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August 5, 1999


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While you were sleeping: Kerala has dispensed with hype and got some actual e-governance work done. George Iype
in Thiruvananthapuram

Kerala's e-governance initiative is off the ground. The RD-Net, the Rural Development Network, unleashes the power of the Internet on the state's 152 development blocks.

Email this story to a friend. RD-Net should now enable rural folks to access government data, apply for loans and lodge complaints from their remote villages.

Kerala has 900 'panchayats', the village level civic bodies. Whenever people living in the panchayat-administered areas have a grievance, they trudge either to the district headquarters or to the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram itself. There they have to wait till their applications are dug up from piles of dusty files in government offices.

RD-Net hopes to end this misery for good. For instance, a freedom fighter living on his 30 cents of land in a remote village in the northernmost Kasargod district will now never have to travel all day to the district headquarters to know the status of a housing loan he may have applied for one year ago!

Instead, he can now walk over to the nearest development block, where a team of officers will track his application on computers, let him know its status and lodge his complaint, if any, through email.

Last week the government commissioned this rural technology mission. The RD-Net has linked the state capital and the 14 district headquarters to all the 152 block panchayats already.

Commissionarate of Rural Development Joint Director P C Jain told Rediff "Rural development across Kerala will not be the same now. We hope this technological feat we have achieved will help in the execution of rural development projects much faster."

"The objective of RD-Net is to take development information to the rural poor and empower them to become participants in village development activities," he said.

RD-Net is actually the brainchild of Jain.

In the last one year, along with a team of computer engineers from the National Informatics Centre, Jain travelled across the state to build the country's first rural computer network.

The Ministry of Rural Development launched RD-Net on July 28.

Jain and his team have ensured that the whole project remains a low-cost affair. The total expenditure up to the commissioning of RD-Net has been just Rs 20 million.

How does it work?

The operational unit of the RD-Net comprises

  • the computer division of the Commissionarate of Rural Development in Thiruvananthapuram,
  • the computer cells of the 14 district rural development agencies headquartered in each district centre and
  • the 152 block panchayat offices in villages across the state.
For these sub-units to communicate smoothly, the National Informatics Centre developed for them an exclusive file and mail transfer utility software.

RD-Net uses the simple technology that the 'Unix to Unix copy protocol' enabled disc operating system offers.

While NIC installed powerful servers in all the 14 district headquarters, central government's Department of Telecommunications set up separate telephone connections in the 152 development blocks.

The Commissionarate of Rural Development then installed two Pentium processor based computers and two modems each in all the 152 development blocks. It also trained 700 officers to manage and operate the RD-Net.

Now, RD-Net starts every day at 9.30 am as all the 152 blocks establish dial-up connectivity to the NIC servers in district centres and the Commissionarate of Rural Development in Thiruvananthapuram.

District officers of NIC have been entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining RD-Net.

Jain explains that email, data transfer, data downloading, application processing and lodging and settling complaints are all possible through RD-Net. It also provides instant details about all the poverty alleviation and rural schemes of the state and the central governments to the villagers.

Officers claim that just four days after RD-Net was launched, people in have been rushing to the block panchayat offices, especially to send emails.

Jain points out that "Since there are a large number of Malayalis abroad, RD-Net officers are mostly helping people send emails."

But the email facility on RD-Net will not be free. At present, the Commissionarate is charging per email only what a local telephone call is worth, Rs 2.

Soon, it plans to open separate email counters in all the 152 blocks to enable people to use RD-Net's email facility instead of the post offices to send messages.

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