NEWS-INDIA: Karnataka strives to take IT to the masses

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  • Subject: NEWS-INDIA: Karnataka strives to take IT to the masses
  • From: Frederick Noronha <fred at bytesforall dot org>
  • Date: Sun, 3 Dec 2000 12:43:03 +0530
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    • Karnataka strives to take IT to the masses
      by Imran Qureshi, India Abroad News Service
      
      Bangalore, Dec 3 - India may just be waking up to a glaring digital divide
      but Karnataka, the state at the forefront of India's information technology
      (IT) surge, has taken several initiatives to bridge the gap between the IT
      haves and have-nots.
      
      So much so that the state's efforts have been appreciated by world leaders
      who visited the state during the past 12 months. 
      
      The latest to praise the state was World Bank president James Wolfensohn,
      who even made an offer on behalf of his organization for a joint effort to
      use IT to bridge the digital gap and fight poverty.
      
      In many ways, India, and Karnataka in particular, has become a case study
      for global applications in the area of bridging the digital divide. The
      state has contributed much towards the country becoming a powerhouse in the
      IT arena but it is still fighting issues such as poverty, illiteracy and
      unemployment. 
      
      N.R. Narayana Murthy, chairman of the Bangalore-based Infosys Technologies,
      put it rather succinctly when he said at a recent IT conference in the city,
      "We cannot wait until all the needs of the people are met. IT has to be
      leveraged to alleviate poverty." 
      
      Murthy has been using every opportunity to drive home this point. During
      Wolfensohn's visit to the Infosys facility earlier this month, Murthy lined
      up an impressive set of people. One of them was Salil Taneja, an
      aeronautical engineer and founder of Taneja Aerospace, which builds small
      aircraft.
      
      The reason behind the invitation to Taneja was his recently launched portal,
      farmersbazar.com, which seeks to gather "information collated from premier
      agricultural institutions and research stations" to educate farmers about
      scientific applications. 
      
      In the short term, Taneja has successfully completed another interesting
      aspect of his project. The Web site provides a fair price to apple growers
      of Himachal Pradesh by cutting out middlemen and providing a transparent
      system for transporting their produce to 15 cities, right down to Bangalore
      and Kochi. Farmersbazar.com plans to extend these services to cover other
      farm products as well.
      
      "The potential benefits to the rural masses from the digital revolution are
      even greater than benefits to the urban rich," Taneja told IANS. 
      
      His words ring true in the case of the Bellandur village administration, a
      local self-government unit situated 20 km from Bangalore, which has
      computerized its operations. People living in the area can now get any
      official document in less than half an hour.
      
      "I used to spend three days running from pillar to post, bribing officials
      to get a birth certificate for my child. Today, I can finish the entire
      thing in less than half an hour and go to the school for admission," said
      Honnappa, a resident of Bellandur.
      
      "People save a tremendous amount of time because we are able to deliver in
      time," Jagannath, village administration president and the brain behind
      computerization, told IANS. "Very soon, we will provide details of cropping
      patterns, weather, pesticides, pests and other basic information for the
      benefit of the farming community," he added.
      
      The state government is set to launch its e-governance program in the
      revenue department, which will simplify the registration of property.
      
      In an attempt to bridge the digital gap, Karnataka has also launched
      yuva.com, a scheme already underway in collaboration with IT education
      giants like NIIT, Aptech and SSI. Under the scheme, the government
      subsidizes computer education provided by the private sector for rural
      youth. 
      
      "The idea is to ensure that rural youth become computer literate. Over a
      period of time, you will see the growth of IT-enabled services industry in
      Karnataka. This is one way of filling the digital divide," said Vivek
      Kulkarni, Karnataka's IT secretary.
      
      There are plans for schoolchildren as well, particularly those in
      government-run schools. NIIT, Aptech and Compu Education are setting up
      computer laboratories in 1,000 government schools all over the state to
      ensure that every student gets a minimum of three-hours-a-week computer
      education.
      
      As evidence of the kind of interest rural children have in IT, Kulkarni
      boasts of the high response received for a rural IT quiz program organized
      as part of the recently concluded BangaloreIT.com2000 where almost 34,000
      children took part. 
      
      Yet, several bottlenecks remain even in a state like Karnataka, whose
      capital city is considered the nation's IT capital. "The government needs to
      build the infrastructure for IT to reach the rural masses. Returns on some
      of these investments are too long-term for the private sector to have an
      appetite for them now," Taneja said.
      
      While he believes that the true potential of IT will be realized over the
      next decade, he still has a fear. "The real danger is if a section of the
      population has no access to IT and its productivity-enhancing potential then
      that section will fall behind those who has such access," he said.
      
      -- India Abroad News Service