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Singh, Part 6

2.5 Role of academic and research institutions

Academic institutes, particularly the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), have been making encouraging efforts to help rural and technologically disadvantaged people to access the Internet. IIT Kanpur initiated a project and developed a battery–powered facility, the “Infothela” (Information Box), which is equipped with an assortment of Internet and telecom facilities to impart the benefit of IT to people in remote areas. The characteristic of wireless Infothela includes spreading information about education, weather agriculture, and employment. The program is also laced with a “Digital Mandi” facility, which is an electronic platform for agro–commodity business. Under this project the farmer will be given warehouse certificate facility. To encourage active participation educated and unemployed village youth have been empowered to operate the project [11].

Another project has been started by IIT Karagpur to “bridge the communication gap between the sightless and the sighted.” The project has enabled the blind to surf the Internet, read text in Indian languages and even take up normal office work. A software IIT Webel has been developed to translate Braille into plain English [12]. Similarly the National Association of Blind, with the help of Microsoft, initiated two projects: a cyber–cafe for the blind in Mumbai and a Braille printing unit in Bangalore. These projects have made encouraging efforts to empower the blind people by bridging the digital divide.

Technology for the benefit of the common man is also introducing telemedicine in a big way in India. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) started a pilot project in 2002 with a “technology demonstration” and has been established in nearly 100 hospitals, with twenty of these at super–speciality hospitals and 80 of them in remote districts and trust hospitals. The result of the use of this technology is extremely encouraging. It is noted that 15,000 patients have obtained consultation services from super–speciality hospitals without travelling to big cities. Lives have been saved in remote places through instructions obtained from experts with the help of this facility. During the recent tsunami disaster which struck the coast of India and the Islands of Andaman and Nicobar, the SATCOM–based telemedicine and GRAMSAT Islands Network provided by ISRO was pressed immediately into service [13].

Telemedicine is now becoming a reality. However, the system must be expanded and designed to be more user–friendly and economical. What is needed is to bring awareness among people about telemedicine and telehealth and their advantages. In this regard an International Telemedicine Conference was held 17–19 March 2005 in the city of Banglore to share views and experiences on the technological developments taking place all over the world. A meaningful and economical integration of ITC and medical technology into what is called telemedicine will bridge the gap between those privileged to have health care facilities and the rural areas of the country.

The National Institute of Agricultural Extension and Management based at Hydrabad in Andhra Pradesh state under the National Agriculture Technology Project (NATP) has set up Internet kiosks in 24 districts of seven states: Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharastra, Orissa and Punjab. These kiosks are provided with CDs containing databases of agricultural expert systems for diagnosis of pest–related problems and are becoming quite popular among the farming community.

2.6 Efforts made by private business houses

Some of the private businesses, like the Tata Council of Community Initiatives, are playing an important role in promoting adult education in the country. The council has extended several innovative computer–based literacy programs to improve India’s adult education by preparing multimedia presentations.

Similarly the Azim Premji Foundation has been involved with universalization of elementary education by creating effective and scaleable models to improve the quality of learning in school.

Some of the corporate giants like “Hindustan Liver” have embarked upon a project called i–shakti, an IT–based rural information service to provide information to meet rural needs. The project envisages setting up of 1,500 kiosks for delivering information services to over 10 million rural people across 7,500 villages in Andhra Pradesh.

The Oglivy and Mather Company project “Param” is initiating rural connectivity in the country. This electronic connectivity network has been conceived to reach the remotest corner where no land line or media–based communication is available. The motto of the project is to “connect the last mile first.” The “Param” Computer interacts with the operator in the local language in both spoken and written form.

A well known corporate dairy giant, the “Amul India” based in Anand in the state of Gujrat, has developed a network of Dairy Information System kiosks (DISK). Currently 2,500 village–level kiosks have been connected and when the project is completed it will cover 70,000 villages milk societies. The kiosks offer milk account, market intelligence and telephony.