Almost six months since the byelection to the Thrikkakara Assembly constituency, an Akshaya entrepreneur in the city continues to wait for payment of nearly ₹1.50 lakh towards organising web casting in 50 booths.
The entrepreneur running an Akshaya centre for the past 12 years had arranged 50 staff and as many webcams and laptops on borrowed money. “Eventually, I had to borrow again to repay it. Had I received the payment in time, I would have made at least a nominal profit,” the entrepreneur said.
As the Akshaya project, which gradually metamorphosed from digital literacy to citizen service centres, celebrates its 20th anniversary with Ministers paying glowing tributes, Akshaya entrepreneurs continue to face an uphill task in running the centres viably notwithstanding the increased acceptance among the public.
“Setting up an Akshaya centre entails an initial investment of around ₹3 lakh to ₹4 lakh. But there is hardly any financial support from the government. The user fee for various services is ridiculously low that employing enough staff and meeting the various operational costs continue to be a big challenge,” said Sini George, an Akshaya entrepreneur whose centre at Alinchuvadu was adjudged the best in the State in urban areas.
For instance, Akshaya centres continue to charge ₹3 for a printed and scanned copy with the only rate revision in between coming four years ago when it was revised by a mere ₹1. This despite the fact that the cost of printer ink alone has increased manyfold over the years.
The average user fee for services ranges from a mere ₹5 to ₹80, while a single error in the application form for Aadhaar card slaps an entrepreneur with a fine of ₹10,000.
“A monthly honorarium for entrepreneurs has been a longstanding demand. The inaction against mushrooming private common service centres also continues to take its toll on Akshaya centres,” said Saljith P.R., secretary, Akshaya Welfare Association.
Akshaya project authorities admit to challenges posed by unauthorised common service centres and the need for user fee revision, which remains under the consideration of the State government.
“Such centres come up in violation of a Government Order not to allow them in the vicinity of Akshaya centres. Though local bodies have been asked to take action against such centres set up by misusing licences issued by them, it had little impact. We can at best lodge police complaints wherever we notice misuse of Akshaya brand and logo,” said Vishnu K. Mohan, district project manager in-charge of Ernakulam.
Ernakulam has 252 Akshaya centres, out of which 11 have received ISO certification for quality service. There is a proposal for setting up another 56 centres in the district.