Rural ENTREPRENEURSHIP through Digital India

                        At a time when India has undertaken a digital revolution, Common Services Centres are playing an important role of a catalyst in extending access to technology and services for citizens, especially in rural areas, thus paving Grassroot penetration of e-governance.

                    With India emerging as a leading digital economy, driven by information technology, infrastructure, and services, a range of new opportunities is being created for entrepreneurship development across various sectors. Rural and semi-urban communities are being connected with services and opportunities through digital and financial inclusion.

This is being made tangible through the Digital India movement. “Digital India” is the flagship program of the Government to transform the country into a digitally empowered society and a leading knowledge economy. The aim is to bridge the digital divide and ensure that the advantages of information and communication technology are harnessed so as to empower the citizens. The true potential of these revolutionary steps is being harnessed by promoting rural entrepreneurship based on digital infrastructure and services to provide relevant and sustainable options of livelihood in rural areas.

In the present context, it is relevant to provide an opportunity to people in rural areas for gainful employment. It is here that digital India has opened new avenues for them. The Common Services Centres (CSC), under the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, are playing an important role as they have emerged as the harbinger of rural entrepreneurship, which is an integral part of the Government’s Digital India program.

CSCs are internet-enabled access points that deliver various electronic services through a pan-India network, catering to regional, geographic, linguistic and cultural diversity, thus fulfilling the Government’s mandate of a socially, financially and digitally inclusive society. The ability of CSCs, which avoids direct interaction of the citizens with the Government offices, ensures transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the delivery of services through a reduced turnaround time.

In 2015, under the Digital India program, the Government approved the CSC 2.0 scheme with an aim to create “one CSC, one gram panchayat” in order to cover all the 2.50 lakh gram panchayats, thus aiming at establishing a self-sustaining network at the gram panchayat level under digital India and deliver various citizen-centric services. It places great stress on the sustainability of the scheme as well as providing access to the rural population.

Today, CSCs are playing the role of a catalyst in extending access to technology and services for citizens, especially in rural areas and in the process, paving Grassroot penetration of digital services and, hence, fostering participation in governance. The objective of the CSC scheme is to provide non-discriminatory access to e-services to rural citizens by making it a complete service delivery center, by creating the physical service delivery infrastructure and utilizing the back-end infrastructure already created in terms of other MMPs. The CSC 2.0 is envisaged as a transaction-based and service delivery-based model, delivering a large bouquet of e-services through a single delivery technological platform, which would increase the sustainability of the CSCs across the country.

The role of CSC e-Governance Services India Limited (CSC SPV), a special purpose vehicle set up by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to oversee the implementation of the CSC scheme, is engaged by the Government as the overall implementing agency for the success of the CSC 2.0 scheme. The body constantly engages with various Government departments, business establishments, banks, insurance companies, and educational institutions to augment the range of services that can be provided through CSCs and thereby ensure their sustainability. As of today, there are around 3,65,918 functional CSCs in India, of which 2,65,398 cover the gram panchayats.

These bodies are run by individuals called the Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs), who are co-opted into the ecosystem from the community they serve. Currently, around 28 Central Government services are offered to the citizens through the CSC network that uses the centralized Digital Seva Portal. State G2C services, ranging from 10 to 400 in various States, are also delivered through CSCs in collaboration with various State Governments and other departments.

In a rough estimate today, around 12 lakh people have been provided direct or indirect employment through their engagement with CSC across the country. Despite rapid urbanisation, more than 66 percent of our population still resides in rural areas. Hence, providing livelihood opportunities is crucial for this vast segment of the population. The launching of developing entrepreneurship capabilities in rural areas by enabling the CSCs to implement various important programmes is a paradigm shift in the approach of bridging the digital divide.

This initiative is expected to ignite rural development and reduce migration of the young generation to cities. As India continues to grow as a digital economy, rural communities need avenues and employment opportunities that are based on the digital infrastructure. Gradually, the CSCs are being positioned as change agents, promoting rural entrepreneurship and building rural capacities and livelihoods.

The CSCs provide a successful model for creating rural entrepreneurship that leverages new-age opportunities through a sound business and social development service framework. This approach has a natural call for continuation in the years to come to meet citizens’ expectations and the Government’s vision of delivery of services at their doorstep.

(The writer is Dr. Dinesh Tyagi, CEO, Common Services Centre)

Photo by Parij Borgohain.