Development Informatics - Reaching the Rural India
Role of NIC
Senior Technical Director and Head, Rural Development & Panchayati Raj Divisions
National Informatics Centre
Dr. N. Vijayaditya
Director General, National Informatics Centre
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has emerged as an effective facilitator in the development of any
society and is a prime driving force in the growth of economies worldwide. In a vibrant democracy like India , which
is marked by plethora of languages and diverse cultures ICT assumes greater significance. National Informatics Centre
(http://home.nic.in) has been spearheading the application of ICT to streamline the functions of the government
across the length and breadth of the country way down to the grass root level. This paper provides an account of some
of the major initiatives undertaken by NIC in collaboration with government in the area of Development Informatics,
particularly touching the rural domain.
2.0 National Informatics Centre
National Informatics Centre (NIC) (http://home.nic.in) is committed to provide effective ICT services to the
Government ministries and departments up to District level. The services include facilitating information exchange
within the government over NIC’s satellite based network (NICNET) centrally managed from Integrated Network
Operations Centre (iNOC) located at NIC Headquarters in Delhi, Video-Conferencing facilities for 380 locations in the
country, Storage Area Network, Digital Certificates, consultancy for establishing ICT infrastructure in government
offices etc. NIC is also in process of developing a full-fledged GIS based infrastructure, under National GIS project, to
complement various operational Management Information Systems (MIS). The efforts are also on to have data of
village boundaries and it is already available for large number of states.
Besides, NIC has developed more than 1000 software applications for almost every sector that include
AGMARKNET (http://agmarknet.nic.in), Land Records software (http://dolr.nic.in), eNRICH Community
Software Solution framework (http://enrich.nic.in), Passport Services, Tax Computerization, Government
Certificates over web, rural informatics solutions, Transport sector computerization, Property Registration
etc. NIC provides training services to government officials on various aspects of IT and also on the
operational aspects of the software developed by it.
3.0 Early Initiatives
The application of computers in the process of governance in India, had begun way back in the 1980’s with some of
the early and popular initiatives such as the Computerised Rural Information Systems Project (CRISP,
http://crisp.nic.in) by the Department of Rural Development (Government of India), the District Information Systems
of the National Informatics Centre (DISNIC) Project, the National Resource Data Management System (NRDMS) by
Department of Science and Technology (Govt. of India) and Surendra Nagar Experiments, among others. The Land
Records Computerisation Project (LRCP, http://dolr.nic.in) was another key initiative taken by the Government of
India in addressing issues related to records management concerning land holdings and ownership. At the time when
these projects were conceptualized and executed, ICTs, particularly networking technologies, were in a very nascent
stage in India and had not gained roots in the government segment. Accordingly, most of these projects focused on
exploiting the computing/processing power of computer systems. For example, at the district level, computers were
primarily used to process data (spatial, non-spatial or both) related to various developmental schemes to strengthen the
monitoring and planning done by the district administration.
Since then ICT has advanced to unprecedented levels and is now equipped to provide efficient services
round the clock.
4.0 Reaching the Grass Root Level
The villages epitomize the soul of India. With more than 70% of the Indian population living in rural areas, rural India
reflects the very essence of Indian culture and tradition. A holistic development of India as a nation rests on a
sustained and holistic development of rural India. ICT has emerged as a new way of reaching out to the people at grass
root level. ICT applications into the domain of Indian Rural Development (RD) dates back to 1986 when the
Computerized Rural Information Systems Project (CRISP- http://crisp.nic.in) was launched in 1986 by the Ministry of
Rural Development (MoRD). Under this project, every district in the country was provided with computers and a
software called CRISP (now re-named as RuralSoft – http://ruralsoft.nic.in) to help District Rural Development
Agencies (DRDAs) to manage MoRD’s programmes more efficiently. The RD domain has come a long way now both
in terms of ICT infrastructure as well as software solutions. The results have now started trickling down to the
common people in rural areas. Some of the major grass root level ICT initiatives by NIC include:
4.1 Land Records Computerization
The Land Records Computerization aims at employing state-of-the-art Information Technology (IT) to galvanize and
transform the way of maintaining land records in the country. The project is a collaborative effort with Ministry of
Rural Development providing funds to states for data collection, collation and site preparation etc. while NIC provides
technical support, training etc. In 2596 tehsils/taluks, computerized copies of Record of Rights are being distributed as
on 30th September 2005. The States of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Gujarat are fully operational and have banned
the manual distribution of Records of Rights. The States of Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Maharashtra,
Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Sikkim, Andhra Pradesh, Pondicherry and NCT are already in an advanced stage of
computerization of land records. Various kinds of land records software operational in different States include Bhoomi
(Karnataka), Tamil Nilam (Tamil Nadu), e-Dharni (Goa), Bhuyan (Chhatisgarh), Apna Khata (Rajasthan), e-Dhara
(Gujarat), Bhumi (West Bengal), Himbhoomi (Himachal Pradesh) etc.
4.2 eNRICH Community Software Solution Framework
eNRICH (http://enrich.nic.in) is another ICT solution that has been developed as a Community Software Solution
Framework addressing the needs of rural people. Through its customizable local language sensitive interface, eNRICH
truly puts ICTs in the hands of its users. eNRICH, which was initially developed for UNESCO to facilitate intra-
community communications, was subsequently enhanced to work as a framework capable of networking communities
and building collaborations between government and citizens, particularly mainstreaming the rural people who are
most disadvantaged and underprivileged.
eNRICH is operational in 9 sites as part of UNESCO’s ICT for Poverty Reduction (ictPr – http://ictpr.nic.in) Project.
Also, Russian and French versions of the software are operational in Kazakhstan and French speaking African
countries respectively. It is adopted by WHO as part of its Health InterNetwork Project (http://www.hin.org.in) for
some of the Primary and Community Health Centres in the States of Karnataka, A.P and Orissa. The software is
implemented in 487 Blocks of North Eastern Region and 60 Blocks in Jammu and Kashmir as part of Community
Information Centre (CIC – http://www.cic.nic.in) Project. The software is operational in 600 kiosks in Mallapuram
District under Akshaya Project, Government of Kerala (http://www.akshaya.net). eNRICH is implemented in Sri
Lanka as part of Open Knowledge Network (OKN).
An improvised version of eNRICH, which is based on Open Source Technology has been recently released.
Showcased in the World Summit on Information Society, 2005, the new version called Open eNRICH v4.0, is a joint
initiative of NIC, One World International Foundation and UNESCO. The software addresses content management,
and content exchange in local language based on Open Protocol and Metadata Standards. The software has been
successfully field tested at some of the OKN sites and is ready for implementation.
AGMARKNET (http://agmarknet.nic.in) is a NICNET based Agricultural Marketing Information System Network
that links all important Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), State Agricultural Marketing
Boards/Directorates and Directorate of Marketing & Inspection (DMI) regional offices located through out the country
for effective information exchange on market prices related to agricultural produce. Through this web based
information system, farmers now have choice to sell their produce in the nearest market at remunerative prices. As part
of this project, 735 Agricultural Produce Wholesale Markets (APWMs), 75 State Agricultural Marketing
Boards/Directorates and DMI Regional Offices have been networked during 2000-02 and an additional 2000 Markets
have been embarked upon during the Tenth Plan Period (2002-2007).
4.4 Community Information Centres (CICs)
The North Eastern region has been traditionally less developed due to its remoteness and difficult hilly terrain. To
provide a boost to all-round development of the region through ICT, 487 Community Information Centres (CICs) have
been set up in all the eight States of the region as part of the CIC Project initiated by the Department of IT,
Government of India. The CICs are equipped with VSAT for electronic communication, one server, five clients and
other computing infrastructure for providing relevant information and services to the common man. Each CIC has its
own web-site accessible through http://www.cic.nic.in and provides information on forms, rules and procedures,
government tenders, notification for employment opportunities, information on tourism, culture, examination results,
schemes, legal issues, guidelines for bank loans, weather information etc. The number of visitors varies between 20 to
100 per week depending upon the location of CIC. CICs are also being set up at block level in the state of Jammu &
Kashmir. Sixty CICs have already been set up and 75 more are in the process of operationalization.
NIC Assam in partnership with Agribusiness consortium has developed a model ASHA for facilitating agribusiness
through CIC (http://www.assamagribusiness.nic.in). The site aims at building up of information useful for farmers and
establish direct link between buyers and sellers thus promoting agribusiness. The CIC operators are regularly updating
the site. A Registration process for farmers is likely to be initiated and a minimum of 200 farmers is expected in the
RuralBazar (http://ruralbazar.nic.in) is an e-commerce solution developed by NIC to address the marketing needs of
the rural producers. The software provides provision for simple showcasing of the products, off-line payment as well
as on-line payment. It has been implemented in the States of Tripura, Goa and Tamil Nadu.
4.7 Property Registration
NIC has developed Property Registration Systems that aim at setting quality and time standards for all registration
services. The features include registration of deeds on the transactions relating to immovable properties between
citizens and include calculation of stamp duty; Revising the rates of market values, Deed writing, providing
computerized copies of Records of Right (ROR), computerized history of transactions on property & land record
mutation etc. Some of the implementations of Property Registration System include CARD (Andhra Pradesh), HARIS
(Haryana), STAR (Tamil Nadu), PRISM (Punjab), PEARL (Kerala), ORIS (Orissa), ReD (Gujarat) and CORD (West
4.8 Panchayat Informatics
NIC has also initiated efforts to provide ICT solutions for streamlining the functioning of panchayats to enable easy
access to information and services by the common man. Some of the applications in this area include:
4.8.1 National Panchayat Portal
The Ministry of Panchayati Raj, Government of India launched a National Panchayat Portal (NPP)
(http://panchayat.nic.in) in December 2004, which contains a portal framework of State PR Departments, 540 ZPs,
6096 BPs and 2,40,000 VPs in the country with the web-site of the ministry acting as the gateway home page. The
portal acts as an Information & Service delivery point for respective panchayats and is designed to provide vertical &
horizontal integration across rural PRIs, facilitating communication, message broadcast, fund transfer, monitoring of
Panchayati Raj Institutions Administration Software, Priasoft, (http://priasoft.nic.in) is an umbrella software catering
to the administrative needs of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) and also serving the common man. This software
solution helps in monitoring the accounts of Panchayati Raj Institutions by State RD/MoRD thereby bringing about
transparency in Panchayati Raj Accounting. The receipts/expenditure details are available on the web for all, including
village citizens to see. The software provides support for local language and is implemented in Madhya Pradesh
(Panchlekha), Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh for accounting, Karnataka for Property Tax (Aasthi) and in Andhra
Pradesh as e-Panchayat.
4.8.3 e-Gram Vishwa Gram
The e-Gram Vishwa Gram Panchayat Monitoring System maintains a record of village information of all families and
provides necessary certificates to the common man. The Vishwa Gram is based on survey of each of the individual
family of the village, which contains the detailed information of each member of family. This information forms the
basis for issuing certificates such as Income, Caste, Domicile etc. Besides, the software maintains a database of
property of each family, which is used to provide necessary certificates and also in panchayat tax collection. The
software is currently operational in more than 600 Village Panchayats in Gujarat and is likely to be extended to 3000
e-Panchayat is a comprehensive suite of Panchayat applications designed and developed by NIC to effectively solve
the information management problems at the village level. It benefits the citizens, the Elected Representatives, the
Gram Panchayat and other village level officials, the Administrators and Planners at district and state level. For the
first time in the country e-Panchayat has been introduced in Andhra Pradesh by NIC. As a pilot in Ramachandrapuram
Gram Panchayat in Medak District near Hyderabad, all the functions of the Panchayat are computerised and web
enabled. Internet based services for Birth and Death Registrations, House Tax Assessment Collections, Trade
Licenses, Old Age Pensions, Works Monitoring, Financial Accounting, MIS for Panchayat Administration are being
provided as part of e-Panchayat system. Additional services such as market prices and agricultural extension advice
are also being provided to the citizens of the village through e-Panchayat. This project is also being implemented in
some more places such as Denduluru, Pedapadu in West Godavari District, Anantapur Rural Village Panchayat. It is
going to be extended to all villages in Andhra Pradesh in a phased manner and can also be extended to other States by
appropriate adaptation. The National Panchayat Portal, accessible through http://panchayat.nic.in, will eventually act
as the front end to deliver e-Panchayat services at a later stage.
Infogram is yet another ICT solution designed and developed by NIC for Village Panchayats. It envisages automation
of the functions of a Village Panchayat and maintains on-line records thereby providing efficiency, accountability and
transparency in the Panchayat Administration and also provides vital inputs for decentralized planning. The
information and services provided through InfoGram includes Registration of Births/Deaths, House Tax, Licenses,
Certificates (e.g. Income, Caste etc.), Accounts and Panchayat Information etc. InfoGram has been implemented in 20
Village Panchayats in Goa and some more are likely to be added to the list of implementations.
4.9. e-Governance for Rural Masses
NIC has designed applications to deliver e-Governance services to the rural masses. Some of these include:
4.9.1 Rural Digital Services
Rural Digital Services provide a single window for all government services at village level. In the first phase of the
project, the services offered include Birth/Death Registration and Certificates (Caste, Income, Widow, Unemployment,
No Tenancy etc.). The application developed by NIC allows Biometric Authentication (using Finger Print) for login.
The other important features include smart client technology for deployment and Unicode support for local languages.
The software is operational in Karnataka and is currently available in Kannada and English.
Lokvani (http://www.sitapur.nic.in/lokvani) is another e-Governance effort initiated by District Administration of
Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh in collaboration with NIC. A unique example of Public-Private Partnership, Lokvani provides
citizens an opportunity to interact with government without actually visiting the government offices. A society by the
name of Lokvani was constituted to implement the project autonomously. The Lokvani network is spread across all the
six tehsils and blocks of Sitapur. 26 kiosks are already operational as on March 2005. The services provided through
the kiosks include information about various government schemes, forms, list of old-age pensioners, list of scholarship
beneficiaries, allotment of food grains to kotedars, allotment of funds to gram panchayats, land records etc.
Lokmitra is an initiative of Government of Himachal Pradesh that envisages taking the benefits of IT to the door-step
of general public, especially those living in rural areas through Lokmitra Soochana Kendras set up at 25 centrally
located Panchayats. NIC provided the Lokmitra software and necessary training to the Soochaks, who manage the
Soochana Kendras. The services offered through the Lokmitra Kendras include Classified Complaints, Forms
download, Job Vacancies, Tenders, Schemes information, market rates etc. Efforts are underway to expand this
initiative to all the districts in the State.
Gyandoot is an intranet in Dhar District that connects rural cyber cafes catering to everyday needs of the masses. Some
of the services provided, using the software applications developed by NIC, through the kiosks set up in the villages of
the rural district include Commodity/Mandi Marketing Information System, Income Certificate, Domicile Certificate,
Caste Certificate, Driving License, information regarding Rural Markets etc.
4.9.5 e-Gram Suvidha
e-Gram Suvidha is a GIS based Management Information System that links the maps of village resolution with the
associated data to generate thematic maps based on users queries. An easy to use software, e-Gram Suvidha is
currently operational in five districts of Madhya Pradesh including Chhattarpur, Bhopal, Dhar, Mandla and Damoh.
4.10 Backend e-Governance Solutions
The success of how efficiently the ICT services are delivered to the common man depends largely on the extent of
backend computerization. Some of the back-end rural informatics solutions developed by NIC are as Follows:
RuralSoft (http://ruralsoft.nic.in) is a solution that helps capturing monthly progress of various poverty alleviation
schemes sponsored by the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD) and State Rural Development Departments
(SRDs). RuralSoft is, in fact, an evolved version of what was popularly known as CRISP software, undertaken by the
Computerized Rural Information Systems Project (CRISP), launched by MoRD, as early as 1986. The aim of this
programme was to facilitate the monitoring and planning exercises of District Rural Development Agencies (DRDAs),
SRDs and the MoRD in the area of poverty alleviation. The software was designed and developed by NIC and
distributed to all SRDs. Since then, the software has responded to many changes in the domain as well as technology.
It finally evolved to what is today known as RuralSoft.
The Web based RuralSoft is implemented in 15 states of the country. The software has helped in monitoring the
progress of poverty alleviation schemes.
4.10.2 Monitoring Software for DDWS Schemes
The Department of Drinking Water Supply provides funds to the states for rural drinking water supply and sanitation
programmes. Online systems for physical and financial monitoring of these programmes include Swajaldhara, Total
Sanitation Campaign (TSC) and Nirmal Gram Puruskar have been developed and are accessible through Department’s
website (http://ddws.nic.in). Besides, the information about Habitation Survey and Bharat Nirman Programme
(Drinking Water Component) is also available through the Department’s Web Site.
Taking ICTs to the grass root level is a daunting task owing to the sheer geographic expanse of rural areas in India.
Besides, the Indian rural areas are marked by poor living standards, illiteracy, poor infrastructure and social problems.
The major challenges that need to be addressed for reaching out to the rural common man include:
• Assessment of Local Needs - Every ICT project should consider the local needs of the intended beneficiaries
as a starting point. ICT solutions based on presumed and felt needs will not yield desired results. In a country
as diverse as India the needs would vary from one area to another based on different social conditions,
economic bases, cultures, etc.
• Connectivity – Telephone connectivity in India is about 3 percent and will not rise much unless the last mile
cost can be lowered. More cost effective communication technologies based on wireless such as CorDect
should be explored for use in remote and rural areas.
• Content – Localising government content in local languages and local context is of critical importance in
India. For the majority of Indians who speak little or no English, ICTs make little meaning as most of the
websites present content in English. Regular updating of content is also desirable. As a normal process, most
of the content should be driven by backend processes and automatically updated. In the absence of full
automation the content should be updated regularly on the websites of government agencies.
• Capacity – It is not enough to just provide ICT services. It is equally important to augment human capacity
and empower people to utilise ICT to access and use the services.
• Commerce – The underprivileged sections of the society are not very well organized to meet the demands of
Internet commerce. Further, the prevailing infrastructure (technical as well as legal) is not strong enough to
elicit favourable responses from the people.
• Sustainability – Using and maintaining service delivery centres involve substantial costs and can become a
major concern for continuation of rural ICT projects. Planning for long-term sustenance of the centres is
equally crucial for their success. Other usage of the service delivery centres such as local-to-global and local-
to-local e-Commerce should be explored.
6.0 The Road Ahead
The best way to strengthen development informatics at grass root level is by promoting community participation
through Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), the ultimate instruments of local self-governance. The Gram Sabhas and
Gram Panchayats should be suitably sensitized to the benefits of ICTs so that they become initiating and sustaining
agencies of the ICT initiative.
Already, efforts have been initiated to strengthen PRIs through the use of ICTs as described above. Further, Ministry
of Panchayati Raj, Government of India has launched a National Panchayat Portal (NPP) Framework in December
2004. Accessible through ministry’s web site at http://panchayat.nic.in, NPP acts as a gateway to 540 Zilla Panchayats,
6096 Intermediate Panchayats and 2,40,000 Village Panchayats.
As PRIs gain their rightful constitutional status, rural citizens would be approaching these institutions more and more
for attaining basic services in view of devolution of 29 Subjects. Hence, strengthening the PRIs through ICTs would be
the most effective route to bringing prosperity to rural citizens and areas.