Gujarat has made significant strides in the field of Information Technology, particularly e-governance, in the last decade. The visionary leadership of the state government has played the role of a catalyst for the development and effective use of Information Technology for public welfare. Under the leadership of then state Chief Minister Narendra Modi, the state had developed its IT infrastructure, while his successor incumbent Chief Minister Anandiben Patel has been the torch-bearer of using Information Technology infrastructure for the greater good.
Following, PM Modi’s “Digital India” initiative, various states are now using IT services for governance. However, the approach of the Gujarat government to e-connectivity has been different from other Indian states, as it has focused primarily on decreasing the gap between urban and rural internet connectivity.
This commitment to bridging the urban-rural divide can be seen, in some of the path-breaking digital initiatives that the state government has undertaken, in the past few years.
Some of the path-breaking digital initiatives that the state government has undertaken include measures such as the Gujarat State Wide Network (GSWAN), Satellite Communication (SATCOM) and Gujarat State Data Centre (GSDC).
SWAGAT, an online program where the Chief Minister directly reviews citizens’ grievances, has met with a lot of success. This is because the system relies on Gujarat’s superior ICT (Information Communication Technology) infrastructure such as GSWAN to link districts, talukas and other areas onto a single platform.
The driving force behind Gujarat’s numerous e-governance initiatives has been the idea of fostering “Good governance through e-governance” and “Minimum government, Maximum Governance”. This has led to the state achieving a number of firsts, including having the first Wi-Fi enabled tribal taluka in India, India’s first Wi-Fi enabled urban centre and finally India’s first fully digital village.
On 12 September 2014, Khedbrahma became the first Wi-Fi enabled tribal taluka in India, highlighting once again the commitment the government has towards achieving its objective of making Gujarat “fully digital”. In collaboration with a private firm, the Gujarat government connected all 32 villages of the Khedbrahma taluka with high-speed internet connectivity. The programme, known as “Digital Setu”, is a fully participatory model, in which the community as a whole takes part in the maintenance of the digital infrastructure, as well as customer services and quality. The village panchayats bear the cost of construction of the towers, and the cost of the receivers and Wi-Fi hotspots are borne either by Sakhi Mandals or the village panchayats. The connections are provided at subsidised rates and the group in charge of the receiver, either the panchayat or the Sakhi Mandal, gets a 10% commission of any turnover.
Following on the heels of the success found in Khedbrahma, Gujarat achieved another feat at Modasa, an area in the tribal district of Aravalli. On 18 December 2014, Chief Minister Patel inaugurated the Wi-Fi system for Modasa and the 10 villages surrounding it, thereby making it the distinction of being the first Wi-Fi enabled urban centre in India. The city, which will serve as the centre of Wi-Fi connectivity of the Aravalli region, achieved full Internet connectivity through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) similar to that of the Khedbrahma taluka.
india’s first fully Digital Village
But while the achievements of Khedbrahma and Modasa are truly worth noting, the feat of Himmatnagar’s Akodara village is out of the league. With a population of about 1,200 residents, Akodara is India’s first fully “Digital Village”. The village was adopted by ICICI Bank and in collaboration with the local administration, it will serve as a showcase of the future of a fully “Digital India”. Wi-Fi connectivity is offered by the Gram Panchayat on a subscription basis, and the revenue they earn goes to the Panchayat. The Panchayat is also responsible for the maintenance of the Wi-Fi facilities. Some of the measures that have been implemented include providing micro-ATM based solutions to agricultural-produce mandi agents in order to enable them to make payments to farmers for their produce.
Other innovations include providing villagers with Rupay Debit cards and enabling them to carry out cashless transactions easier.
While the achievements in Khedbrahma, Modasa and Akodara show the success of the Gujarat government’s e-governance policy, they are also indicative of another more significant point. These three places were benefited economically and socially by the introduction of high-speed internet connectivity into their lives. In line with the CM’s vision, Gujarat has demonstrated that e-governance can serve as a powerful tool to achieve truly inclusive development.