Digital innovators seek to inter-connect and transform Northeast India

Digital innovators seek to inter-connect and transform Northeast India

Saturday December 21, 2013,

6 min Read

Northeast India consists of eight states: Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, Sikkim, Mizoram and Meghalaya. Populated by approximately 48 million people, these states account for about four per cent of India’s population.

There are estimated to be more than one million mobile users, 0.1 million internet users, and 0.1 million social media users today in the region. The scope for digital entrepreneurship here is significant, observes Syed Kazi, consultant and partner at the Northeast Development Foundation (, which conducts capacity building workshops, best practice sharing, and annual ICT awards in the region.


Ideated and conceived in 2010, the e-Northeast Award platform was designed to scout, promote, recognise, and inspire best ICT practices in Northeast India. ICTs are being leveraged by many of the two million NGOs and community organisations, 0.5 million and more schools, more than 500 panchayats, and more than one million MSMEs in the region – with much more scope for innovation and scale.The first edition of the e-Northeast Awards was held in Assam (Guwahati) in 2010, the second edition was held in Nagaland (Kohima) in 2011, and the third in Sikkim (Gangtok) in 2012. The 2013 edition was held in Arunachal Pradesh (Itanagar), and received 54 nominations.

Challenges and opportunities

Nearly 35% of the population in Northeast India is below the poverty line as compared to the national average of 26.1%. “The landlocked Northeast region of India remains isolated from the rest of the country and has not been able to attract investors or produce skilled labour and entrepreneurial resources, though most states have literacy rates at or above national average,” said Osama Manzar, founder of the Digital Empowerment Foundation (

“Especially in the Northeast, ICTs have the power to change the very landscape of the region, stop the exodus of our youth to other parts of the country and catapult the region into a strong economic force. With a strong English speaking, intelligent, young population, we are very well positioned to take advantage of these new technologies in our education system,” observed Ashish Garg, Chairperson at Global Young Group.

Sikkim has an area of only 7096 sq kms and a population of half a million. Its rugged topography acts as a formidable barrier towards providing telecommunication connectivity. Remote areas of Sikkim also experience long spells of power outage.

“Still, many call centre and business process outsourcing (BPO) companies have evinced interest in setting up their operations in Sikkim because of the salubrious climate, a population that speaks neutral English, and lack of labour problems,” according to Rajesh Verma, Secretary, Information Technology, Government of Sikkim.

Infrastructure and access

The Arunachal Pradesh state government has set up 200 CSCs (Common Services Centres) in the state. CSCs are one of the key pillars of e-governance and play a vital role in the service delivery channel. Online Inner Line Permit (ILP), Automation of State Library (RFID enabled), and e-Samaj (project for department of Women and Child Welfare) have been implemented, according to Subrata De Sarkar, Director, Department of Information Technology, Government of Arunachal Pradesh.

ICTs help bring the markets closer, and can provide information on prices and input supplies from business hubs far and near. “This also plays an important role in the agro-processing industry and in the development of handlooms and handicrafts by accessing the latest designs and marketing of the products,” according to Dr. Shailendra Chaudhari, Director (Science & Technology), Northeastern Council Government of India, Shillong.

The CSCs are also important hubs for Village-Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) to test and launch local B2C services. Business correspondents for various banks can also work in tandem with others offering AADHAAR cards and NREGA job cards, according to e-government consultant Ashis Sanyal.

There are around 5,000 CSCs functional in Northeast India, and have great potential to become a `game changer’ in the Northeast states. “Entrepreneurship driven by the VLEs and supported by continuous capacity building and training has the power to undertake dramatic changes in rural governance and business landscape of the region,” Sanyal says.

e-Northeast Awards 2013
 Citizen Services Delivery
Flood Early Warning System (FLEWS) in Assam
REDRH (Reconstruction of Earthquake Damaged Rural Houses) MSI, Sikkim
Automation of Arunachal Pradesh Inner Line Permit System
Paperless e-Way Bill system, Mizoram
e-Tendering/e-Procurement System for Govt. Of Assam/Arunachal Pradesh/Mizoram and Meghalaya
e-Learning and Education
Library Management System, Itanagar
Project Child
108 Emergency Response Services in Assam & Meghalaya
Telemedicine for Healthcare in Rural Areas of Tripura
e-Livelihood & Enterprise
Integrated Agromet Advisory Services to farmers in Arunachal Pradesh
m4agrinetNEI Mobile based Agro-Advisory System
Intelligent Advisory System for Farmers in Northeast
e-Commerce & Business
ArtEx Online Shopping Portal for Traditional Ornaments
e-Culture and Heritage 
Assam Kart
Mask Making at Kolong Kala Kendra
e-Environment & Tourism
Amazing Arunachal
e-Financial Inclusion
Tripura Bamboo and Cane Development Centre (TRIBAC)
Banking Service for Rural Community of Northeast India
e-News & Media
Voice of Sikkim
Northeast Jobs
Ecotourism Society of Northeast (ESNE)
Gram Vikas Parishad
NIMS Educational & Social Association (NESA)

The jury panel for the eNortheast Awards 2013 consisted of: Ms. Ranjana Saikia (Director at The Energy Research Institute, TERI), Ms. Ashish Garg (Chairperson at ODEE Asia), Dr. Monica Banerjee (Programme Director at National Foundation for India), Dr. Geeta Malhotra, (Country Director, READ India), Mr. Amitabh Singhal (Board Director at Public Interest Registry), Mr. Rajen Varada (CEO, Open Knowledge Community), Mr. Gyana Ranjan (Executive Editor at Voice & Data), Mr. Kartik Taneja (Google India), Mr. C K Nayak (Delhi Bureau Chief of the Shillong Times), and Mr. Subrata De Sarkar (Director, DIT, Arunachal Pradesh).

“Today, the Northeast is at the crossroads of making the quantum leap into the new economy, thanks to e-tourism and e-livelihood. Hard-working Naga farmers from Phek and Mon districts can dream of exporting their produce in Myanmar. The Myanmar government has already given clearance to two markets along the Nagaland border,” according to Rajen Varada, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Open Knowledge Community (OKC).

Arunachal Pradesh can turn Itanagar into an international destination with an international airport with direct flights to Hong Kong, Singapore. “A Northeast knowledge sharing community will bind the potential for greater creativity to provide perspective, preserve heritage and open venues for explorations,” Varada sums up.

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