IN COLLABORATION WITH INDIAN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, MUMBAI, MAJLIS MANCH AND URBAN DESIGN RESEARCH INSTITUTE
SUPPORTED BY FORD FOUNDATION
With government schemes, school admission forms and networking options available at the click of a mouse, the internet is slowly turning into a fundamental need for people in general, and the youth in particular. However, on account of challenges related to accessibility and affordabilty of internet technology, in most places awareness continues to remain skewed.
Thus, backed by this emerging need for internet access in the midst of the existing absence of supporting technology, Research to Internet Access project was launched in Palghar District in April 2014. The objective of this research was to contribute to an experiment being conducted by IIT-B, our technical partner, of using white space, in which newer technology will be created that will have the potential of making broadband available to a large rural population in hinterlands at affordable rates. An important aspect of the project has been to study the social impact achieved when people in rural areas are able to use internet services to access e-governance and other facilities.
Thus, over the past year, PUKAR has set forth on a research journey to understand how this broadband deployment impacts and shapes the lives of the people in the coverage area after the respondents have been using the technology for a period of 6-8 months. For this purpose, three villages- Dhuktan, Khamloli and Bahadoli of Palghar district- were chosen. Based on PUKAR’s Barefoot Researchers Model, 60 local youth were selected to don the hats of eSevaks. The eSevaks soon became the link between the technology and the locals.
In order to ensure a systematic community-based participatory research process, a baseline survey was conducted in August 2014. In all, 1,146 households were surveyed across the three villages. The surveys analysed the degree of affordability, accessibility and existing awareness about the internet among the village locals.
In the weeks and months that followed, the PUKAR team created modules on the various schemes and programmes that can be accessed on the internet related to education, egovernance, health and livelihoods. Weekly training sessions were organised with the eSevaks, explaining to them in detail the various schemes that could help ensure greater efficiency, cost and time benefits for the locals. With the knowledge gained, the eSevaks went from door-to-door, creating awareness among the locals to access the internet to pay their bills, access information and even make bookings.
During the course of these weekly visits and meetings, there was also emphasis laid on creating community profiles, rapport building and ensuring greater awareness. The project is scheduled to be completed in December 2015 at the end of the post-survey.