"reinventing government", when there's so little to begin with ;-)

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From: Rohit Khare (rohit@uci.edu)
Date: Wed Jan 26 2000 - 10:44:04 PST

[There's a spectacular firsthand piece on rural Indian feminism in
the Jan 17 New Yorker, "Gandhi's Daughters"... highly recommended, to
remind oneself of the overwhelming dominance of village life in India
(and, presumably, China) . -RK]

Information revolution sweeping through rural Madhya Pradesh
from India Abroad News Service

New Delhi, Jan 25 - An information revolution is sweeping through the
backwaters of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, spearheaded by what the
villagers simply refer to as the "magic box".

This "magic box" tells them what the price of potatoes is in the "big
town" nearby and even provides them with copies of their land records,
revenue maps and other documents they may require to get bank loans for the
new harvest season.

Dehrisaria is just one of 600 villages in Dhar district that is now wired
to a computer network. The network, which went on a trial run on new year's
day, has 21 computer centres manned by local youngsters trained to work as
operators. The centres, funded by local village councils, are expected to
eventually subsist on user charges.

Villagers have to pay a small fee of Rs 5 for daily market rates of
locally produced foodgrains and vegetable crops available at the nearby
wholesale markets as well as markets in big cities like Delhi, Chennai,
Mumbai and Hyderabad.

The computer centres also provide villagers with important documents for
Rs 15. Banks in the region have agreed to accept the documents issued
though these centres which are now even authorised to notarise them if

Local officials say the computer network, inspired by an experiment
carried out successfully in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra a year
ago, will ensure that the hapless villagers will not have to run around
local government offices needlessly, like they have in the past.

"They can now send applications for income, caste and domicile
certificates as well as requests for land demarcation and landholders's
loan passbooks on-line. These will be prepared within 10 days and the
applicants informed online," the top official in Dhar district, Rajesh
Rajoria, told The Indian Express.

Villager Shankar Lal, who has used the new system successfully, declares
happily that it works. Lal had applied for a certificate stating his
backward status and received a reply on-line within three days, asking him
to collect it.

"I spent only Rs 10 and three days to get what would have cost me weeks of
running around," says Lal who still finds it hard to believe that the whole
process was so easy.

The network has also connected a hospital in the city of Indore, 60 kms
away, with the Dhar district hospital and three primary health centres to
make specialist medical advice and referral services available to
villagers. A dozen patients in remote areas were referred to Indore in the
first fortnight of the network's trial run itself.

The computer centres also act as communication links between the
government and the villagers, allowing complaints about non-delivery of
services under government schemes, absent teachers, non-functioning pump
sets, among other things.

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