Recently Rajgarh, a district in Madhya Pradesh made headlines for turning its three remote villages into free Wi-Fi hamlets in the country without any government funding. IT professionals, Shakeel Anjum and Bhanu Yadav along with Tushar Bharthare and Abhishek Bharthare left their plush jobs at MNCs to formally launch the services last month after a two-month trial run. Inspired by the project, the district administration is now aiming to be the first district in Madhya Pradesh to offer free Wi-Fi services. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has also inquired about this unique initiative for broader adoption.
“Yes, we are aiming to become the first Wi-Fi district. It will involve the effort of various entrepreneurs, social organisations and administration,” Tarun Kumar Pithode, district collector, Rajgarh told FE.
While many innovative ideas have been discussed on how to do it, the district administration is broadly mulling on three ideas. One is to promote volunteer organisations like the one done in the panchayat Bawadikheda, but they are not sure about the sustainability of the project. If sponsors come onboard, then the model could be sustainable in the future. The other model is to let it be free for the entrepreneurs to implement and levy a basic user charge. The third model involves helping the local bodies to implement such a service.
Pithode, a 2009 batch IAS officer, who recently joined as a district collector is wary of the fact that most of the e-governance projects in many cases have not delivered the anticipated outcomes. Therefore, to bridge the gap between conceived outcome and actual delivery, Rajgarh is only looking to implement the most sustainable model. “The gap between planning and delivery is a serious issue, that is why we are of the view that the most sustainable model should be implemented,” states Pithode. He believes that the government should only be facilitators and promoters of various e-services, and the rest of the things should be left to forces of demand and supply.
Broad vision of the district is to provide multiple connectivity options, technology and training so that people’s livelihood in rural areas could be improved.
According to government officials, one of the main requirements in a village is information relating to farming, health consultancy and education inputs for the students. “If we can create a low cost Wi-Fi zone, it will ensure that people get these services on their own,” adds Pithode. “My first priority is to ensure that all the schemes of the government are implemented to the satisfaction of the people, as this can create confidence among the masses.”
Can Rajgarh become the first district in the country to offer free sustainable Wi-Fi services? While these are early days, the best part is that a beginning has been made, and hopefully will inspire several other villages and districts to experiment and try out different models for providing affordable or free internet services.