Hit & Miss

Written by Kiritika Suneja | Updated: Aug 19 2012, 08:39am hrs
The common service centre scheme, launched under the national e-governance plan, is an interesting case of successes and failures. If states like UP, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu cite poor infrastructure for lagging in roll out, Gujarat, Kerala and the North-East have achieved targets on the back of a solid framework. We try to understand the imbalance with accounts from three different states

More than a year after it was supposed to achieve 100% roll out of its ambitious common service centre (CSC) scheme, the government has met only 70% of the target by setting up 87,884 CSCs in the country. The CSC scheme was approved in September 2006 with an outlay of R5,742 crore over a period of four years and it was expected that 100% CSCs would be rolled out by March 2011.

Only 10 states have achieved a 100% roll out so far, with another 15 states having an over 50% target realisation. Surprisingly, several large states, including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, have lagged behind, with below 50% roll out.

The scheme has not taken off partly because of the department of electronics and information technologys (DeitY) slow pace in setting up and operating CSCs. The department blames insufficient footfalls, lack of power and Internet connectivity and difficult terrain, along with the Naxalite problem in a few states, for slow implementation of the scheme.

Besides, some service centre agencies like 3i Infotech pulling out of the project, has left around 4,700 CSCs in Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, UP and Uttarakhand non-operational. Companies have pointed to poor returns for pulling out. In Union Territories like Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli, discussions to set up CSCs are still on.

As per an IMRB report, many of the existing CSCs are yet to be fully functional, while 10% were closed down due to insufficient footfalls. Moreover, only 70% of the centres had Internet connectivity, which is the backbone of all services. Interestingly, the report had also said that the monthly net operating income per CSC was less than R3,000 for most of them, a factor that keeps people from investing in these centres. Internet connectivity is also less at 256 kbps, though it was intended that in most of centres it would be 1 mbps.

Meena Chaturvedi, CEO of Srei Sahaj e-Village, which runs close to 25,000 CSCs in various parts of the country, says, There is an inherent resistance and too many vested interests in the government to give government to consumer (G2C) services and the scheme has taken more time than estimated. The problem is that services are not coming through, besides electricity and connectivity issues. Some CSCs are even operating with data cards.

Though CSCs are a part of the National e-Governance Plan to offer G2C services, a lack of back-end support infrastructure like e-districts and state data centres has forced these centres to offer business to consumer (B2C) services as well.

We offer B2C products like life and general insurance along with 14-15 e-learning products that we have evolved ourselves in the form of self-learning tutorials in regional languages. Besides, we also offer mobile top-ups, services related to direct-to-home, public utilities. Some of them are even agents for IRCTC reservations, Chaturvedi says, adding that most VLEs depend on B2C services. In fact, B2C services account for as much as 90% of the total revenue from the CSCs, with the rest coming from G2C.

However, even the DeitY is now realising the potential of B2C services. It has expanded the scope of the scheme to include kiosks that were earlier not a part of the scheme, but were offering services similar to the centres, as it wants to achieve 12 crore transactions from these centres by March next year, as compared to six crore at present.

We have requested all the ministries to come out with their action plans by March 2013, committing the number of transactions per month that would be done electronically. These transactions will be based on the e-district project, which has a set of optional and mandatory services. All the states will also have to set targets and meet that number, DeitY secretary J Satyanarayana had said recently.

Another official adds that the states are yet to revert to the government on the number of kiosks that can be considered under the purview of the CSC scheme. The kiosks will be considered on two benchmarksconnectivity and delivery of services. It will take us a month's time to assess the number of transactions and the kiosks, he adds.

A rise in G2C services will offer legitimacy to the scheme while an increase in private services is essential to increase the numbers and revenues and make the CSCs viable. Issuance of certificates and land records are the most popular services, says a senior DeitY official.

At present, the various G2C services offered are agricultural services, RTI services, NREGA MIS data entry service, postal products, land records, issuance of birth and death certificates, utility services, electoral services, transport services, grievances, e-district services and financial inclusion, among others.