About the Newsletter

Current Issue

Archive

The Editorial Office 

Past Contributors 

Guidelines for Authors

Subscribe 

Send us feedback

 

Volume 14, No. 1, April 2004


Table of Contents

Akshaya at a glance

Dr. P. Mohanan

Department of Commerce and Management Studies, University of Calicut

mohan22@hotmail.com

 

Introduction 

Kerala, a small state with the highest population density in the country, stands apart from rest of the states in India. It has achieved remarkable progress on all indicators of social development. Its achievement in areas like literacy, education, healthcare, health and longevity, male to female ratio, etc are impressive and it is on par with the developed nations in some of these.   

Yet, Kerala has been lagging behind other states in the country in industrialization. In fact the so-called ‘Kerala model’ of economic development highlights the leapfrogging of the state economy from agrarian to a service economy without going through an industrialization phase. 

The IT Department in the state is setting goals for converting Kerala into Gods own e-land. Its vision is enabling Kerala to choose its future and thrive in an interdependent 21st Century driven by ICT. The state has achieved comparable quality of life as of advanced nations. With a vast pool of educated unemployed youth, the state plans to exploit the possibilities of IT for employment and e-governance.  

The Department of IT, in association with the local bodies and seven government departments, has set up an integrated Services centre called FRIENDS (Fast Reliable Instant Efficient Network for Disbursement of Services) with a view to enable a smooth and transparent C2G (Customer to Government) interface. These centres accept all utility bills, taxes and fees pertaining to the participating departments and offer quality services to the citizens. FRIENDS has been launched in all 14 district headquarters in the State. 

The Department of IT in association with the State Library Council has launched the first computerized rural information centre at Kallara Gram Panchayat Library in Trivandrum District. Rural Information Centres, one in each of the fourteen districts of the State, have also been established. These centres enable the rural citizen to have free access to the Internet. A package named ‘Sevana’ provides information on various government schemes, programs, general information on local bodies, links to important sites and other facts relevant to the rural populace. 

Package for Effective Administration of Registration Laws (PEARL) is a project being implemented in 14 Sub Registrar Offices of the State covering all the 14 districts of the state. PEARL intends to replace the existing registration system by a system of online processing. Thus, every sub registrar office would have a LAN with adequate terminals for customer servicing. This project is jointly implemented by the Department of IT and the Registration Department with the technical assistance and guidance from National Informatics Centre. 

Two proposals for the introduction of computer training in government schools, one with the involvement of the private sector and the other as a total government program have been launched by the government. The State Education Department has accepted the proposal and the same is being implemented as ‘IT @ School.’ 

As a part of the state government’s e-governance initiatives, 34 Government Departments with high C2G interface have been identified. Nodal officers have been identified from each Department to oversee the computerization activities Departments. They have been provided training on implementation of the project. In areas of hardware procurement, software development and training, Total Solution Providers have been identified for each Department and specific guidelines have been issued by the Department of IT to all Departments/ PSUs. 

Akshaya Project 

Project Akshaya is the latest IT project of the state. It is bold plan to provide e-literacy to common people and to ‘bridge the digital divide’ by enabling tens of thousands of ordinary citizens to access relevant information in the local language over the Internet. Akshaya will develop a comprehensive statewide digital network. In the first phase, it will impart e-literacy to at least one member each from the state’s 6.4 million families. The second phase of the project has very ambitious objectives of creating and leveraging information technology infrastructure in the state for e-governance.

IT policy of the state addresses three key issues in IT dissemination to masses:  Bringing the benefits of information technology to the households (access), providing ample Information base in local language relevant to citizens’ lives (content) and providing sufficient understanding of the world of Information Technology and how it can touch their lives (skill sets).

It is expected that Akshaya will reduce significantly the divide between ‘information haves’ and ‘information have-nots’ and help in disseminating the benefits of IT to the common man. Akshaya is thus one of the most ambitious information and communication technology programmes of the state to radically change the society.

‘Akshaya Project’ has been started on the 18th of November 2002. The project is envisaged to be implemented in three years’ time and is expected to:

·        set up a network of 6000 in formation centres in the state

·        create about 50,000 employment opportunities, and,

·        generate investment opportunities to the tune of Rs.5 billion.

Objectives of Akshaya

The twin objectives of Akshaya are (1) to provide basic e-literacy and (2) to develop appropriate IT infrastructure so as to leverage e-literacy and IT infrastructure for e-governance in the state.

Imparting basic IT literacy to at least one member of each of the 6.4 million families in the state is a primary objective of Akshaya. The e-literacy campaign is the foundation on which the state seeks to bridge the digital divide in the state. The underlying objective of the campaign is to remove the "fear of the unknown" that common people have about technology in general and computers in particular. The e-literacy campaign proposes to impart basic/functional e-literacy to one member of each of the 6.4 million families in the state. Selection of the member to be trained will be done by the family members.

Extend the training initiative into a service delivery mechanism for the local citizen. Once the people have been introduced to the immense possibilities of ICT, the next step envisaged is to make facilities available to them for exploiting the technology for everyday use. The focus here is to ensure a viable, sustainable service delivery mechanism for the citizens of the state through Akshaya Centres. These centers are run by private entrepreneurs selected by the project managers. Each centre will be equipped with necessary computers, fax, printers, telephones, broad-band Internet connection etc. and software so as to cater to the information and communication requirements of the local citizens. The capital required for setting up these facilities are borne by the private entrepreneurs. The investment for the wireless network for broad-band connectivity will be shared by the state and the private entrepreneurs equally.

The selected entrepreneurs are given training at the beginning of phase I and phase II of the project. The project provides Entrepreneur Orientation Program in the pre-operational stage for persons who engage in the day-to-day management and activities of Akshaya centres. Entrepreneurship development programme is also planned for the entrepreneurs to motivate the entrepreneurs and to sensitize them to the dynamic market environment so that their chance of business success improves. 

Public-Private Partnership

The Akshaya project is conceived as a public-private partnership (PPP). But the local bodies (Panchayati Raj Institutions) will be extensively involved in the implementation of the project.

The project has been designed to leverage Kerala's unique strengths; active community organizations, progressive social framework, advanced telecom infrastructure and wide- spread media penetration.

Akshaya Project Partners – State Agencies

The following are the partners in implementing Akshaya project:

1.      Kerala State IT Mission: Kerala State IT Mission is the autonomous nodal IT implementation agency for the Department of IT, Government of Kerala that provides managerial support to the Department's various initiatives.

STED: Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board (STED), Calicut is a project set up by National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India.

3.      C-DIT: The Centre for Development of Imaging Technology (C-DIT) is an autonomous centre under Government of Kerala, established in 1988. For the Akshaya project, C-DIT has developed and supplied IT literacy CD with customized software like Chithravidya, Ganithavidya and Aksharavidya.

4.      Local Self Government: The entire programme is implemented with the active participation of the existing panchayati raj institutions, NGOs and private sector in the state.

Akshaya Pilot Project Implementation

Akshaya project is to be implemented in two phases: e-literacy phase and product launch phase. 

Akshaya Phase I

Malappuram district is chosen for the pilot implementation. The district is unique with a large minority (Muslim) population and low political rivalry. The pilot phase implementation was completed by December 2003. The e-literacy programme imparts basic keyboard and mouse skills in 15 hours of training. In addition, it introduced windows and word processing to the trainees. About 90 percent of the families in the district have been reached through a network of 617 e-entrepreneurs with the e-literacy programme. Each Akshaya centre was allotted, on average, 1000 households. Thus, each Akshaya centre had an exclusive geographical area for its operations. The Akshaya centres trained at least one member from each of the families allotted to them. For such training, each Akshaya centre was to get Rs.140 per trainee. The trainee is to pay Rs.20 to the Akshaya centre. The rest of the money (Rs.120) came from gram panchayat, block panchayat and district panchayat.

Akshaya Phase II

In the second phase of the project, the state will create a wireless infrastructure and the Akshaya entrepreneurs are to meet part of the capital cost and pay for using the infrastructure for proving various services over the network. Malappuram district will move on to Phase II soon. The initial cost of setting up the wireless infrastructure is to be shared by the entrepreneurs and the state in a 50:50 ratio. In addition, each entrepreneur is to pay monthly rent of around Rs.1000 for using the infrastructure. Work is under way to setting up a high bandwidth wireless infrastructure in the district. Majority of Akshaya entrepreneurs are apprehensive of the project’s future. The business model of the first phase was simple and certain about revenue generation. In the second phase, they need to introduce services based on market requirements. Hence, there is high risk involved in the second phase. They have already made some investment hoping to get returns. The investment required for the next phase depends on the service to be offered through the Akshaya centre. Anyway, it must be made though the return is dicey. This has put them between the devil and the deep sea.

The entire project is conceived to be implemented through three-tier Panchayati Raj Institutions. District Panchayat will be the overall coordinator. Committees are proposed at State, District, Block, Panchayat/Municipality, and Ward levels for the implementation of the project. 

Akshaya - Statewide Rollout 

The pilot project implemented in Malappuram gained overwhelming local support and enthusiasm. It has also raised lot of hype about the possibilities of IT in a relatively less developed district. Yet, the state government is bracing up for Statewide roll out of the project. Statewide roll out of the project is envisaged in a phased manner. 

Conclusion 

The Akshaya project was initiated by Government of Kerala to bridge the digital gap between the ‘information haves’ and ‘information have-nots’. The Akshaya project is conceived as a two-phase e-literacy programme that can change the culture and way of life of Keralites. As an initiative of Kerala government for the development of IT infrastructure in the state and to use the immense possibility of IT to meet the needs of common people in their daily life and to convert Kerala into foremost knowledge society of the world, it is a revolutionary in content and consequences expected. The first experimental phase of Akshaya project has been implemented  in the district of Malappuram in Kerala. Based on the experience gained in implementing the pilot project, the state is planning to rollout the project in the remaining 13 districts of the state. 

In the first phase of the Akshaya project, which is almost completely implemented, the entrepreneurs were reasonably successful because of the certainty of the business and the state support through the local bodies. The second phase is going to be very risky as the entrepreneurs have to act independently and to follow the market logic. It is very much essential to assess the sustainability of Akshaya centres and the potential of second phase revenue models as Akshaya is planning for state-wide rollout. 

Akshaya project is claimed to be a bold initiative and the largest ICT project internationally. But how far is it effective? There is a need to independently verify the effectiveness of Akshaya centres conceptually and operationally. The project has been implemented only in Malappuram as a pilot project. So it is very essential to evaluate the services and operations, its effectiveness and benefits to both entrepreneurs and to society. Such a study at this juncture of pilot phase implementation will certainly help the state in correcting flaws and avoiding costly mistakes in the implementation of future ICT programmes.

Back