Web-based information storage and retrieval system in agriculture and rural development banking in India

Web-based information storage and retrieval system in agriculture and rural development banking in India

J.P.S. Ahuja

Abstract

This article describes the concept of rural development and the role of information in the overall development of the rural populace. It attempts to explore the information needs of rural development practitioners and lists sources of information from various organizations engaged in the task of rural development. Various e-governance initiatives of state governments and the National Informatics Centre (NIC) for making day-to-day information available to the rural masses are explained in detail. The article emphasizes the need for an Internet-based information storage and retrieval system for rural development. Web addresses of some of the organizations engaged in rural development are also provided.

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Introduction

The term “rural development” is a subset of the broader term “development.” Development is a subjective and value-based term; thus, there cannot be a consensus as to its meaning. At best, development in the context of society could be conceptualized as a set of desirable societal objectives that a country seeks to achieve. Rural development connotes overall development of rural areas with a view to improve the quality of life of rural people. (1) It is a comprehensive and multidimensional concept and encompasses the development of agriculture and allied activities, village and cottage industries and crafts, socioeconomic infrastructure, community services and facilities, and, above all, the human resources in rural areas. As a phenomenon, rural development is the end result of interactions among various physical, technological, economic, sociocultural, and institutional factors. As a strategy, it is designed to improve the economic and social well-being of a specific group of people–the rural poor. As a discipline, it is multidisciplinary in nature, representing an intersection of agricultural, social, behavioral, engineering, and management sciences.

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In the words of Robert Chambers, “Rural development is a strategy to enable a specific group of people, poor rural women and men, to gain for themselves and their children more of what they want and need. It involves helping the poorest among those who seek a livelihood in the rural areas to demand and control more of the benefits of rural development. The group includes small-scale farmers, tenants, and the landless.” (2)

We shall define rural development here as a process leading to sustainable improvement in the quality of life of rural people, especially the poor.

The World Bank, in a Discussion Paper (1996), has emphasized that information is an important production factor, along with land, labor, capital, and energy. Timely access to information is crucial for development. (3)

“Information poverty” hinders economic development, as government agencies working at the field level lack access to policies and programs of the central and state governments. Even the ultimate beneficiary does not know what the planners sitting in capital cities are doing for them. Thus, building a grassroots-level information storage and retrieval system for economic development is crucial for the success of any government policy.

Organizations Engaged in Rural Development

A large number of organizations in government and non-government sectors are engaged in the gigantic task of rural development. The information needs and the information generated by them differ from organization to organization.

Government Organizations

The government has been, still is, and will continue in the near future to be an important organization in the field of agricultural and rural development in developing countries, including India. The main functions of government organizations/institutions are on the following six levels:

1. Facilitating policy formulation.

2. Harmonizing the actions of various economic agents and coordinating program implementation.

3. Providing incentives for collective action and self-regulation.

4. Enforcing regulation and policing.

5. Resolving conflicts and providing arbitration.

6. Providing technical assistance.

Panchayti Raj Institutions

The empowerment of local governments as a result of Parliament’s passage of the 73rd Amendment resulted in panchayti raj institutions (PRIs) that are stronger and more dynamic, and better able to face the serious challenges and problems that lie ahead of them. The PRIs can function better if they have access to important policy instructions, current government schemes and programs, knowledge of the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) functioning in their area, their financial powers, expenditures to be made under various budget heads, development plans, and so on.

Cooperatives

Cooperatives occupy an important place in India’s rural economy in terms of their coverage of the population and their share of the total supply of agricultural inputs, including credit. India can rightly claim to have the largest network of cooperatives in the world. In India, there are 3.95 lakh cooperatives with a total membership of almost 2,000 lakhs and working capital of Rs. 118,6999 crore. IFFCO, KRIBCHCO, the giant cooperative sector fertilizer plant, is responsible for 27.1 percent of the fertilizer produced in the country.

NGOs and Voluntary Agencies

NGOs and voluntary agencies (VAs) play a vital role in rural development. They can inspire the rural population to prepare meaningful plans for rural development and can take part in their implementation. At the national level, the Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) is the primary agency responsible for promoting voluntary action in rural development.

Private Sector and Rural Development

Business houses such as Tatas, Godrej, Hindustan Lever, Escorts, Lupin, IPCL, Usha Martin, Excel, and Arvind Mills have established their own trusts to take up agricultural and rural development work in selected rural areas.

Financial Institutions and Rural Development

The capital requirements of agricultural and rural development are tremendous. Capital is required not only for on-farm investment to improve the production apparatus and provide various farm inputs and services, but also for a vast array of supportive infrastructural facilities. Funds for investment in rural development projects come from two main sources: domestic and foreign. Within each category, there are also institutional and non institutional sources. (4)

Information Needs of Rural Development Practitioners

A number of agencies are involved with the task of agricultural and rural development in India. The information requirements and the information products generated by these requirements vary widely. (5) For example, the financial institutions responsible for credit dispensation in rural areas need information on

* Resources. Manpower resources such as production of rural artisans, general occupation of rural people, and distribution of income levels. Agricultural resources such as cultivable land, dry land, forest area, forest resources, and industries based on agricultural resources. Water, electricity, and so on.

* Management information. Marketing, market yards, rural bazaars (these rural bazaars are dealing in marketing of rural goods to the rural communities and commonly referred to as “haats” in local parlance in India.

* Regulatory information. Reserved items list, local laws pertaining to rural industries, banned items, taxes, tariffs, incentives, subsidies, scarce raw materials, import-export policy regulations, and agricultural and industrial policies.

* Technological information. Appropriate technologies for rural areas, agricultural implements, unconventional energy sources, processes, specifications, standards, and patents.

* Information relating to credit. Financial assistance extended by competitors, such as other financial institutions; terms and conditions for advances. The upper limit to which a loan can be sanctioned depending upon the repayment capacity of the borrower, repayment period, insurance coverage, and changes in refinancing policies for various loan/refinance products formulated at the Head Office level. Also, making the ultimate beneficiary aware of these policies.

Information Sources

Since independence, a large number of government institutions and autonomous organizations have been created and assigned various functions for the execution of various programs. These institutions continuously generate information.

Financial information is generated by the Reserve Bank of India, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), the Industrial Development Bank of India, the Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India, state financial corporations, and commercial banks. This information is available in a variety of documents, such as

* Circulars on agriculture, rural development, and small industry

* District credit plans

* Evaluation reports on various projects related to rural development

* Policy guidelines

* Monthly progress reports

* Schemes, feasibility reports, and statistical statements

* Statistical data on the banking industry and the economy

Industry-related information can be accessed through the publications of

* The National Small Industry Corporation

* The Small Industry Development Organization

* Small industry service institutions

* The Directorate of Industries

* The Khadi and Village Industries Commission

* Developmental and consultancy organizations

Research information can be accessed through the publications of

* The Indian Council of Agricultural research and its various research laboratories situated all over India

* The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research

* The National Institute of Rural Development

A large number of international agencies put out enormous amounts of literature related to rural development–to name a few, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank, the International Development and Research Centre, UNESCO and UNIDO, the Commonwealth Agricultural Bureaux (CAB), and the Centre for Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP).

Information Dissemination through E-Governance

The best thing that has happened as a result of e-governance initiatives across various states is, first, the consolidation of information into a large number of databases that have been updated, computerized, and put into use by rural people for their daily needs.

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Access to information anywhere, anytime, by both the government and citizens, has been the biggest achievement in a short period of time. Second, the computerization process has brought more accuracy and authenticity to the processes and in some places has eliminated the corruption or fraudulent practices that were prevalent in the system. Various kinds of e-governance project/information networks are available on which the activities of organizations engaged in rural development can be hosted, readily accessed, and shared. (6) These state government projects and networks for rural development are described below:

Andhra Pradesh

* APSWAN. Network for voice, data, and video communication throughout Andhra Pradesh. Operational with 2 Mbps fiber optic links connecting the State Secretariat with 25 centres.

* Card Project. Manual system of registering and preserving documents of immovable property transactions replaced by simple and transparent system.

* Multipurpose Household Survey Project. World Bank-aided project. Basic socioeconomic data on all residents of the state and a database of land records.

* Fully automated services of transport. Issuance of learner’s permits and driver’s licenses, and registration of vehicles through a comprehensive networked solution.

* Andhra Pradesh Development Monitoring System. This project has been developed by the planning department and combines a sophisticated geographical information system (GIS) with data from remote-sensing satellites. The system, which was launched early in 2004, has created base maps of 1,122 mandals, or communities, their revenue, villages and habitations, together with a suite of thematic data on road networks, community infrastructure, basic demographics, and soil and geomorphology.

Gujarat

* Smart Card Project. The 22 regional transport offices of Gujarat have been equipped with state-of-the-art driving license environment and issuance centers. This is the world’s largest smart-card-based driving license project with biometrics. Each center has integrated facilities for online capture of individual photographs, signatures, and fingerprints, along with other identification details. The fingerprints are interpreted for key features, extracted, and stored for identification purposes.

* Statewide WAN. This wide area network connects the various office complexes of the government of Gujarat.

* Disaster Management System. This system maintains communications during natural disasters.

Karnataka

* Computerization of the Education Department. The Education Department, with technical assistance from NIC, established a computer center at the office of the Commissioner of Public Instruction to speed up work, automate routine jobs, eliminate delay in related work, and increase computer awareness.

* Computerization of treasuries. With an investment of over Rs. 30 crore, Karnataka’s Department of Treasuries has been computerized. This process includes the installation of approximately 250 VSATs (very small aperture terminals) all over the state to capture every single transaction, accounting for over Rs. 20,000 crore at all 31 district treasuries and 184 “taluk” treasuries. The accounts will be updated instantly, thus providing a comprehensive MIS (management information system) support to the government and transparency of transactions involving public money.

* VIDUTNET for the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd. (KPCTL). India’s first VSAT-based communication network supports real-time data applications for power generation and distribution. Commissioned by KPTCL, the network is also used for voice and fax communication.

Kerala

* Kerala RD NET. All 152 office blocks were networked, providing enhanced connectivity. Also, regular news about the various activities undertaken in the state is now available. Commissioned with the help of NIC. Connectivity was established through NICNET.

* Kudumbasree. The program for state poverty eradication. Computer centres have been established under the Development of Women and Children in Urban Areas (DWCUA) component.

* Government Automation Project. Digitizes huge volumes of back data from various departments and ports the information to the automated systems. This process will create employment opportunities in data entry.

* CARD. Eliminates the problems in the system of registration of documents through electronic delivery of all registration services. In its first phase, the project is proposed to be implemented in 14 sub-registrar offices covering 14 districts of the state.

Maharashtra

* Maharashtra State Excise Application Software Project. Started with the provision of software development and basic awareness to approximately 1,000 employees. Provides specific information to government departments related to excise and revenue administration.

* Stamps and Registration Project. The government is investing Rs. 10 crore to develop a software system for managing the flow of information which is coming in and going out of Stamps and Registration Department. When the system is in place, documents will be registered within an hour, and the original copy of the document handed over to the recipient, which is not the case at present. The system is expected to eliminate favoritism and create more transparency.

* Connectivity Project. Connecting approximately 3,000 offices in a VSAT network. Every typewriter in Maharashtra State Secretariat will be replaced by a computer.

Rajasthan

* RAJ-SWIFT. Statewide intranet. The system uses Internet technology and tools to facilitate online data, text, and e-mail communication between the office of the chief minister and all 32 district collectors on a one-to-one basis.

* Rajnidhi Information Kiosk Project. This is a Web-enabled information kiosk system designed and developed by the Department of Information Technology, Government of Rajasthan. From these information kiosks, citizens will be able to access information related to health, family planning, immunization schedules for children, employment, transportation, distance education, agriculture, water and electricity connection, birth and death registration, approved housing societies, prices of land and building taxes.

* Chief Minister’s Information System. For the chief minister to use and monitor the key activities of the various government departments.

* Computerization of District Collectorate. Computerization of grievances and tracking of court cases. Includes monitoring of court cases, financial accounting, arms licenses, small savings monitoring, and the famine and flood relief system of various offices, such as the Sub-District Office, the District Rural Development Agency, and the Treasury.

* Vikas Darpan. A GIS-based planning and decision support system that facilitates resource-based, decentralized planning using comprehensive databases of 40,000 villages, 237 panchayat samitis, and 219 tehsils. Includes about 200 demographic and socioeconomic indicators.

Rural Bazaar–NIC Leads the Way

* Rural Bazaar is Web-based software that enhances the marketability of the products of rural artisans. The software was developed by National Informatics Centre, Ministry of Information Technology, Government of India. For details, see http://crisp.nic.in/ruralbazaar.

Categories of Development Information

We can see that the type of information support required for rural development varies, but it can be categorized as follows: (7)

* Socioeconomic information

* Geographic-based information

* Special purpose information

* Special program information

* Sectoral information

* District-level information

* Sub-district-level information

* Village-level information

* Household-level information

Conclusion

Many organizations are engaged in development. For an integrated view of their efforts and the information they are generating, a Web-based solution that aggregates information into a single unit is needed. The NIC web site (www.nic.in) is an ideal platform to begin learning about rural development activities. It includes information generated by rural development agencies and financial institutions in the government sector.

References

1. Katar Singh. 1986. Rural Development: Principles, Policies and Management.

2. Robert Chambers. 1995. Issues in Rural Development. World Bank. 1996. Harnessing Information for Development: A Proposal for a World Bank Group Strategy. World Bank Discussion Paper #313, p. 40.

3. National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD). 1998. Credit Structure for Rural Development, Annual Report. Mumbai, India. NABARD.

4. P.S.G. Kumar (editor). 2001. Bank Libraries, in Encyclopaedia of Library and Information Science.

5. A. Neelameghan. 1996. Information Support for Socio-Economic Development Planning: General Overview, in Part I, Library Science with a slant to Documentation and Information Studies, 33(3): 101-125.

6. Dataquest. 2000. E-Governance Initiatives of State Governments (January).

7. A. Neelameghan. 1996. Information Support for Socio-Economic Development Planning: General Overview, in Part I, Library Science with a Slant to Documentation and Information Studies, 33(3): 101-125.

By J.P.S. Ahuja, Manager, and Dr. M.R. Rawtani

M.R.Rawtani is associate professor and former head in the Department of Library and Information Science, University of Rajasthan, JAIPUR. He obtained his master’s LLB, master’s of library science, and Ph.D. from Rajasthan University, Jaipur.

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Mr. J. P. S. Ahuja is manager (library) at the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, head office, Bandra Kurla Complex, Mumbai. NABARD is a national-level financial institution catering to agricultural and rural Development Banking in India. He obtained his master’s in statistics from CCS University, Meerut, and MLS from University of Delhi. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in library and information science.

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