Shakeel, Tushar, Abhishek, and Bhanu are taking a huge step towards a digital India.
Inspired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign, these four techies from the Rajgarh district of Madhya Pradesh have made their home villages WiFi-enabled.
Without any government funding whatsoever, these youths have turned three remote villages into the first Wi-Fi hamlets in the country.
Shakeel Anjum, Tushar Barthare, Bhanu Yadav, and Abhishek Bharthare launched the service at Shivnathpura village on October 4, 2015, and later extended the facility to Bawadikheda Jagir and Devria on January 1, 2016.
The four IT professionals left their fancy jobs at MNCs to launch the free Wi-Fi services in these villages of Madhya Pradesh.
Shakeel, Tushar, Bhanu, and Abhishek got their inspiration from the Prime Minister, who launched the Digital India programme in July 2015.
“We drafted a plan six months ago, after which we set foot in the village of Shivnathpura of Bawdikheda Panchayat, situated in Khilchipur Tehsil, Rajgarh district. We have successfully worked out a plan for the Digital India initiative announced by the PM, without any support from any government or private organisations,” says Shakeel.
The four techies have been friends since childhood, and went to the Rajeshwar Convent School in Rajgarh and also received their Bachelor's Degrees in Engineering from RGPV University in Bhopal. Soon after the initiative was launched by the Prime Minister, the four friends got together and drafted a plan to convert the panchayat, consisting of three villages — Shivnathpura, Devria, and Bawadikheda Jagir – into the country’s first free Wi-Fi enabled panchayat.
“In most of the villages here, there is no proper mobile phone network, let alone internet services. They travel long distances just to get a recharge done for their mobile phones. The state of digital services is very poor in these areas. We feel that if these basic facilities are provided in the villages, it will not only curb migration to cities but will also make rural life very convenient,” says Shakeel.
The team initially arranged camps in gram panchayats on using internet services and cyber awareness before making the villages Wi-Fi enabled. They then took a lease line of 4 Mbps from a private broadband company to begin the process of digitalisation.
Part of the infrastructure includes an 80-foot high tower and 200-ampere inverter to ensure round-the-clock Wi-Fi connectivity. The team has invested around Rs 2 lakh for creating the infrastructure for the free service, in addition to sharing the recurring expenses of around Rs 7,000 to Rs 8,000 monthly.
The team has also established Wi-Fi hotspots at two colleges and one school under the initiative of Minister Yashodhara Raje Scindia.
Shakeel says that nearly 80 residents have purchased Android phones after the free Wi-Fi service was started. The school teacher from Shivnathpura, who earlier had to travel to Khilchipur, the nearest town, to avail internet services, even bought a computer for the school.
Inspired by the project, the district administration is now aiming to be the first district in Madhya Pradesh to offer free Wi-Fi services. The project’s success has reached the Prime Minister’s Office, which has inquired about the initiative, with the aim of a broader adoption across the country.
Shakeel says that providing the service completely free will not be feasible from a long-term perspective.
“We are working on several models and have discussed it with some entrepreneurs to turn it into a feasible and viable model,” says Shakeel.
The techies are not going to stop at Bawadikheda Panchayat. “It is just a beginning. If we get support from villagers, public representatives, or government agencies, we want to connect other villages too with the internet,” says Shakeel.
The initiative by these youths in Madhya Pradesh, if emulated elsewhere as well, has the potential to usher in a great change in rural India.
The villages and councils we have made Wi-Fi enabled so far are still expensive, as people in villages are facing problems in monthly payments. The team is currently working on more sustainable models to provide Wi-Fi in villages, either free or for a very low cost.
They are also working on and learning the latest technology called FTTH so that they can provide ultra-high speed in small cities and connect them to 100 Mbps.