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Digital village - Government at people's doorsteps
Sujit Chakraborty
Digital village - Government at people's doorsteps

Agartala (TIWN) : Thirty-eight-year-old Abinash Das is excited. From his doorstep he will soon be able to get any government certificate and permit within an hour and will also be able to file a police complaint - thanks to the government's Rs.20,000 crore "digital village" project that will eventually cover all the 250,000 gram panchayats.

"I would get any official certificate or permit from my panchayat office itself instead of visiting the block office or the SDM's (sub-divisional magistrate's) office or any other offices," Das, a resident of the Panisagar block in northern Tripura, said adding that all the residents of the block would get the facilities through the National Optical Fiber Network (NOFN).

"It would save my time to a large extent. Also I would not lose several working days," Das, a farmhand, said.

The Indian government's Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY) has put in place the infrastructure for conducting a pilot project in 59 gram panchayats in three blocks across India to explore how citizens and institutions can be offered services through the NOFN.

Apart from Panisagar, the pilot project will be conducted in the Arain (Ajmer/Rajasthan) and Parwada (Visakhapatnam/Andhra Pradesh) blocks.

"In October 2011, the government of India approved the setting up of the NOFN to provide connectivity to the 250,000 gram panchayats in the country,” Panisagar block development Officer (BDO) Subhas Acharya said.

"The main objective of NOFN is to ensure better governance and to provide governmental services to the people in the villages using the network (NOFN), supported by broadband connectivity with adequate bandwidth," he added.

"The key object of this pilot project is to explore how NOFN can be best exploited to deliver services to the people by creating digitally empowered communities or digital villages," Acharya said.

Under the pilot, all government offices, including health institutions and police stations in the Panisagar block will be connected with the NOFN, also making videoconferencing possible.

Acharya said a villager would come to the gram panchayat office with the necessary documents and register with the IT manager appointed under the NOFN scheme. The IT manager would scan the papers and send this online to the officials concerned at various levels.

"Within an hour, the officials sitting in the block or SDMs or DMs (district magistrates), after checking the scanned documents, would issue the required certificate or permit and mail it to the concerned gram panchayat office for instant delivery to the applicant," Acharya said.

And, thanks to the videoconferencing facility, a villager from his panchayat office would be able to interact with officials of various levels should the need arise, he added.

"The NOFN would also facilitate execution of various other e-governance initiatives like e-health, e-banking and e-education, thereby facilitating comprehensive development," Acharya said.

For instance, any of the 53,845 residents of the 14 gram panchayats in Panisagar, sitting in his panchayat office, can consult a specialist doctor in Agartala or New Delhi or Mumbai or any other important city in India.

"Farmers will be able to interact with agricultural or horticultural experts or any professional with this proposed technique," Acharya pointed out.

Bharat Broadband Network Limited (BBNL), a special purpose vehicle (SPV), has been incorporated to take the project forward by leveraging the capabilities of the telecom PSUs. Initially, the project would be coordinated by the state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) and other institutions, including National Informatics Centre, RailTel, and Power Grid Corporation.

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