Riding on the strength of women entrepreneurs, how government is hitting the right note on socio-economic development


For daily wagers, losing even a day’s salary is a big deal. There was a time when people from villages had to travel to the city and wait in long queues for hours, all in the hope of getting a domicile certificate (or any other government authorised certificate), and in the process forgo earnings for a day or even more. At times, they even had to pay middlemen hefty commissions just to get the paperwork done.

But today, with e-governance taking centre stage, this narrative is almost passé.

Now villagers from the remotest parts of the country also have easy access to government services such as issuance of income certificate, pension, scholarship, license etc, thanks to the ICT-enabled delivery centres known as Common Service Centres (CSCs).

CSCs: an important cog in service delivery

CSCs offer rural citizens assisted access to e-services, with a focus on enhancing governance, delivering essential government and public utility services, social welfare schemes, financial services, education and skill development courses, health and agriculture services and digital literacy. Today, the 3.05 lakh CSCs in rural India have become the face of front-end delivery points for government, private and social sector services in the areas of telecom, agriculture, health, education, entertainment, FMCG products, banking and financial services and utility payments, apart from a host of B2C services.

At present, a total of 32 services of Central Government ministries, departments and organisations, and a large number of services (between 10 and 174) related to the State Government and its organisations, in addition to Election Commission services, digital literacy services, and various B2C services are delivered through the CSC network.

To monitor the implementation of the CSC Scheme, provide a centralised collaborative framework for delivery of services and ensure systemic viability and sustainability, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India set up the CSC e-Governance Services India Limited as a Special Purpose Vehicle (CSC SPV)as a public limited company in 2009..

But, it is In the last three years, CSC e-Governance Services have become a focus area for government departments that are exploring opportunities to utilise the reach of CSCs in rural areas -- be it the partnership between the IRCTC and CSCs to facilitate online railway ticket booking in the rural areas, or the Department of Telecom (DoT) launching wifi choupals in partnership with CSCs to provide 60,000 wifi hotspots in rural areas.

Furthering socio-economic impact in the remotest parts of the country by promoting entrepreneurship

Today, CSCs are more than just access points for G2C and B2C services in rural areas. In fact, they are doubling up as change agents by promoting rural entrepreneurship and catalysing socio-economic change. High-potential individuals from the village earn the tag of Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE) once they are registered by the authorised CSCs under the MeitY. Once an individual is registered as a VLE, he or she is responsible for managing and overseeing that particular CSC’s activities and can earn an income through a designated service fee charged to help citizens apply for relevant government services. Interestingly, women form a significant percentage of the VLE community.

Across the country, from Meghalaya’s Mawjrong to Himachal Pradesh’s Solan to Tamil Nadu’s Pollachi, there are thousands of success stories of how CSCs are nurturing rural entrepreneurship, especially among women.

One such story is that of Moakala Jamir from Nagaland’s Dimapur. Life had dealt her severe blows from a young age. She lost her parents as a child and her husband passed away when her children were still in school. To make matters worse, Moakala could only study up to the matriculation level. With no familial support system to fall back on, and two daughters she had to provide for, Moakala was facing dire circumstances.

Luckily for her, she was one of the shortlisted VLES for the CSC to be opened in the locality, which changed her life for the better. She says, “The list was announced in 2012 and a few months later, I underwent training from the IT Department. In 2013, the CSC centre was inaugurated in Indisen village at Dimapur and I took charge.”

Today, Moakala is more than just a successful entrepreneur. She is known for her efficient problem management abilities and helps citizens avail relevant public services.

Hers is just once instance of how the CSCs are not only enabling high-potential women from difficult circumstances to become rural entrepreneurs but also helping highly qualified citizens drive social impact.

With a firm belief that digital literacy can open the doors to a better future, Dr. Rajani, a Homoeopathic practitioner and a key member of non-profit ‘SHAPES’ (Social Health Awareness and Public Enhancement Society) from East Singhbum district in Jharkhand, joined the CSC ecosystem in July 2017. In addition to providing government services like income certificate, residential and caste certificates to applicants, she has been actively working to provide digital literacy training to people in her district under the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan (PMGDISHA). She says, “I want to empower every family of my district through digital literacy. As we are connected globally and digitally, we must learn about the new technologies to make our life easier, comfortable and faster.”

And, that’s not all. The doctor who has been actively working for the betterment of menstrual health and hygiene, has started a sanitary napkin manufacturing unit at the CSC under the Stree Swabhiman project and distributes free sanitary napkins to female students in the district.

CSC 2.0: Reaching for bigger goals

To further build on the success generated by the CSC scheme, the government initiated the CSC 2.0 scheme in August 2015 to improve access to technology and digital services for citizens in the remote areas of the country. The scheme proposes expansion of a self-sustaining CSC network till Gram Panchayats by setting up more than 2.5 lakh CSCs in the next four years, translating to at least one CSC in every Gram Panchayat. This includes strengthening and integrating 100,000 CSCs that are already operational under the existing CSC Scheme and creating an additional 1.5 lakh CSCs in Gram Panchayats.

As on July 31, 2018, there are 3,05,379 functional CSCs across the country, of which 2,10,366 CSCs are functional at the Gram Panchayat level as against 1,47,770 functional CSCs including 92,106 CSC at the Gram Panchayat level in December 2015 – an increase of 1,57,609 CSCs including 1,18,260 CSCs at Gram Panchayat level.

The CSC 2.0 Scheme is also working towards achieving consolidation of service delivery through a universal technological platform at all the CSCs across the country, thereby making e-services, particularly G2C services, accessible anywhere across the country. Training and capacity building of VLEs is another focus area of CSC 2.0 The scheme envisages a mandatory ‘Entrepreneurship Training’ of VLEs of Gram Panchayats with an objective to help them build their skillsets to necessary to self-sustain and run a CSC outlet. It is towards this that a three-day training programme and related training modules have been developed and 19 training institutes selected for implementation. So far, a total of 36,683 VLEs at the GP level have been provided training.

Enabling women to take the lead and drive on-ground transformation

Another key objective of the CSC 2.0 is to encourage more women come on board as VLEs. And, the CSC E-Governance Services India Limited with the support of the Union Government has worked towards increased active participation of women. When implementation of the CSC 2.0 programme began in December 2015, there were only 14,224 CSCs run by women VLEs, and today that number has touched 59,180, translating into a 316 percent jump.

Giving women the opportunity to take charge of the CSCs has reaped rich dividends. The women VLEs are successfully and efficiently achieving the objectives set out by the CSC initiative.

Take, the instance of Minakshi Kandel from Chithwadi village in Rajasthan who started off as a 22-year-old VLE. Earlier, folks from Chithwadi had to travel to Jaipur to avail even simple G2C services. But the CSC managed by Minakshi has changed that, and now they have easy access to all G2C and B2C services – from issuance of insurance, PAN card, passport, EPIC card, birth certificate, ration card etc. In a testimony to the scheme’s aim to empower women and make them change agents, the young VLE has also trained 2,400 citizens under digital literacy programmes. After becoming a CSC banking correspondent in February 2018, Minakshi has been helping people from economically weaker sections through digital banking for amenities such as old age pension, NREGA payment and scholarship fund etc. So far, she has managed 2,500 successful transactions by depositing Rs 37 lakh in beneficiaries’ accounts.

Another such inspiring story is that of Sonu Bala of Haryana’s Jind District, who set a record for VLEs under DigiPay transactions. An MCA , M.Phil. (Computer Science), and M.Ed by qualification, Sonu started her career as a Computer Science lecturer. It was here that her passion for social work through ICT enabled education in rural areas was ignited. She left her job and started her CSC in 2015. With the launch of DigiPay, she began focusing on providing entitlements to senior citizens and those from the marginalised communities. And her focus paid off. On May 18, 2018, she disbursed pension entitlements worth Rs. 1.17 lakh through DigiPay in a single day to senior citizens, widows and persons with disabilities.

It is in these and many other success stories, which often go unheard, that we see the true impact of the country’s development agenda. The CSCs are fuelling entrepreneurial vigour, women empowerment, and as well as making welfare schemes truly accessible.