Thiruvananthapuram: When the government of Kerala selected the backward Muslim-majority Malappuram district for the pilot implementation of its ambitious total e-literacy drive in 2002, many had expressed doubts about its success.
But the district, with one of the lowest literacy rates in the state, proved the sceptics wrong and achieved the rare distinction of being India's first e-literate district 16 months later, with more than 90 percent of families connected through a network of about 600 e-centres called Akshaya.
Though the people, a majority of them religiously orthodox, have embraced the e-revolution, government offices continued to deny the benefit of the technology to the people. But a village office in the district has shown the way by utilising the infrastructure to serve people better.
Kavanur village office near Manjeri has bid goodbye to the conventional file system. People visiting the office no longer see files that greet them in other government offices. In fact, there is very little need for people to visit the office at all.
People can pay taxes and avail most of the services through the website and the mobile application developed by the office for e-delivery. People who don't have a computer at home can walk into any of the three Akshaya centres set up as part of the e-literacy drive for availing the online services.
P Mohammed, former president of the panchayat, said that a majority of the 7,259 households in the village had computers at home. At least one member in each house was made computer literate during the e-literacy mission. Most of them are using the online service for paying taxes and getting various certificates that they need for various purposes, he said.
The services that can be availed online include certificates related to income, caste, nativity, relationship, revenue records and succession besides payment of various taxes, according to village officer P Mukundan, who is the driving force behind the initiative.
"We have developed our own mobile application and website to help people access the services without visiting the office. The website offers not only the details of the services available for the people but also comprehensive information about the village," Mukundan told Firstpost.
People who have to visit the office for other purposes need not wait long for meeting their needs. There is a front office to guide them fulfil their needs in a hassle-free fashion. They don’t have to go in search of the dealing assistants. Name, designation and service of each employee are displayed behind their chairs.
A punching machine ensures that the employees do not go out during office hours. The employees need not sift through files as there is a record book for fast retrieval of files, which are stashed neatly in shelves.
But if one has to wait longer, one will not be bored. The air-conditioned waiting hall has television screens and journals one may read. The hall also has a separate room for lactating mothers.
Mukundan said that the village office had standardised the service according to ISO 9001 standards. It has secured the certification recently for high efficiency and excellence in the service. Malappuram district collector Amit Meena claimed that Kavanur was the first village office in the country to get this certificate.
The transformation of the office has benefitted the people immensely. For Abdul Rasheed, a resident of Kavanur, reduction in corruption is the biggest benefit. He said that people had to grease the palms of the employees earlier for getting their work done. Now they can get everything done from their homes or a nearby computer centre.
Kavanur panchayat president M Vidyavathi said that it was not possible for any employee to take bribe now since they are always under the scanner of CCTV. There are six such cameras in the office. Live visuals from the cameras can be watched from the offices of revenue minister, district collector and revenue divisional officer.
The panchayat president told Firstpost that people in the village were also vigilant as the initiative is the result of a collective effort. She said that the office was transformed into high-tech digital office with the contribution and support of everyone in the village.
"It is normally not possible to modernise an office with government funds. The people at Kavanur did not wait for government support. They contributed money from their pockets and acquired everything needed for modernising the office," Vidhyavathi said.
The initiative was evolved from the village court, called nattukodathi in Malayalam, set up under a state government initiative eight years ago. Though such courts were set up in other villages too, only the one at Kavanur has stood the test of the time, she said.
What has made the Kavanur village court unique is the organic relationship between the panchayat and village authorities in settling disputes out of court. It became successful as people from all walks of life came forward to support the initiative cutting across political and religious barriers, Vidhyavathi said.
The court headed by the village officer as its convener consists of representatives of political parties and religious bodies, members of different tiers of the panchayat as well as local MPs and MLAs. The court convenes on the third Saturday of every month to hear cases that come before the council which is presided over by the panchayat president.
The village court had 96 sittings so far, according to Mohammed. He said that 245 out of 262 cases heard during the last eight years were settled outside the court. "There are only five cases from the village pending in the courts of law now. We are trying to resolve them too," the former panchayat president said.
He said that the village will now try for the litigation free village status. The village will seek the status only after settling the cases pending in the courts. No new cases are being filed from Kavanur in the court after the Nattukodathi has come into existence, according to Mohammed.
He said that the village was also gearing up to use the technology to develop agriculture, business, health and education. The attempt is to develop Kavanur as a model village in the country in the coming next few years.
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Updated Date: Oct 26, 2017 10:13:51 IST