K. Manikandan

RASI Centres had virtually eliminated corruption

Women SHGs running RASI Centres at a few locations forced to shut shop

Regular meetings held to review progress, status of applications abandoned

TAMBARAM: An e-governance initiative to help residents of rural pockets get their job done without meeting the staff of various government departments is on the verge of collapse.

RASI (Rural Access to Services through Internet) Centres, as the facilities under the initiative are known, are awaiting a miracle for revival and continue to be of help to people living in villages, particularly the poor and semi-literate.

It was in 2001 that the State Government’s Information Technology Department established a Sustainable Access in Rural India Centre in Melur, Madurai district.

Initiated as a pilot project, its objectives were to bridge the digital divide, establish rural connectivity and help spread information about social development to people. In July 2002, it was extended to other districts, including Kancheepuram and renamed RASI.

In the St. Thomas Mount Panchayat Union (St. Thomas Mount Block), RASI Centres were opened in Kottivakkam, Moovarasampettai, Kovilambakkam, Medavakkam and Tiruneermalai panchayats and Sholinganallur and Peerkankaranai town panchayats. Except centres at Kovilambakkam (located in Nanmangalam village) and Peerkankaranai, all have closed down.

When the facilities were started in 2003-2004, some were run by trained women self-help groups and others by individuals. Applicants seeking various certificates had to visit the centre and sign relevant application forms.

RASI staff would get the signatures of the government official concerned and certificates would be delivered to the applicants in three days. As applications sent through RASI Centres were given top priority, people received documents easily, at nominal charges fixed by the government.

The setting up of RASI Centres in the seven locations virtually eliminated harassment and corruption in government offices as it avoided the people-staff interface.

People also used the facilities to send e-mails to the Kancheepuram Collector about the poor condition of civic amenities, law and order problems or about any other issue.

As the Collector personally checked official mails more than once a day, instructions would be given immediately to his subordinates. Thus the e-governance project became a hit among people, much to the annoyance of government staff, elected representatives and political bigwigs.

Some of the individuals who ran these now defunct centres told The Hindu on condition of anonymity that RASI played a considerable role in improving the quality of life in some rural pockets as people had direct access to the Collector. Earlier, regular meetings were held to review the progress and status of applications sent through RASI Centres.

With such meetings abandoned now, these centres too have died a gradual death. The women SHGs running RASI Centres at a few locations were forced to shut shop.

The RASI Centres, which processed more than 150 applications a month, have begun receiving less than one-tenth of the number.

Staff indifference

Indifference to the scheme by staff and lack of monitoring by the government machinery ensured the collapse of a pioneering e-governance initiative, they complained.

They urged the Kancheepuram district administration to call for a review meeting and issue instructions to field staff to shore up this initiative.