Thursday 15 February 2001
NYALA, a sleepy Rajasthan village 20 km from the state capital Jaipur, was to become an example of what it can achieve in villages. Instead, it has become an example of how badly planned programmes flounder. On March 23, 2000, the then us president Bill Clinton visited the village amid much fanfare. Among other things, he was impressed by the fact that a woman from the village could get information on neo-natal care from the internet. On his return to the us, while addressing a national conference on building prosperity, Clinton stressed the need for similar community computer centres all over the Mississippi delta.
The Rajasthan state government had put up the computer kiosk under RajNidhi, a highly ambitious programme aimed at a "new era of e-governance" and connecting villages through internet. The web-enabled information kiosk system has been designed by the state's it department in collaboration with RajComp, the state agency for computer services. It can be a brilliant data warehouse if used properly. The software has provision for content in Hindi to enable rural people's access to information related to health, family planning, immunisation schedules for children, employment, transportation, distance education, agriculture, water and electricity connection, birth and death registration, approved housing societies, rates of land and building taxes. The state government had planned that all the 9,184 panchayats would have a RajNidhi kiosk by 2003. Nyala was the first place where a RajNidhi kiosk was set up.
It may be the last. No other village has got a computer under RajNidhi as yet.
One year down the line, the Panchayat Bhavan of Nyala, where the computer was installed for Clinton's perusal, wears a deserted look. The computer lies in a small room under lock and key. "It hasn't worked since that day," says Ramkrishan, a village elder. "We were given a temporary telephone connection for internet. That was taken away right after the Clinton visit," says Kaluram, head of the village panchayat. "We have applied for a telephone connection but nothing has come through despite three reminders. The telecommunication department hasn't even bothered to reply." But why isn't the computer employed for applications that don't require internet? It contains 4,000-5,000 different forms, covering almost all possible areas for which people have to go to the collectorate and other government offices. Well, the villagers lack enthusiasm and the software lacks regular updating.
"We got trained in operating the computer at Jaipur. We don't remember much as nothing was put to practice," says Kaluram. Sanjay Gaden, systems analyst at RajComp and one of the brains behind RajNidhi, says the people responsible for the set up were not allowed to get anywhere near the computer during the Clinton visit due to security reasons. A Rajasthan government release from April 2000 says "there is considerable enthusiasm among the people of Nyala about the computer system." Officials at RajComp say the villagers and the local administration of Nyala are not very receptive to IT.
Kuldeep S Barar, general manager RajComp, says software updating doesn't happen due to lack of communication from departments concerned about changes in procedures. This can cause legal hassles, Gaden points out. "We have approached the chief secretary several times, requesting him for better interaction among various departments and RajComp. But nothing has been done about it," another RajComp official points out, asking not to be named. The state government has also delayed action on applications from the public to open private internet kiosks with software developed by RajComp. A very detailed application questionnaire was prepared and distributed to those interested about one year ago. The response was very encouraging. "We sent a note, requesting for permission to grant licences and required infrastructure support to prospective operators in Jaipur," says Gaden. There has been no action. The file has become quite thick. The computer at Nyala remains locked up in the dingy room. People who could use the services continue getting harassed at the hands of the insensitive government machinery. A us development agency donated three computers to the girls school in Nyala. Five months down the line, the school is still waiting for an electricity connection. The computers are locked in trunks. All pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Yet 20 metres from the school runs the main power line.