ICTpost Media Action
(ICTpost Media Action believes in the power of media and communication to help reduce poverty in India)
Akshaya, an innovative and ambitious project initiated by Kerala state IT Mission (KSITM), is aimed at bridging the digital divide, and addressing the issues of ICT access, basic skill sets and availability of relevant content
Akshaya was started as an e-literacy project in 2002 in Malappuram district of Kerala. It started with creating micro entrepreneurs in each panchayat. Though originated as an initiative to address the backwardness of Malappuram district, Akshaya was conceived as a landmark ICT project by the Kerala State Information Technology Mission to bring the benefits of this technology to the entire population of the State. The modus for this was establishment of grass roots level ICT centres at the Panchayat/Municipal ward level.
After a successful pilot it was rolled out in the rest of the state. Since its inception in 2002 for e-literacy in Malappuram, Akshaya has grown many fold. In 2006, Akshaya moved into phase two of the program, starting new G2C and B2C services. Akshaya has to its credit over 200 crore rupees worth transactions besides providing multitude of services through its 2000 Akshaya centers. In everyday parlance, Akshaya would be known as a Citizen Service Center set up through a public-private partnership.
Its specific objectives are to bridge the digital divide (e-literacy to the masses), to bring citizen services to the door step of public, to become a one stop shop for all citizen services, both government (G2C) and business (B2C) and finally, to give a citizen friendly face to the government. The target group for Akshaya is essentially all citizens and there has been an effort to ensure there is an Akshaya center within 2-3 kilometres of every citizen.
Since the control is within the government Akshaya gets the credibility of a government organization while at the delivery level there is a corporate approach of welcoming every citizen with a friendly face. The overall aim of taking the Government to the citizen was thus achieved without any hitch.
Despite having an educated populace, it was felt that only a section of educated among the Kerala population utilized the services of information technology for further economic development. The vast majority did not take to this technology for consolidating and furthering the achievements on the social front. There was a need for removing the digital divide in the society. The population needed to be equipped with the tools of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to achieve tangible progress.
The list of services provided by Akshaya includes:
o E-Filing of tax returns for commercial taxes by traders.
o E-Payment of selected utility bills, KSEB, regional transport authority, local self-government institutions, welfare fund boards, universities, KSFE etc .
o Online submission of application for ration card.
o Online registration for comprehensive health insurance for APL families on behalf of CHIAK (Comprehensive Health Insurance Agency for Kerala) .
o E-Ticketing for railway, air travel etc.
o E-Content on education, career building, health, agriculture, and law in Malayalam.
o E-learning: multimedia aided training programmes, Intel Learning, IGNOU, DOEACC, Medical Transcription training.
o E-krishi platform for transactions between buyers and sellers through a web portal (www.e-krishi.org).
o Rural e-banking & financial services.
The Akshaya center is then manned by the private entrepreneur, and is opened for the majority of the day. Citizens pour in at all times with the intention of paying their bills, buying tickets and so on. The government has provided these services as services which the entrepreneur can offer, and once the transaction is made, the entrepreneur is given a fee. As a result, it incentivizes the entrepreneur to keep his center open so that he can make more transactions.
Akshaya centers also allow for enrollment and renewal of Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana (RSBY), and have already of 18 lakh BPL families. It has also enrolled 17 lakh families on behalf of Comprehensive Health Insurance agency of Kerala (CHIAK). These numbers also give a great indication about the reach of Akshaya in Kerala.
Through the e-literacy program Akshaya could provide computer training for 30.82 lakh people across the state. The lack of access to government services was solved by Akshaya.
The Akshaya model physical placement focuses on serving the community, as does programs it runs, including e-literacy programs. Often, during the summers, the centers are filled with school children taking computer classes during their holidays. Its allows people to easily pay bills, get certificates and tickets without having to go very far from their communities. And finally, the entrepreneur is a local person who ends up becoming important in the local community.
Akshaya envisages to be a bottom-up model for imparting e-literacy training, delivery of content, services, information and knowledge, that can allow like-minded public and private enterprises – through a collaborative framework – to integrate their goals of profit as well as social objectives, into a sustainable business model for achieving rapid socio-economic change in rural villages of the State.
By reaching the remote rural locations of the State on a sustainable basis, and offering a variety of world-class services, the Akshaya e-centres encourage social inclusion of hitherto hereby marginalized communities and under-privileged sections of the rural society. The project opens up immense opportunities for women participation at various levels. The higher level of response from the women sector is due to the factor that the project creates opportunities at their doorsteps.
Outside of e-government and e-business these centers will become centers of learning for ICTs. The ready state infrastructure as a site for learning and engaging with the government at the same time has made it a modern marvel in some ways, and it is highly advised that other states also push to duplicate these efforts to help good governance and the spread of ICT, thereby reducing the digital divide.