Akshaya was conceived as a landmark ICT project by the Kerala State Information Technology Mission(KSITM) to bridge the digital divide and to bring the benefits of ICT to the entire population of the State.
In the initial phase the focus was placed on educating one person in each family to be e-literate. Malappuram, a backward district of Kerala was selected for piloting e-literacy and project was launched on 18th November 2002 by the Honorable President APJ Abdul Kalam.
By reaching the remote rural locations of the State on a sustainable basis, and offering a variety of world-class services, the Akshaya e-centres would encourage social inclusion of hitherto hereby marginalized communities and under-privileged sections of the rural society.
The project opens up immense opportunities for women participation at various levels as entrepreneurs, master trainers, social animators and finally as trainees etc. The higher level of response from women sector is due to the factor that the project creates opportunities at their doorsteps.
Women Participation and Empowerment
The Project has brought to the fore the enormous managerial and entrepreneurial talent of women that remains untapped. The number of women who have come forward with the choice of an entrepreneurial career by starting an Akshaya e-centre is significant. The women entrepreneurs account for around 33% of the total entrepreneurs of the project selected in the first level in seven districts.
Villages Being Transformed
It has not been uncommon for villagers to travel long distances to district/taluk headquarters in order to obtain copies of public records, submit applications, meet officials, or to seek information regarding their day-to-day needs or to enquire prevailing prices in commodity markets etc. This involves the loss of a day's income as well as the cost of transportation. Once at the government office, the relevant record, information, or official could be unavailable, forcing repeated visits and additional expenses. In effect, government officials working with paper records enjoy a monopoly over information. Villagers may also face discomfort, harassment, and corruption on the part of public officials, or are often given incorrect information about government programs or market prices. In fact, compared to urban populace, the rural people were often forced to pay a disproportionate share of their income for gathering information.
In this context, much has been said about the potential use of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) by government agencies to transform relations with citizens and businesses. Increased transparency, less corruption, better delivery of government services, greater government responsiveness and accountability, and empowerment of citizens - especially poor ones - are commonly cited among the possible benefits of e-governance.
But, in villages, direct ownership and use of ICT – for instance through a PC with internet access – applies only to a very minimal fraction of the population. Although the availability of content in local languages and the use of graphic and voice interfaces can make e-government applications more accessible to rural people, illiteracy and low levels of education are powerful obstacles to the use of computers and other ICT tools. It follows that, in most cases, rural people have to rely on a human intermediary between them and ICT applications.
It was under this context that the Government of Kerala conceived the Project – Akshaya - for the benefit of people in the State, especially rural population. Access to information, backed with relevant infrastructure and services, not only allows rural populace to improve its quality of life but also support and supplement its existing incomes in a sustainable way. Access to information and services like e-governance, micro-credit, literacy, education, health, etc., can provide a solid foundation for the economic prosperity of rural villages. Moreover, it is a well-stated fact that rural consumers are willing to pay for products and services that meet their needs and are offered at affordable prices. Therefore, what needs is a new social contract - in which there will be common access infrastructure, provided at commercial prices rather than given for free.
Akshaya Project is an enormous step towards making the Government accessible to citizens, in ways that can not only save huge costs to the Government but also make it more transparent and efficient in its day-to-day interactions with the common man. To that effect, the role of Akshaya e-centres, envisioned as the front-end delivery network for Government services is remarkable for the strides it has already made.
Akshaya Project envisages to be a bottom-up model for imparting e-literacy training, delivery of content, services, information and knowledge, that can allow like-minded public and private enterprises - through a collaborative framework - to integrate their goals of profit as well as social objectives, into a sustainable business model for achieving rapid socio-economic change in rural villages of the State.
As stated above 2328 e-centres out of 2662 Akshaya e-centres (87.50%) are in rural areas. This is going to be enhanced to 3180 in the near future thus covering every part of the State, even the remotest villages. The very first target of the Project is to train one person from 64 families of the State thereby empowering rural population in using the advantages of ICT for their day-to-day applications. This has started creating a knowledge power to bridge the ‘digital divide’. The value additions thus gained are certainly augmenting the well being and overall economic development of rural populace in the State.