Sheltered beneath a canvas sheet to escape the blistering sun, miles from any roads or power lines, a group of Indian children huddle around a laptop and experience the internet for the very first time.
The remote wi-fi connection is powered by CSC Wi-Fi Choupal bringing the digital world to around 200 families living in the hilly area of Jirania Block of West Tripura, where they work eight months a year in extreme conditions. This area lies in a geographically disadvantageous location, as only one major highway, the National Highway 8, connects it with the rest of the country. Five mountain ranges—Boromura, Atharamura, Longtharai, Shakhan and Jampui Hills—run north to south, with intervening valleys. Due to its geographical isolation, economic progress in the state is hindered. Poverty and unemployment continue to plague the region, which has a limited infrastructure. Most residents are involved in agriculture and allied activities. However, due to hilly terrain and forest cover, only 27 per cent of the land is available for cultivation. Farmers cultivate rice, potato, sugarcane, mesta, pulses, jute, Jackfruit and pineapple.
These farmers and migrant workers live without electricity and other amenities while their children attend school in mud huts or tin sheds where they lack even the most basic learning supplies. Bringing the Internet through CSC Wi-Fi Choupal to this isolated region is no small feat, with communities scattered over hundreds of square kilometres.
The VLE Lintu Debbarma through CSC WiFi Choupal, provided FTTH connections in Briddhanagar, Harijoy Chowdhury Para, Radhanagar and West Champamura village panchayats. Then CSC team hit the road armed with laptops and printers. The VLE visits each of the region’s makeshift schools approximately once per week, teaching the students how to use technology to access the internet and learn digital skills. The students are eager to learn, crowding around to watch online videos about maths and science.
“The internet through CSCWiFi Choupal has made learning much more fun and engaging for all the children. They now have so much to learn and explore,” says VLE.
The youngsters are not the only ones discovering the joys of the web. This service has also helped their parents – migrants who make the annual journey to the hilly area for work – access government welfare schemes online, VLE said. “We have connected around 200 families to internet and digital learning in this remote region. Internet access is improving education in remote areas, enabling financial independence through e-banking, enabling people to demand more transparent governments and even driving better diagnosis and treatment of illness.”
Engagement in the digital society is widely assumed to be ubiquitous, yet amid a phenomenal pace of change stubborn social, economic and territorial divides remain between those who are digitally connected and those who are not.
VLE Lintu Debbarma says, “In many remote rural areas and the small businesses located therein are lagging behind in the digital race; at least in part due to inadequacies in digital infrastructure. Territorial digital infrastructure divides compound other more nuanced reasons for a lack of digital engagement. Complex combinations of personal attributes, for example, age, income levels, digital skills, and perceived benefits of Internet use, influence the ability of individuals, households and businesses to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the CSC WiFi Choupal enabled digital economy.”
Empowering local entrepreneurs
VLE says, “Micro-businesses are particularly important in rural communities of West Tripura. These micro-businesses are enabling rural development and economic growth. Increasingly, businesses are required to engage with the digital economy and many attempt to capitalise on supply and demand side advantages the Internet offers. Advantages of the Internet to small rural businesses centre on opportunities to reduce the friction of distance and to maximise growth potential.”
In addition to business development and efficiency, wider issues of social support, the availability of information and resources and delivery of government services increasingly necessitate Internet access.
CSC WiFi Choupal is transforming the remote villages in Tripura. Adoption of broadband technology through CSC WiFi Choupal is not only a guarantee of rural economic development but also a panacea for regional and rural innovation in West Tripura.