Even the US has not taken technology and connectivity to remote
corners in the way India has to deliver social services and
empower people, President Barack Obama remarked Sunday after a
sneak peek into some citizen engagement programmes.
Chicago-based tech evangelist Sam Pitroda, who is Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh's adviser, put together the Open Government and
Citizen Engagement Programme, including a video conference with
farmers of Rajasthan village, said the president was impressed by
India's progress in bridging the digital divide.
Obama said he was amazed the way information technology revolution
was taking shape in rural India, how citizens were interacting
virtually with local government bodies using internet and
accessing information and services such as tele-medicine and
"Many of these innovations are because of public and private
collaborations between the US and India," Obama said, giving the
example of the green revolution in the 1970s where scientists of
the two sides collaborated for better seeds, making India
self-sufficient in food production.
Large screens were installed at the St. Zavier's College here and
at Kanpura, some 25 km from Ajmer - a town famous for the shrine
of Sufi saint Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chisti - for those two sides
to "meet and interact" with each other virtually.
Incidentally, both Pitroda, who put together the programme, and
the moderator stationed at the village, young Minister of State
for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot, have
been educated in the US.
Presently an advisor to the Indian prime minister on public
information, infrastructure and innovations, Pitroda has studied
at the Illinois Institute of Technology, while Pilot is an alumnus
of the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.
Kanpura was chosen not just because it falls in the constituency
of Pilot, but also because a pilot project there has connected it
with optic fibre network for online access to land records and
The village chief Jagdish Bairwa, 26, holds a degree in mechanical
Pitroda told the US president that India, a country of 1.17
billion people, today boasted some 700 million mobile phones and
had this ambition of reaching broadband to each of its 250,000
local village bodies by 2012.
"This will not only help reach government services online like
land records and birth certificates, but also empower people,"
Pitroda said, adding the plan also included networking some
100,000 research institutions.
The US president was visibly pleased when the village local body
secretary Shiv Shankar said how his complaint about a faulty
handpump over internet was rectified almost immediately - in a
departure from the weeks that it would have otherwise taken in the
Similarly, healthcare worker Sunita Rathore explained how she
could access digitised medical records of the villagers,
especially children, to plan their vaccination schedules, with
some children in the backdrop.
"It doesn't look like he was that happy to get the shots though,"
the President said, referring to one of the children. "It's OK.
Malia and Sasha don't like getting shots either," he said
referring to his daughters.
These apart, a student of management, Vipul Johar, told the US
president how he was pursuing further studies via internet by
downloading course material, sparing him the need to travel 25 km
to Ajmer for the direct-contact classes.
Tonusree Basu of the New Delhi-based PRS Legislative Research that
works on governance and accountability and had Obama come and
visit their stand, said: "There were about 10 booths. The
president visited each of them and spent about three-four minutes
"He interacted with representatives of the organisations and
listened to the kind of work that each one does," she added.
Besides PRS, NGO Pratham which works on education, Association for
Democratic Reforms and The Hunger Project were among ten
organisations that participated in the programme. The Ministry of
Panchayati Raj and Rural Development also took part in it.