BARAMATI 3: The setting: in the heart of rural, central India


Vidya Prathisthan is an educational campus built in the middle of rural
India, amidst some barren terrain and in the midst of what used to be
desolate villages areas. It aims to be “an institution in which knowledge
resides as the most ineresting building block”, as organisers of the
organising panel put it.

“In 1992, (prominent Indian politician who’s often credited with this
success story) Sharad Pawar dared to dream of translating 128 acres of
barren land into a prominent centre of education. We’re always aimed at
taking technology to the grassroots of society. VIIT (Vidya Pratishthan’s
Institute of Informatoin Techology, the local engineering college) was
established in February 2000, six years ago, with an aim to provide
quality
education in information technology and computer science,” said VIIT
governing council chairman Sharad Kulkarni.

He mentioned some of the initiatives taken by this institution in terms of
IT-enabled “affordable” services, interactive-voice recording based bazaar
bhav (market prices information), telebanking, WiLL (or wireless in local
loop) to access the internet, smart cards for rural settings, computer on
wheels, and the local government’s e-services network called Setu.

(Setu is a single window system, which processes the applications received
at the facility center, verifies them and generates certificates or
affidavits. The operator can punch in all details of the applicant,
whenever
he receives an application for a certificate or affidavit.)

Kulkarni narrated that the Baramati Initiatives evolved out of a World
Bank
meeting between the Indian politician and strongman of the Baramati area
Sharad Pawar and the then World Bank’s Watanabe, who was keen on
harnessing
the power of ICTs for development.

Kulkarni also gave an update of earlier conferences at Baramati. This
series
of annual meets, he said, have served as meeting point for four sets of
stake-holders: grassroot workers, the development community, IT
entrepreneurs with technical skills (entrepreneurs and researchers), and
government officials.

In May 2001, the theme of connectivity for the rural poor in India.
Baramati
II came about from May 31 to June 2, 2002, and had among its partners the
Digital Partners and Media Lab Asia. May 2003 saw the third
initiative. It’s
focus was ways in which ICTs are being used to empower the power in a more
sustainable manner. There were presentation of social entrepreneurs.
In May
2004, the focus went onto info-kiosks. For the Fifth Baramati
Initiative in
March 2005, the theme was delivering opportunity — education through
technology.

This year, the conference is focussing on ICTs in agriculture. VIIT
governing council chairman Sharad Kulkarni said: “We’re exploring avenues
through which governments, NGOs, and entrepreneurs can focus on
e-agriculture. Some 65% of India lives in the rural sector, mostly working
in agriculture. But agriculture accounts for hardly 23% of the GDP (gross
domestic product). We need to assist India’s remaining 650 million to
augment their own purchasing power. Indian farmers are sustaining
themselves
on archaic practicses, like their counterparts in various parts of the
globe. It’s essential that they get access to info on weather, production
techniques, availability of seed, cultivation techniques, water usage, new
techniques like biotechnics, and market infrastructure like warehousing.”

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