Rural India must be part of big growth story: Sachin Pilot (Interview)June 21st, 2009 - 3:31 pm ICT by IANS
By Murali Krishnan
New Delhi, June 21 (IANS) Bridging the digital divide so that the ‘other India’ has access to high-speed broadband connectivity and getting villages into the tele-loop are top priorities for Minister of State for Communications and IT Sachin Pilot.
“I don’t want this ministry to be perceived as elitist. I want to blur the contours of that carve-up so that rural India can also be part of the big growth story,” Pilot told IANS in an interview.
For starters, Pilot, 32, who has an MBA degree from the Wharton Business School, wants to open up 100,000 community service centres that will be an interface with villagers and help them access land deeds, caste certificates and other services through e-connectivity.
“These centres will all be in place by next year in villages throughout the country and will be run on a private-public partnership basis. These centres are already functional in Haryana and Jharkhand,” he said.
Pilot has already prepared the groundwork where all panchayats in India, including those in the remotest outback, will have broadband connnectivity in the next three years.
“Through the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), we have also created software in 22 languages. All this will be in place shortly.”
Pilot, one of the youngest ministers in the central cabinet, believes that the IT sector has enough resources to meet the challenges of the current economic slowdown.
“The share of the IT industry in the country’s GDP is 5.8 percent. We have to make sure that available resources are equally spread and to all sections.”
For instance, more than Rs.200 billion ($4 billion) is lying in the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USF) waiting to be used.
The USF is financed by the five percent revenue the department of telecom (DoT) has been collecting from private telecom carriers. It is intended to be disbursed to companies willing to set up telephony in remote areas specified by the government.
The sum in the USF, say telecom experts, is more than enough to connect not just every district but also every development block with fibre-optic pipes.
Pilot, who did a Rahul Gandhi this weekend spending a night in a desolate Rajasthan hamlet, sharing a meal with a villager and sleeping on a wooden cot under the open sky, also hopes to travel around the country soon to understand the wants of rural India.
“We have the lowest tariffs in mobile telephony and I hope to see there is rural tele-density in 40 percent of India in three years.”
Pilot has a lot on his plate but he also thinks it is important to revitalise post offices and enable them to play a larger role in socio-economic transformation.
A project under the name of Project Arrow that was launched in the previous regime has identified post offices that will undergo modernisation.
Post offices, Pilot envisages, will play a key role in the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), a social sector programme that paid handsome dividends for the ruling Congress party in the just concluded election.
“Post offices were where money was deposited for villagers. But now, we plan to make electronic payments and digitise them.’
(Murali Krishnan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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