ON DELHI CONFERENCE ON MISSION 2007
By Ms. Sudhiti Naskar & Ms. Amrita Chowdhury
August 1, 2007 to August 3, 2007 Indira Gandhi National Open
University (IGNOU) organised a conference on ICT based developments
in grass root level in collaboration with Jamsetji Tata National
Virtual Academy. The conference, officially named as “4th
Convention of National alliance Mission 2007: Every village
a knowledge Centre”, saw a great gathering of academicians,
industrialists, IT professionals, politicians, social workers,
intellectuals and people in general. The conference witnessed
extensive media coverage. Organizations like International
Development Research Centre (IDRC), Telecenter.org, Indira
Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), Swiss Agency for
Development and Cooperation (SDC), Tata Education Trust, Microsoft,
Media Lab Asia, Intel, Open Forum and QUALCOMM were among
the main participants.
The 5th convocation of the Fellows of Jamsetji Tata National
Virtual Academy was a befitting commencement to this three
day long conference, owing to the fact that different social
activists from within the country and the neighbouring states
were honoured for their outstanding contribution towards the
betterment of the rural economy and society. The ceremony
made one realise that neither age nor physical challenges
could destroy the will of those wishing to contribute towards
the advancement of mankind. The entire experience was very
The main focus of the conference was on disseminating information
and ideas about various efforts mobilised throughout the country
in order to make latest developments in technology, available
to the grass root level. There was also an effort of looking
back to the history of villages in context to the national
economy in order to have a fair and comparative understanding
of the progress.
The first session included distinguished speakers such as
Dr. Swaminathan, V. N Rajshekharan Pillay, in the panel. The
focus was chiefly on using ICT for a greater social inclusion
of the rural people. It was accepted by general consensus
that technology needs to reach the lower most section without
which, India will fail to sustain the developments it is witnessing
for about last eight years.
However, it was felt that there is no fixed model or means
of spreading the benefits of ICT to the villages. Every village
has diverse needs; hence the stakeholders should provide technologies
commensurate to the requirements of the people. Therefore,
it was felt that working in close coordination with the local
people was important, as representation from the target group
or community would be the best way to understand their need.
The usability of ICT in the development of all the sectors
related to rural life, such as education, irrigation, farming,
communication, economic upliftment was elaborately discussed
and stressed upon. Prof V.N Rajshekharan Pillay stressed on
the role of society and the state in spreading awareness and
education in the rural societies.
IGNOU has been entrusted with the responsibility to implement
the Distance Education Programme under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan
(DEP-SSA) at the national level by the Ministry of Human Resource
Development (MHRD), Government of India. The convergence of
telecommunications, audio-video and computers has a tremendous
potential to revolutionize education and transform the teaching-learning
process. From being a silent listener taking down the notes
to an active participant in the study, the use of technology
has caused almost a paradigm shift in the way the kids learn
Mr. Champak Chatterjee, though, reflected on the fact that
such technology enhanced teaching methods are more suitable
to the class room environment; where there are lack of teachers
since softwares are made to teach the students through self-
learning process, such methods do not add too much value to
a teachers’ teaching process. However, DEP-SSA is responsible
for looking into the training needs of elementary school teachers
and other SSA functionaries working at different levels right
from the state head quarters to the village level.
Prof. Pillay too stressed that the real work lies not only
in providing technology but also in capacity building. ICT
has proved that learning is possible any time and any where.
But it does not automatically add quality to teaching and
learning; rather its application to the core business of teaching.
It can accelerate and improve learning on a number of aspects
from basic skills to problem solving, work habits, information
management and the business of educational delivery. To achieve
this purpose they are setting up technology knowledge centers
in various villages which would not only include education,
but also awareness programmes about general health, contagious
diseases like HIV AIDS, animal health, farming etc.
Some software companies too are taking measures to spread
education in the rural areas. Mr. Alok Vargava of TCS talked
about their work in the grass root level through the TCS Academic
Liaison Managers who are responsible for tying up with the
rural academic institutions for providing inexpensive user
friendly software to schools in order to facilitate easy and
scientific learning to the village kids.
Apart from education, various speakers discussed about the
infrastructural and economical developments achieved by ICT.
Ms. Tara Gandhi talked about her real life experiences in
relation to development seen over various parts of the country.
She narrated how ICT is making considerable change in people’s
The few corporate partners like TATA, QUALCOMM, ITC Group
of Industries had the chance to talk about their activities
and achievements in rural communities in context of development.
Dr. Swaminathan too emphasized on the responsibility of the
business houses to give back to the society, reminding the
audience of Sri Manmohan Singh’s appeal in which he
asked the corporate houses to contribute to the country.
The ITC Chairman, Shri Y.C Daveswar narrated their activities
in rural areas and emphasized on the fact that all they need
is to create “a human infrastructure and not a technical
infrastructure” in which the technical knowledge is
tailored according to the human need. In fact in last ten
years, many pro people measures have been introduced, a few
of which was mentioned in this conference. ITC mentioned the
phenomenal e- chaupal that they introduced. More recent devices
such as Fisher Friendly phones by QUALCOMM and few other gadgets
by TATA and other NGOs had been showcased in this conference
and were available for live demo.
Some relevant issues could be highlighted during the discussion
and one of these issues was “how to create a market
for corporate social responsibility”. Mr. Daveswar reflected
when one company donates to the society; the other companies
will also have a pressure from marketing and public relations
point of view; and to sustain this competition they need to
donate a part of the profit back to the society.
At the same time it was also felt that contributing to the
society does not necessarily mean non profit activity. It
can also mean a “commercially value added move”,
as opined by Mr. Kanwalinder Singh from QUALLCOMM. It was
unanimously agreed that with the right approach taken, all
the stakeholders of rural economy will reap profit.
There was a major discussion about the initiatives taken by
the government of India and various important stake holders
in uplifting the infrastructure through ICT and providing
development to rural areas. Ministers and top notch officials
from Ministry of Water Resources, Department of Information
and Communication Technology, Ministry of Panchayati Raj gave
keynote address. It emerged from their speeches that in governmental
level a number of initiatives are being taken to change the
face of Indian villages prioritising on the village education,
health, IT enabled financial access. They leverage various
schemes to encourage village entrepreneurship.
Big NGOs like NASSCOM also made the house aware of their activities.
Mr. Saurav Srivastava, Chairman Emeritus, NASSCOM, gave a
thoughtful insight about the emergence of ICT in India, the
present scenario and a vision of the future. He also talked
about their Rural Knowledge Network Program - a community-centric
initiative that is designed to engage industry, civil society,
and governments in synergistic interventions through partnership.
One of the activities undertaken by NASSCOM is establishing,
revitalizing, and fostering a national grid of over 100 rural
Knowledge Centers in over 65 districts across 10 states. They
also channelise the IT Industry’s talent pool to develop
innovative and challenging IT products that will serve the
rural sector overcoming barriers such as language, connectivity
issues and disabilities
ICT4D, IDRC, an international organisation which seeks to
building capacity in the networks or organisations around
the world by supplying both human and financial resources,
expressed keen interest in contributing to the rural development
of India by growing partnerships in terms of research, fieldwork
was also pointed out that education sector has been benefited
amply, and attention should now be diverted towards agriculture,
healthcare and jobs. Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala from IIT Chennai
mulled over the possibility of outsourcing urban works such
as shoemaking, garments industry to the rural areas. He talked
about distributory work policy in rural and urban areas; laying
bare the hinderances for development i.e. lack of adequate,
standard power. He also talked about bringing some security
to the village professionals by establishing decentralized
power plant in every village, introducing rainfall insurance,
weather forecasting machines. But at the same time it was
felt that solutions fit for one village may not be suitable
to another one. So there is a strong need of articulation
of their particular needs by rural people, as stated by Dr.
Kiran Karnik of NASSCOM. And for this purpose there is big
role that the policy makers have to play, as pointed out by
Prof Subbiah Arunachalam of MSSRF. Hence, the solution lies
in creating “synergy between demand and provisions”,
said Dr. K Balasubramaniam, Consultant L3 Framers Project,
COI, Chennai. He said that the context of ICT lies in quick
dissemination of knowledge and technology. During the day
long sessions it was also stressed that the utility of knowledge
rests in implementing it; fulfilling the need of the local
A detailed discussion took place about the influence of ICT
on medical system of our country. DR. Prathap C Reddy, Chairman
Apollo Group of Hospitals stressed the need of providing subsidised
health care to the poor. He also talked about the “health
super highway” concept, a system that would facilitate
easy and fast access to healthcare even in the far flung areas.
Soumya Swaminathan, Deputy Director, Tuberculosis Research
Centre, Chennai had been very articulate about the immensely
beneficial role ICT can play in healthcare. Because people
have never ending questions about their health; effective
contents can provide sound knowledge to them. At the same
time, these contents can be very effectively used to spread
awareness and eradicate stigma about highly sensitive diseases
like HIV AIDS, tuberculosis etc. But for that “proper
locale specific content” is the primary need. It can
also make people aware of where is what particular treatment
available. Web camera can be used to reach out to those disadvantaged
sections which do not have direct access to the doctors, and
this way the doctors will be able to diagnose and provide
treatment from a distance.
these three day long sessions and discussions a few questions
came up as general concerns. For example, a number of people
raised the issue of “evil effects” of science.
A majority of farmers and small scale rural entrepreneurs
expressed that hybrid crops have a negative effect on the
atmosphere and our health, which Dr. Serageldin thought was
a misconception. He referred to available scientific tests,
which so far, has not detected any negative effect of the
hybrid crops in human body. At the same time he appealed that
everyone should set the perspective of any scientific or social
activity keeping in mind the betterment of the poor, women
Even after such jubilant celebration of development, this
feeling was tantamount in the house, that the fruits of advancement
have reached a few. A large section of humanity is still outside
it, a situation that has created rich poor, rural urban divide.
But of late, there has been considerable effort in providing
the benefits of development to the poor and the villagers.
Efforts of making technologies available are manifest in the
effort of providing the grameen phone, 100 dollar computer
It has been observed during the sessions that initiatives
are being taken on an international level. Dr. Harsha Liyanage,
Regional Coordinator South Asia, Global Knowledge Partnership
talked about sharing knowledge on an international level.
With today’s immense power of science, comes the question
of our direction and the objectives behind it. The intellectuals
felt that we should give today’s science a pro people
Looking at the developed nations like UK, US and China one
may feel that development means more per capita income and
intake of natural resources. Prof Jhunjhunwala of IIT Chennai
warned about such situation, his thought – provoking
speech sent out the message that development should not necessarily
mean large intake of natural resources; because that would
happen at the cost of the deprivation of the developing or
developed nations in terms of natural resources.
The conference has been very effective in terms of providing
knowledge and information about the initiatives being undertaken
and the vision of the stake holders. Though, one feels, some
more time could have been invested on general discussions.
Though the main focus was on providing technology to the disadvantaged
rural areas; the logic behind identifying the “disadvantaged”
section was not very clear. The tenor of the conference made
one feel that “disadvantaged” people would include
digitally divided rural people; an idea that seemingly overlooks
the fact that digital divide means different degrees of access
to ICT, irrespective of location or economical situation.
Also, it made one feel that the introduction of ICT would
solve all the existing troubles including problems related
to employment, farming, education, healthcare, and electricity
etc – a concept that would unduly priorotise ICT as
a cure-all to every modern- day- problem. One should be cautious
enough to understand that ICT is just one of the many tools
which humanity can effectively use to solve its problems.
Though, it is a much potent tool than radio or television;
nonetheless, it has its limitations. And the limitation is
greatly influenced by the politics it is used with. Just like
any other tool, it can be used for mass betterment or personal
gain. So, the power politics behind the usage of ICT needs
to be carefully looked into. One would be wise to remember
that ICT does not work as an “external variable”
that can be injected into the society to bring about positive