The Telegraph
Monday , December 14 , 2009
Since 1st March, 1999
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Illiteracy hinders e-steps

Patna, Dec. 13: Gone are the days of typewriters; at the state secretariat now, it’s the world of dedicated software to reach the grassroots.

Nitish Kumar — being an electrical engineer who knows the power of computers — has stepped up the government’s Vasudha programme to link all the state panchayats through the Net. The aim of e-governance is to allow panchayat representatives to access information related to farming, education, health and various schemes for rural people and disseminate them.

“But these measures are like offering a mirror to a blind person,” said senior Congress leader Premchand Mishra, adding: “Most of the elected panchayat representatives are illiterate. Forget internet or e-governance, they are not even acquainted with Hindi or English letters. How can these illiterate people use computers?”

“The government should have first launched efforts to remove illiteracy and educate people at the grassroots level,” he said.

People in remote areas are supposed to use panchayat servers to lodge complaints and express grievances through the Net for top-level officials concerned to access and take expeditious action.

Mishra’s concern does not appear to be wide off the mark with 25 per cent of the state’s elected representatives at the grassroots level being illiterate, according to the government’s estimate.

The Nitish government launched the campaign to educate the elected representatives by organising literacy camps in all the 38 districts about a couple of years ago. But the ambitious plan has not even taken off in at least 18 districts and Rs 31 lakh for the purpose has still been lying unused, sources said.

To the chagrin of the officials manning the special literacy campaign, the elected representatives did not even turn up at camps in Darbhanga, Buxar, East Champaran, West Champaran, Saharsa, Supaul and Madhepura districts.

“It is a difficult situation. The government is equipping the panchayats with the means and mechanism for people to use and get benefited. But the people, particularly the elderly, are not ready to learn. It is the problem of the mindset, which will not change overnight,” said Awadhnath Tiwary, a former English teacher of Dronacharya High School, Done, in Siwan district.

The experts find large-scale illiteracy at the grassroots level in the genesis of the problem.

The literacy level in the state is about 47 per cent. The experts say that given the criteria to become an elected representative, the state is bound to have a vast number of illiterates in panchayat bodies.

“The government should give priority to opening schools, equipping them with quality teachers and carrying out sustained campaign to educate the masses at the grassroots level before going overboard with e-governance and internet,” said another village school teacher, who did not wish to be named.

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