Jharkhand’s mobile radio is connecting rural citizens to utilities and entertainment

Om Pandey of Dihira village, Palamu district in Jharkhand, gives a missed call on a toll free number 0800097458. He gets a call back immediately. There have been three deaths due to malaria in his village, he talks into the phone. His message is automatically recorded. A moderator with the Jharkhand Mobile Radio in Ranchi validates the message and puts it on the mobile radio network called Goonj. The message is conveyed to the concerned health authorities who promptly send medical assistance, an ambulance and equipment for fumigation.

Akhtar Hussain from nearby Chuara village in Jharkhand dials the same number from his mobile phone to voice his grievance against banking officials of his area who were harassing villagers for simple services such as opening a bank account or withdrawal of money. A field representative of JMR coveys the complaint to the concerned authorities and the issue is quickly addressed.

Prompt action is taken when the worker of a school airs his grievance from his mobile phone to the network about non payment of salaries.

Another complaint on the network about some UID officials taking bribe to register people is conveyed to the collector that results in action against the corrupt officials.

JMR is like an audio version of a Facebook or a Twitter on mobile for rural folk. It is a kind of citizen radio-over-phone platform launched by Gram Vaani, a social technology company based in IIT Delhi. At present this radio on mobile phone is catering to villagers in 18 of the 24 districts of Jharkhand, including the remotest areas. It has field workers and volunteers in some district, while in others it depends on the networking with various voluntary organisations and other agencies active in the area.

According to one of the founders of Gram Vaani, Aditeshwar Seth, their objective was to put in place a financially viable system of communication to help people at the bottom of the pyramid.

Government functionaries and other stakeholders are also using the JMR platform to spread awareness about welfare schemes for the villagers. It is being used for making local announcements on developmental and cultural events, fairs and local functions. In the capacity of an interactive medium, JMR also receives feedback on the running of various government schemes like MNREGA, UAID, RTE and PDS.

Callers and listeners of JMR can actively take part in discussions on various issues whether it is delivery systems of various government schemes, social issues, or a better understanding of agricultural and health practices.

According to Gram Vaani, there are 2000 calls every day and the JMR reaches out to 20,000 callers. Almost 90 per cent of the content is generated from within the community.

Various awareness campaigns are also being launched through JMR. In February, a 10-day campaign on migration from rural areas of Jharkhand was taken up. The JMR team and their volunteers collected true life-stories and experiences from migrants through interviews and focused group discussions. JMR also carried campaigns on conservation of water bodies, role of self-help groups, HIV AIDS and closing the gender gap, with the help of its partners.

Besides all the serious business on this radio on mobile, folk songs by women in the village are aired and there is also a slot for children. Gram Vaani has partnered with Sesame Workshop to bring Galli Galli Sim Sim, the children’s programme on Jharkhand Mobile Radio. One can listen to chirpy Chamki and her friends or a child who wants to simply recite a poem.

There is a special segment assigned for each day, ranging from governance to education to cultural issues.

Seth says Gram Vaani is all set to launch similar radio on mobile phones for the seven North Eastern states headquartered in Assam and one for Uttarakhand soon.