An ambitious e-governance project for rural areas, Bharat Nirman Rajiv Gandhi e-Seva Kendra, was launched by Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in the presence of a large number of villagers here on Thursday. Mr. Gehlot termed the Rs.500-crore project as the first step towards making Rajasthan a fully “electronic State”.

A follow-up on the previous month’s announcement during the golden jubilee celebrations of Panchayati Raj in India at Nagaur in the presence of Congress president Sonia Gandhi on empowerment of villages, the new Rajiv Gandhi e-kendras are meant to educate as well as act as service providers for the rural areas.

Under this, each of the 249 blocks in Rajasthan would have one kendra which would facilitate rural citizens in payment of various types of bills, in making rail reservations and in procuring copies of birth/death/caste certificates without “usual harassment and delay”.

The significance of the event—which was purposely scheduled to coincide with the birth anniversary of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi - held in this tehsil town 65 km from the State capital, was obvious not only from the turnout of the villagers but also the presence of Union Rural Development and Panchayati Raj Minister C. P. Joshi and Union Minister of State for Information Technology Sachin Pilot besides three ministers of the Gehlot Cabinet. The area falls under the parliamentary constituency of Mr. Pilot.

Prof. Joshi in his address hinted that the scheme could be extended to the entire country under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) now named after Mahatma Gandhi. “Each of the panchayats can have such a kendra,” he said, adding, “Our efforts are to empower the panchayats. The State and the Centre are now taking many steps towards this.”

Mr. Pilot hailed the e-kendras as models for bridging the gap between rural and urban India.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Gehlot announced that his government proposes to have master plans for the villages so that development could be carried out in a systematic manner. The master plans for the villages would be made keeping in mind the growth potential of the area for the next half-century.

Mr. Gehlot said the Rajiv Gandhi e-seva kendras were linked to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The State is making use of the funds from MGNREGS as well as assistance from NABARD to create the centres which would also function as hubs of e-learning, video conferencing and as computerised work stations. They would have the services of EDUSAT and GRAMSAT, he said.

The Chief Minister hinted at the future role of funds from MGNREGS in rural development. “Funds are no problem, but it is for you to ensure that there is no corruption under NREGS,” he said.

He promised 50 days’ additional employment to those in the areas affected by drought conditions besides the mandatory 100 days’ work for a year under the job scheme.