available to a large number of farmers.


According to industry reports, around 65 per cent of rural Indians do not have access to critical medicines, and 31 per cent travel more than 30 km to seek healthcare. At present, telemedicine is playing a big role in providing quality healthcare in rural areas. Remote teleconsultations are being used to disseminate and provide health-related information and specialist advice from doctors through mobile phones and internet-enabled village kiosks. A number of players have undertaken initiatives to deliver accessible healthcare to villagers, among them the E Health Point units supported by HealthPoint Services India Private Limited. E Health Points provide villagers with clean drinking water, medicines, comprehensive diagnostic tools, and advanced telemedicine services that connect a doctor and patient. E Health Points deliver rural healthcare services through a combination of existing and emerging technologies (like broadband and telemedicine, electronic health records, points of care and mobile diagnostics, and reverse osmosis-based water purification).


Several state governments have taken the lead in using mobile and broadband technology to deliver primary as well as higher education to the rural population. For instance, the Tribal Welfare Department of the Andhra Pradesh government has set up a Students’ Academic Monitoring System (SAMS) as part of the Gurukulam initiative. This includes profiles of students, teachers and parents; attendance information for students and teachers; progress cards; consolidated management information reports and dashboards; and staff lists. SAMS is aimed at facilitating the government’s efforts to bring tribal children into the educational fold by giving them educational facilities through mobile schools and internet-connected centres.

Apart from government initiatives, the private sector has taken significant steps to deliver education to children in rural and inaccessible areas with the use of ICT. In recent years, Microsoft India’s Project Shiksha and Srei’s Sahaj e-Shiksha have emerged as the most successful ICT-led initiatives in the education sector. The latter is an e-learning portal developed by Srei Sahaj e-Village Limited that can be easily accessed from a number of Sahaj network centres across the country. The e-learning platform is further supported by a job portal, chaakri.co.in, which is dedicated solely to the rural population and provides placements to unskilled as well as semi-skilled rural youth.


At present, around 60 per cent of India’s rural population is unbanked, and financial inclusion is a major policy objective for the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). With mobile penetration in rural areas on the rise, mobile banking is being perceived as an effective tool for facilitating this. According to RBI, while the government typically incurs a transaction cost of 12-13 per cent, mobile banking brings this down to 2 per cent. All leading operators currently have tie-ups with different banks to provide banking services to rural users.

For instance, the Bharti Airtel Money service provides users with an easy-to-use platform for carrying out basic banking transactions and making payments for various services. Another notable development towards the financial inclusion of rural India is Vodafone India’s strategic tie-up with Rajasthan Grameen Aajeevika Vikas Parishad (RGAVP), which is aimed at empowering women in village organisations and self-help groups (SHGs). The partnership facilitates instant deposits to their savings accounts through the mobile wallet, M-Pesa.

The operator has entered into an agreement for a six-month pilot project with RGAVP in three blocks in Rajasthan: Anandpuri in Banswara district, Baap in Jodhpur district, and Sankar in Jaisalmer district. At present, RGAVP provides small loans to women from poor households through village organisations and SHG leaders and cashiers. These loan amounts are disbursed in the form of cash and the repayment amount is collected periodically. With the M-Pesa wallet, it can be instantly deposited in individual savings accounts. Instant confirmations through SMS are also sent to individual handsets. Eliminating the need to travel 10-15 km to carry out cash transactions, Vodafone M-Pesa facilitates instant, safe and secure cash transactions for Rajasthan’s rural population.


A large number of states are focusing on e-governance to deliver transparent and timely citizen services in rural as well as urban areas. For example, as part of its Digital Haryana vision, the Haryana government is offering a number of e-services by leveraging the state’s digital infrastructure. The focus is on using ICT to deliver e-services and ensuring graft-free administration. These services include e-Stamping, Jeevan Pramaan, a new state portal, an Aadhaar-enabled biometric attendance system, the Chief Minister Window, mobile applications and the Aadhaar-linked registration of births. They can be accessed by villagers through CSCs across the state. Another state that has shown a commitment to delivering e-services is Uttar Pradesh, where it is estimated that by December 2014, 26 citizen-centric services of eight different government departments registered more than 37 million e-transactions through the e-District/State portals, 14,500 CSCs and 300 Lokvani Centres. The Uttar Pradesh government plans to provide 90 more citizen-led services through the network of CSCs and Lokvani Centres. As part of the e-District project, the state government is in the process of establishing e-governance cells and computer labs in the remaining 69 districts. Laptops are also being provided to each subdivisional magistrate and tehsildar for improving efficiency by establishing an end-to-end automated system. District e-governance societies have also been constituted. In another significant move, the state administration has decided to accept self-declaration forms instead of sworn affidavits, along with applications for availing of e-services.

So far, with the combined efforts of central, state and private sector players, e-services have witnessed significant uptake in India. However, a few parts of the country are yet to take full advantage of the government’s Digital India initiative. Going forward, it will be imperative for all stakeholders to work more cohesively and formulate various service delivery models for providing citizens in rural India with a wider array of e-services, along with innovative content. The content under development also needs to be delivered in vernacular languages to ensure that it benefits a larger section of the population.


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