The digital divide separating rural and urban India may finally be narrowing, thanks to setting up of business process outsourcing units in villages.
Jallikakinada, an obscure village in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, had nothing but a closed ice factory in August 2005, when Byrraju Foundation, the NGO outfit of Satyam Computers, set up a BPO in the factory.
A year ago, the village got its first hotel, a sort of canteen. And around the same time, villagers who had to walk two km for a bus, began to see seven-seater vehicles plying right up to the village.
P Krishna Mohan, a 24-year-old BCom graduate from the village, quit his Rs 4,000 p.m. job in Hyderabad and joined the call centre almost immediately.
The story of Jallikakinada is a link in the slowly growing chain of rural BPOs, which have started coming up since 2004, when Hewlett Packard first set up one at Koppam in Andhra Pradesh and Chida Soft, a BPO firm, began operating out of Kizhanur village in Tamil Nadu for clients based in Chennai.
Krishna Mohan of Jallikakinada has hardly any regrets a year and a half after his migration to his native village.
"I used to make around Rs 4,000 a month in Hyderabad, and I could hardly save Rs 100 after paying for rent and transport. Now, I earn Rs 3,000, and save around 80 per cent as I stay with my family," he says. "Once through with my work at 2 pm, I help out my father on our 2-acre paddy field," he adds.
Krishna Mohan is one of the 92 graduates working as process associates at the BPO facility at Jallikakinada.
They were all trained for three months in keyboard skills and English and today they process cab bill verification, cab booking, lateral recruitment (for Satyam), virtual follow-ups for Satyam Computer Services, and village information including PF scheme and self-help groups data for the department of rural development of the Andhra Pradesh government in two shifts -- from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 2 pm to 10 pm.
While three employees are from Jallikakinada, the rest are from villages within a radius of 5-8 km. Around 30 of them are women.
"This has opened up avenues for additional earning," says 32-year-old P Padmavati, who commutes from nearby Kesavaram village.
"After completing my graduation, I was confined to the kitchen. Now I work here, besides taking tuitions," she says.
Jallikakinada's hotel owner, Pampana Vijay Bhaskar, who earlier worked in paddy fields for Rs 70 a day, makes a profit of Rs 200 a day now. About 50 of the BPO workers eat at his place, he says.
Many villagers are also earning additional income by renting out rooms to the BPO employees at Rs 300 per month. Besides, a considerable number of youngsters who migrated to cities looking for jobs, are returning, aspiring to join the BPO initiative," says Indukuri Janaki Rama Raju, a member of the Gram Vikas Samiti.
"We intend to proliferate to 150 villages. Seven more rural BPOs are planned in Andhra Pradesh this year, taking the total number of such centres to 10," says Verghese Jacob, lead partner, Byrraju Foundation.
It also has plans to set up two rural BPOs in Uttar Pradesh this year. "We intend to collaborate with local NGOs on this initiative and we are currently in talks with three of them. Our aim is to train village youths who have completed high school and employ them. As for graduates, they are always free to move to cities for better salaries once they finish their two-year contract," he adds.