of the American Society for Information Science and Technology       Vol. 27, No. 4              April / May 2001

Search

Go to
Bulletin Index

bookstore2Go to the ASIST Bookstore

 

Copies

The Gyandoot Digital Library Intranet

by Aashish Sharma and William Yurcik

Digital libraries (DLs) are changing the functioning of the government of India. Improvement in the delivery of services to citizens, ensuring fairness and empowering the less privileged through wider dissemination and easier access to information are some of the ways in which responsiveness in governance can be achieved through the use of a digital library. In rural communities within India, DLs are playing an important role accelerating development of the state by providing vital infrastructure and fostering human development.

For the purposes of this paper we define a DL as a system where digital materials and services can be publicly accessed for posterity over computer networks with the help of transition technologies to maintain interoperability and avoid loss due to obsolescence.  Digital materials are the items of different modes (books and other written works, pictures/graphics, data, audio, and video) and formats (coding, compression, watermarks, encryption) that are stored, processed and transferred via networks. DL services are evolving with examples including reference assistance, navigation guides, government services and e-commerce that can be delivered over computer networks. A DL can be distinguished from the World Wide Web (WWW) based on the following:

    - Internet interoperability. Digital libraries may have controlled access through a portal or may not be based on standard TCP/IP or HTTP protocols.

    - Institutional standards. A digital library may have uniformity in presentation of materials and services based on the goal of the institution

    - Longevity. An essential part of a DL is archiving for long periods not based on accelerated "Internet time."

In summary a DL is a unified entity which brings together collections of digital materials and the services needed to access those materials.  Figure 1 shows a conceptual view of a DL based on this discussion.

The remainder of this paper introduces the unique challenges to implementing a DL in India and describes general government DL initiatives. Next we focus specifically on the Gyandoot Intranet.  Finally, we close with a summary, conclusions and future directions for continuing investigation.

Figure 1: Conceptual View of a Digital Library

Challenges

Wiring up farmers' villages may seem an unusual way to help them.  In a country of one billion people, millions of Indians are connected to the Internet but millions more are not yet even connected to electricity. Overall (urban and rural combined) only three out of 1,000 people have access to a computer and only 20 out of 1000 have access to a telephone. Despite these contrasts, officials within the Indian Government are convinced that a DL can help revolutionize life in rural regions for a minimum cost.

There are many challenges to the implementation of a DL in the Indian context. This section is not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to highlight the two major issues that need to be addressed for a successful rural DL in India: language and rural access.

Language. Only 52% of the population of India is literate (65.5% of males, 39% of females). Only 50 million of an elite class speak English. The relevance of Internet resources will be enhanced only if information of compelling relevance to common people finds a place on the Web and such resources are in a medium of universal access such as the mother tongue of the people. However, local language is rarely found and difficult to use on the Internet. 

The Indian Constitution officially recognizes 18 languages with each having a different character set. There are efforts made by both government and non-government organizations to design software that can facilitate language interpretability. Major efforts are done by the Center for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC) and similarly there is a project called JULI (Java Universal Language Interpreter). This software has a national television network where regional movies are shown with subtitles translated (using JULI) according to the regional language.

Rural Access. Seventy percent of the Indian population lives in villages. Government and non-government organizations have initiated large-scale developmental projects to build infrastructure for rural communities. They have had little impact. The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) reports that the rural telephone penetration is only 0.4% and the Indian government has a goal of increasing this to 4.0% by 2002.

Government Initiatives

In order to turn food producers/consumers into information producers/consumers, the Indian government is making efforts for the inclusion and establishment of "Samadhan Kendras" (SK Rural Support Centers) and "Soochana Gumtis" (SG - Information Kiosks) in the list of industries eligible for loans under various programs.  DLs are being used for the public grievances redressal systems of state governments through SG facilitation counters in government offices. The following are examples of other recent government DL initiatives:

  • Financial incentives for creation of software, applications, databases and websites in the more universal Hindi language. All associated hardware/software to have multilingual capabilities.
  • Promotion of information technology education among the workforce in both public and private sectors, as well as among the future workforce (student population).
  • Provision of priority information
  • - One of the highest priority needs is providing clean drinking water. The government sees that every rural village gets water and for this it sends water tankers to the village from the nearest available water resource or the district headquarters. The villages are kept informed of the water tanker via a DL initiative a local village DL keeps the village people updated about water tanker schedules.

    - A DL facilitates a workforce database for rural villages identifying capable workers for just-in-time employment.

    - Marriage is very important cultural institution in Indian society. If a family has a nubile son or daughter they are watchful for potential brides/grooms for arranged marriages. Matches must be appropriate in terms of caste, religion and so forth. A DL database for matchmaking purposes is thus a popular service.

  • Even though the rural teledensity is low, each rural village has a public telephone the entire village shares. DL kiosks providing voice-over-IP telephone communications is being actively considered by the Indian government.

Samadhan Kendras / Soochanalaya Gumtis. In Madhya Pradesh, a regional network connects 21 rural cybercafes called Soochanalayas. Each Soochanalaya provides services for about 10 to 15 Village (Gram) Panchayat (a cluster of 20 to 30 villages) with an aggregate population of 20,000 to 30,000 people. The network covers 5 of 13 blocks and 3 of 7 tehsils in the district. Soochanalayas are located at Block headquarters, haat (main) bazaars, villages and bus depot centers. The Soochanalayas are located on the roadside of the central villages where people normally travel. They together serve a population of over half a million.

A local matriculate operator called a "soochak" operates the cybercafes. The soochak is not a government employee but rather a local volunteer. The soochak takes out a bank loan to buy the computer, modem and printer while the Panchayat covers the cost of the phone line. Villagers pay a nominal amount for each service, usually less than US 50 cents for any service and there is a set price list. The soochak keeps 90% of the fees with a 10% commission passed back to the Panchayat for new service development and increasing system capacity.  With the soochak approach, cybercafes are providing self-employment through entrepreneurship to local rural youth.

Panchayat. The Gram Panchayat (clusters of villages) are connected to existing public and private sector exchanges using wide band technology that can be leased to private operators/kiosk operators on a revenue sharing basis. Concessions of free land and exemption from commercial taxes on equipment are also common bargains for network connectivity.

 All the village Panchayats are connected to the exchanges in Digital Networked Districts through 144 Kbps links. Offices such as those of the district governments should be in a position to enable single window certification after computerization is complete. The District Government offices, the Collectorate and the Zila (District) Panchayats as well as all other large offices, have established intra-office networks for voice, data and video exchange.  Zila Panchayats are bodies whose members are elected from Panchayats of all the villages in the district. Figure 2 shows the top-down structure of government networks to support DLs.

Figure 2. Government Network Infrastructure to Support Rural Digital Libraries

Tehsil Offices. The computerization of tehsil offices already enables single window certification of births, deaths and taxes. Tehsil offices deal with land records, revenue legislation, land acquisition information, collection and allocation of land revenue and access to Panchayats, payments of compensation, planning, execution and expenditure on relief operations, information on the listing of revenue court cases, and monitoring of progress in disposal of revenue case work.

Gyandoot

Gyandoot (meaning "messenger of knowledge") is a new intranet-based DL in the Dhar district of the state of Madhya Pradesh connecting rural public cybercafes. A corresponding website is an extension of Gyandoot intranet providing global access via a portal (http://www.gyandoot.net). Gyandoot was conceived in a discussion with Secretary, Information Technology, Government of Madhya Pradesh on November 11, 1999.  The pilot project was launched on November 29, 1999, and it was officially commissioned on January 1, 2000. Thus, from concept to commissioning, the entire Gyandoot DL project was executed in the short space of 51 days for a cost of $57,000 USD. The selection of services to be provided, the local youth to be trained for operating it, the design and testing of the software were all done through repeated meetings with the constituency: rural villagers.

Description of the Project

Each day several hundred villagers travel to government offices from remote villages to obtain information, submit applications, meet officials, obtain public records and obtain information regarding prevailing prices in commodity market yards, etc. This travel represents a significant hardship usually involving loss of the day's income, cost of transportation, uncertainty regarding availability of the relevant official/record/information on the day of the visit, repeated visits for expediting or picking up the desired information, and lastly harassment at the hands of corrupt public officials who hold a monopoly over most government services.

Gyandoot is a unique form of G2C (Government to Citizen) DL activity to address the hardship imposed by transaction costs associated with government services. Located in the Dhar District of Central India, agriculture and industry are the twin mainstays of business. Close to four billion rupees (90M USD) worth of agricultural commodities is transacted annually, principally soya, cotton and wheat. The city of Indore is the largest automobile center in Asia. The District Panchayat, Dhar is enabling over half a million rural citizens affordable access to various government and market-related needs through state-of-the-art information technology kiosks.

As an example of the power of Gyandoot information consider that Dhar is a typical Indian district with most people dependent on farming. To sell their produce, farmers in Dhar traditionally rely on traders who are known to quote rates far below the market price and keep the difference. Farmers otherwise have to travel long distances to find a wholesale market that offers more competitive rates. With Gyandoot farmers can cut out the middleman and find the highest prices for their produce since Gyandoot gives them access to the latest market quotes, produce exchanges and other information vital to farming.  The reported impact has been that villagers use Gyandoot to keep track of the cost of their produce in the region's wholesale market. They pool their resources and catch buses to places offering the best deals. Sometimes this means trucking their produce 400 miles to Bombay to earn 40% more than they would at home or they can make the decision to wait and hold on to their produce until prices are higher in local markets.

Objectives

Gyandoot is unique in the scale of and target population for the DL intranet. Gyandoot is a community-based, highly cost-effective and financially self-reliant approach to bringing the benefits of DL to the doorsteps of tribal villagers. It is about economic growth, government-citizen partnership and access to government services via networked kiosks. The public is responsible for operating and managing the network as well as providing content. In this way people take charge of their own knowledge and technology transfer needs, narrowing the digital-divide. The stated objectives of the initiative are:    

    1) Providing marginalized rural villagers their first opportunity to access knowledge

    2) Serving as a DL intranet model by creating a cost-effective, replicable and economically self-reliant model for taking the benefits of DLs to the rural masses in a timely period

    3) Impacting information technology on the Government-citizen interface as the thrust area so that the benefits of the knowledge economy directly reach rural India

    4) Providing self-employment through entrepreneurship to rural youth

    5) Creating a partnership between the Government and the citizenry by providing public access and input to day-to-day governance issues.

Services Offered

Commodity Marketing Information Services. Prices and volumes of the local mandis (markets) of Dhar, Badnawar and Indore as well as principal national agricultural produce markets are provided daily. Prices of crops like soybean, wheat, gram and various horticulture products are quoted on the site. The local mandi rates and volumes are quoted in the morning around 11:00 am and at evening around the end of transactions. For other mandis, rates are quoted once a day.

Land Records. Cultivators need land records (khasra) for crop loans from banks. All local banks (Central Cooperative Bank, the Land Development Bank, Bank of India, State Bank of India, Bank of Indore, etc.) have accepted the duly issued printouts of land records given at Soochanalaya for the purposes of their transactions.

Registration of Applications. Applications for caste, income and domicile (mool nivasi) certificates, demarcations (seemankan) and landholders passbook of land records and loans (bhoo adhikar evam rin pustika) can be e-mailed. E-mail reply is to be sent to the Soochanalaya when certificate is ready to be picked up.

Public Grievances. Complaints regarding common public grievances may be sent via Gyandoot with an e-mail reply assured within seven days. Complaints include water hand pump disorder, teacher absence, mid-day meal, scholarship sanction/disbursement, poor seed/fertilizer and employee establishment program matters (like leave or provident fund sanction) queries.

Hindi E-mail. Paperless Hindi e-mail communication is transacted between connected village level institutions and Block/District offices and Panchayat/Education/Health management information systems (PMIS, EMIS & HMIS).

Current Status

The first nine months of Gyandoot has focused on computerization of paper records. This is a time-consuming process dependent upon the clerk or officer-in-charge of paper records. Breaking the single person control of paper records is important because in the past it has lead to inefficiency and corruption. Publicly accessible grievance redress, land records copy and online registration of tehsil applications will bring about automatic proof of receipt as well as effective monitoring of government decision-making. In the past public advocates would have to make rounds of different, dispersed offices. With Gyandoot, if repeated complaints are received from the public itself that a particular teacher is not coming to school, that a particular grain trader does not make timely payment of grains received or that a particular sarpanch (the head of a Village Panchayat) repeatedly defaults in making payments to beneficiaries, the fact would automatically be detected and brought to the public and government officials' notice simultaneously. The monopoly over records by inspecting/controlling/supervisory officers or wayward sarpanches is being phased out and the largest democracy in the world will function with less of the corruption that has long been a characteristic of Indian governance.

 The Gyandoot Project is already in the process of being replicated. The Indian government has issued a statewide tender on January 30, 2000, for setting up such kiosks across the state of Madhya Pradesh. The Governor announced in the State Government's annual address to the State Legislature on February 3, 2000, that information kiosks similar to the Gyandoot project would shortly be set up across the state.

The impact of Gyandoot is beyond the state; indeed the Indian government is replicating the Gyandoot model nationwide with a project called Drishtree (which means vision).  Drishtree will provide market information to all Indian farmers as well as create a Web-based citizen-government interface to provide public administration, education and healthcare services. With 700 million of India's one billion population living in villages, drishtree.com is poised to become the world's largest digital community.

Initial Findings

There have been some unexpected findings during the first nine months of Gyandoot operation:

    1) Since the rural population is predominantly illiterate and e-payments are not yet legally sanctioned in India, transactions cannot be purely virtual within the Gyandoot. A physical element (clerk/office) has to participate as an intermediary in lieu of e-payments. As in many countries, credit cards are rare and up-front payments are popular even with large-scale enterprises. Face-to-face relations and bargaining are essential to business.

    2) It is preferable to train local educated youth for operating Gyandoot kiosks from the point of view of sustainability, local acceptance and labor cost.

    3) Since the cost of Gyandoot e-commerce transactions for most villagers is high, the Gyandoot is important for basic services (e-mail, government databases) rather than high-end applications.

    4) Because power cuts are frequent, many soochaks use diesel generators to keep their Gyandoot operation running.

    5) Villagers and local politicians are quite willing and enthusiastic about accepting the new technology.

    6) Given the current state of rural telecommunications infrastructure, network capacity must be expanded. India's long distance telecommunications companies and international connections, formerly a government monopoly, are in the process of being deregulated. There will be no license limit with operators just paying a fixed fee and share of revenues to the government.  The government has also given unrestricted right-of-way to companies laying cables along highways and other major roads. This combination of events could produce a huge increase in capacity.

Summary

After highlighting the unique challenges of implementing a DL in India, this paper has focused on Gyandoot as a model for future rural DLs being initiated by the Indian government. The Gyandoot DL is an economically viable and unique form of government-to-citizen interaction that is giving rural villagers access to various government service and market information. Gyandoot dramatically reduces the time and money citizens used to waste to receive government services. 

Community information services have existed in India for several years with the likely user primarily falling within the welfare system. A draft Indian National Library Policy on Library and information systems (NAPLIS) has endorsed the need for information services for all citizens as a feature of the democratic process with a main thrust toward revamping rural community libraries as information centers providers of DL services similar to Gyandoot.

The Gyandoot project has not gone unnoticed in the media. It has received unprecedented worldwide press coverage from television (MSNBC) and newspapers. The Boston Globe noted that Gyandoot was "the kind of project that President Clinton had in mind when he urged the [Indian] government to make sure its booming IT industry benefited the country's impoverished masses, not just the Western-educated elite" (as quoted in a Microsoft case study of the project at

www.microsoft.com/BUSINESS/government/casestudies/cyberedge_madhyapradeshindia.asp

The Times of India (no. 25, Vol. 158, Monday, January 31, 2000) noted, "The ease with which the people of Dhar have taken to using information technology shows the paradigm shift which can be effected with minimum investment. The whole district has been wired for as little as Rs. 25 lakh. This model should ideally be replicated in as many rural areas as possible." On June 5, 2000 Gyandoot was selected as a joint winner in the Public Services and Democracy category of the Stockholm Challenge Award from among 600 entries based on the criteria of innovation, user need, sustainability and transferability.

Statistics on the operation of Gyandoot promise more significant findings with further study. In the future we will investigate both the expected and unexpected behaviors resulting from the implementation of DLs in rural settings in contrast to the Gyandoot experience.

It is fitting that the world's largest democratic nation is spearheading a DL to provide public access to both government and private information to its entire population, with a special focus on its most disenfranchised citizens.  This only emphasizes what many have said information is the key to democracy.

Gyandoot is owned and run by the Panchayats with Zila Panchayat with Dhar at the apex. For commercial or other inquiries mail or contact the District Collector or Chief Executive Officer of the Zila Panchayat, Dhar (Madhya Pradesh), India; gyandoot@hotmail.com ; telephone/fax 0091-7292-34709/22722.

Aashish Sharma is affiliated with the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, Devi Ahilya University, Indore, MP, India. He can be reached by e-mail at Abhimansharma@yahoo.com

William Yurcik can be reached at the Department of Applied Computer Science, Campus Box 5150, 202 Old Union, Illinois State University, Normal, IL USA; by phone at 309/438-8016/5113; or by e-mail at wjyurci@ilstu.edu

How to Order


ASIST Home Page

American Society for Information Science and Technology
8555 16th Street, Suite 850, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA
Tel. 301-495-0900, Fax: 301-495-0810 | E-mail:
asis@asis.org

Copyright 2001, American Society for Information Science and Technology