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Connecting rural India to the world

 It is an ambitious vision: all villages in the country, connected to the world via technology. Village knowledge centres (VKCs) -- a dream that former President A P J Abdul Kalam shared with IIT alumni -- are gaining steam. While the country has 50 VKCs, only one has been functioning in Karnataka. The number is now all set to jump. 

          A knowledge centre -- which provides access to books, internet and training in different streams to villagers -- has been in place at Ittamadu, a small village 50 km from Bangalore, for three years. Now, neighbouring villages are demanding VKCs of their own. IIT-Bombay alumni, along with local gram panchayats, are planning to expand the service to 10 VKCs by March 2009. A concert by alumni from across the country will be held in Bangalore, on November 8, to raise funds for this. 

  Typically, a VKC operates in a small room provided by the gram panchayat. A library and 3-4 computers are set up. Services include internet banking and reservation of tickets. Children can access education-related software and the library. Information useful to farmers -- like new methods, best practices, employment opportunities and prices of agricultural products -- is also provided. 

 The Ittamadu VKC was a pilot project set up in 2005. The computers and library were provided by IIT-Bombay alumni. Principal secretary V P Baligar, an alumnus, believes VKCs are a successful model. "I was involved in setting up the first VKC at Ittamadu. There is a great demand for them in other villages as well. We plan to set up nine more centres. Alumni are trying their best to raise funds,' he says. 

 Eight hundred students of five primary shools in the area have benefited from the Ittamadu centre. Many children visit the VKC to use computers. 

The centre was proposed as a joint venture between the panchayat, villagers and alumni. "There had to be a sense of ownership amongst villagers. So the panchayat provided us with a small hut that has now transformed into a proper room. They provided the salary for the keeper and paid for maintenance. We involved the villagers to ensure we had everything they wanted. To set up more VKCs, we need money. Funding has to be relatively continuous so the project is sustained in many places,' says Srikanth Rao, treasurer of the IIT Bombay Alumni Association, Bangalore chapter. 

 The nine proposed VKCs, four of which will be in Ittamadu gram panchayat and five in the neighbouring Melgopahalli gram panchayat, will require a capital expenditure of Rs 12.5 lakh and revenue expenditure of Rs 7.5 lakh. The alumni also plan to expand computer-training centres. Rao said the Nemmadi common services centre will help raise funds for the VKC. 

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