Srinagar: More than 1,500 Common Services Centres (CSCs), created to deliver various digital services to people across Jammu and Kashmir, are reported to be defunct, even as people, especially in rural areas, are facing immense hardships to avail of services like Aadhaar and PAN cards in their respective areas.
Under the CSC scheme launched by the Government of India (GoI) and supervised by the ministry of Information Technology, each J&K Gram Panchayat was supposed to have at least one CSC by this year “to bridge the gap of digital divide between rural and urban areas” and provide access to a range of digital services.
However, of J&K’s total 4,201 Gram Panchayats, around 3,467 CSCs were created over the last more than two years, leaving more than 700 possible centres unreached.
Information department officials told Kashmir Reader that out of the 3,467 centres set up, some 1,570 centres are currently “useless” and that only 1,897 centres actually function in the entire state, which is a shortfall of more than 2,300 centres as compared to the actual requirement.
This scarcity of centres has added to common people’s miseries with a limited number of government-run and private centres offering Government to Citizens (G2C) Services, covering diverse fields such as the collection of electricity and water bills, banking, insurance, e-learning, digital literacy, internet browsing, tele-medicine, health services and various business and e-commerce services. People in both cities and towns have to wait for months to avail these services.
State head of the CSC scheme Farooq Renzu Shah says that they have been trying their best to cover the entire J&K under the scheme but his team is facing a “few challenges” that have hindered their task.
“Given the topography of J&K, it is very difficult to connect far-flung areas under the ambit of internet connection. If at all we manage to do that, internet shutdowns (by the government), that at times stretch to even a month, spoil our plans,” he said.
Shah said that despite challenges in their task, the department is committed to establishing a CSC centre in each village in J&K, provided the locals of these villages support them in their mission.
“The reason why several hundred centres are defunct is because the people who take responsibility to run these centres leave them midway and switch over to other earning avenues, either due to their lower profit margin or because of internet shutdowns and infrastructure problems,” he said.
Shah said the department has a project in the pipeline where they would create an internet server of their own and the centres would get 24/7 internet connectivity. “Currently, we are just having deliberations over it,” he said.
Project Manager, CSC, Asif Iqbal says they are trying to activate the defunct centres and, besides that, they are opening new centres on fast-track basis.
“During the last month and a half, we have created around 500 new IDs and, in coming days, more would be coming up,” he said.
The CSC scheme, an initiative of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, GoI, was aimed at providing high-quality, cost-effective video, voice and data content and services to people in the areas of e-governance, education, health, telemedicine, entertainment as well as other private services.
Besides offering different government services to nearly 8,387 villages in J&K, CSCs were also intended to act as “change agents”, promoting rural entrepreneurship and building rural capacities and livelihoods.
Called Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs), more than a thousand entrepreneurs have become part of this scheme over the last two years, joining in to invest in creating infrastructure like computers, printers or bio-metrics to set up the CSCs.
But due to frequent internet bans, there has been a manifold increase in the closures of these centres, forcing VLEs to look for other avenues, say officials, who claim to have witnessed the trend at various places in the Valley.
The government has been trying for over a year to engage people and to advocate for taking transactions online. Even a village in central Kashmir’s Budgam district was declared the first “cashless village” in Jammu & Kashmir. However, during the same period, the Valley witnessed its longest internet shutdown followed by several other frequent internet bans.
As per media reports, the GoI suspended the internet for over 250 days since 2014 at different places across India. Over 60 percent of all network disruptions in 2016 happened in Jammu and Kashmir.
During the uprising following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant BurhanWani, mobile Internet was suspended in Kashmir for 133 days straight.