Statewide cyber kiosks may come a cropper in MP

By : |January 18, 2001 0

BHOPAL: Whatever happened to the information kiosks that were supposed to
have come up in Madhya Pradesh? Things have really failed to take off after the
government announced the signing of a MoU between Reliance Industries and the
Madhya Pradesh State Industrial Development Corporation (MPSIDC) in June with
great fanfare. The MoU envisages the setting up of a statewide network of cyber

It is said that even the agreement for promoting a joint venture (JV) between
Reliance and MPSIDC is yet to be finalized by the state government. In such a
scenario, there is every possibility that the targeted 500 kiosks by March this
year may never materialize. Under the project, 7,800 kiosks were to be set up by
March 2002. In that eventuality, the government’s plan to replicate the highly
acclaimed Gyandoot e-governance model of Dhar district throughout the state may
come undone.

However, MPSIDC managing director S R Mohanty allays fears saying, "The
project might be held up for a couple of months. We’re just being
thorough." Others, however, are not so sure.

According to sources, the Industries, Law and Finance departments are
scrutinizing the joint venture agreement. While it seems the state government is
deliberately going slow, many industry watchers say the caution is misplaced.
Critics say the state government should act proactively after pioneering the
concept of e-governance with Gyandoot. The MoU provides for five per cent equity
to MPSIDC in the JV. The corporation will not invest but secure clearances for
Reliance to lay a 4,500-km optical fiber cable (OFC) network that would connect
the cyber kiosks.

The network will be a part of the nation-wide OFC backbone of Reliance
Telecom’s national long-distance (NLD) mesh that would eventually cater to its
convergence plans. Company sources say 400 km of cable has been laid since its
NLD project was given the go-ahead in October last.

Shekhar Singh, the Reliance man in Bhopal, refused comment. The central
location of Madhya Pradesh makes it crucial to the NLD plans of any telecom
company. Besides, Reliance is expected to make a near-sure foray into basic
telecom services in the MP Telecom Circle when the Center allows a free run. The
same network could service those operations as well. "Kiosks on the network
would have been a mere-add-on," says a Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. official.

Officials say it was a cozy tie-up. The cash-strapped state government got
Reliance to invest in its e-governance plans. With a near-empty treasury and a
can-do gambit, Reliance had a government agency getting the notoriously thorny
right-of-way clearances to lay the cables. It would eventually give Reliance a
head start over other telecom operators in NLD and basic telephony operations in
the state. While Reliance’s priorities have shifted to NLD, the state government
is left completely unprepared for e-governance.

No exercise is currently underway to identify which citizen services would go
online through the statewide Intranet of the Reliance network. The exercise, it
seems, has lost its way ever since some key IT-savvy bureaucrats were shifted to
the newly carved state of Chhattisgarh.

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