[LIS-Forum] FW: India sets up alliance on ICTs for the poor

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Tue Jun 8 10:36:52 IST 2004

Date: Tue, 8 Jun 2004 10:06:31 +0530
From: Subbiah Arunachalam <arun at mssrf.res.in>

India sets up alliance on ICTs for the poor

T V Padma
3 June 2004
Source: SciDev.Net

[NEW DELHI] A group of Indian organizations has set up a 'national alliance'
to ensure that the rural poor are not excluded from the benefits of
information and communications technologies (ICTs).

The National Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies for
Basic Human Needs was launched at a meeting of more than 50 development
experts at the M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in Chennai last

Comprising representatives of the Indian government, civil society
organisations, academics and industry, it aims to take knowledge-based
services to all of India's 600,000 villages by 2007, when the country
celebrates its 60th year of independence.

Those attending last week's meeting established seven task forces to look
into the issues of connectivity, content, policy, capacity building,
resources, organisation, and management and programme design, respectively,
and to develop a common minimum action plan.

"This is the first time that a national level task force on ICT led by civil
societies has been formed," says Basheerhamad Shadrach, director of OneWorld
South Asia and a joint secretary with the alliance. Government and industry
led the previous two nationwide ICT initiatives in India, with limited
participation from civil society.

Several Indian initiatives on ICT already exist, some aimed for example at
social empowerment, others being promoted by the commercial sector or
offering viable models of revenue generation and sustainable livelihoods. A
convergence and synergy among these could help reach the alliance's goal,
according to information scientists from MSSRF who attended the meeting.

Several argued that providing broadband connectivity to rural homes at
affordable costs and integrating it with diverse technological applications
could be the key to helping the poor benefit from ICT. The national alliance
would help India leapfrog from a few thousand information kiosks to a
knowledge-based rural economy, they say.

They advocate converting information kiosks into multipurpose community
centres. Such communication hubs could provide multiple telephone and
communication services to the village, including a 'virtual academy' and
training centre; support centre for rural entrepreneurship; and outlet for
banking, financial and insurance services, and trading.

In addition, they could serve as social empowerment organisations and
support centres providing health, education and livelihoods information and

The participants agreed to piggyback on existing government and private ICT
infrastructure to create such community knowledge centres. To catalyse
technology innovation for rural ICT, they recommended setting up a national
resource centre for learning and experimenting innovations in rural ICTs.

Those attending the meeting also urged a greater role for ICT in preparing
for and managing disasters. Shadrach says the Indian government "should
liberate the vast amount of spatial data" available through its remote
sensing satellites for use by grassroots civil society organisations.
'Geospatial empowerment' is key to local resource planning, he argues. But
such data is only made available to district administrative officials, and
is too technical for lay people to comprehend.


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