Circa 2014. 37-year old Sonu Bala was dejected not able to clear an exam for a regular job in the college where she was an ad hoc lecturer. “I wanted a stable income flow, which I was not having,” Sonu says.
She had a Master’s in Computer Application and Education, M.Phil in Computer Applications and M.Ed and started her career as a Computer Science lecturer in Ahir College, Rewari, Haryana, earning ₹15,000 a month.
Though Sonu was better off than many others from Haryana’s interiors, she wanted financial stability. She says: “My husband (an English teacher in a government school) and I felt the need to have financial stability. The fear of not being regularised loomed large.”
The urge to have financial stability, while continuing in her chosen field led Sonu to her current job — Village Level Entrepreneur (VLE). “I applied to the government’s advertisement for Common Service Centre (CSC) schemes under the Digital India Programme,” she says.
Luck favoured Sonu in 2015-16 and today she earns about ₹1 lakh a month. More importantly, she also empowers boys and girls in areas of her expertise and employs them. She runs a successful CSC at Guruwara, Rewari district, Haryana.
A CSC is an IT-enabled front-end delivery point of essential public utility services, social welfare schemes, healthcare, financial, education and agriculture services, apart from a host of B2C services to citizens in the rural and remote areas of the country. Each CSC is run by a VLE. The selection of VLE is done by the Service Centre Agencies (SCAs). Their earnings are completely performance-linked – how much can they deliver.
“When I started off as a VLE, the number of people choosing it was limited and there was an exam which I had to clear,” Sonu says.
Her initial days were not easy. “I would keep sitting at the Centre and looking out of the window for the first customer to walk in. The wait often seemed endless,” she recounts.
The first customer
Interestingly, the first customer was a school student who wanted colour photocopies. The cost at which the service was offered worked, and the word of mouth helped her get more customers, she adds.
DigiPay helped her focus on providing entitlements to senior citizens and those from the marginalised communities. She disbursed pension entitlements worth ₹1.17 lakh through DigiPay in a single day to senior citizens, widows and persons with disabilities in 2018, marking her presence as an entrepreneur.
CSCs have enabled easy access to government services such as issuance of income certificate, pension, scholarship and licence. CSCs are also working as change agents by promoting rural entrepreneurship and catalysing socio-economic change. Importantly, women form a significant percentage of the VLE community.
Sonu’s journey was not so easy. “I faced maximum challenges from the local politicos. Thankfully, the government panchayat office was available. But to get it running was not easy. Then there was an issue of domicile. I belong to the neighbouring village in the same district.”
But as the saying goes, where there is a will there is a way. Being a woman also helped Sonu in gaining the trust of people, particularly elders, women and children. In fact, most of her employees are young boys and girls -- some are taken as part-time employees – on project-specific jobs -- and direct employees are around 10.
Today, her CSC, which works as rural Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), is training young people and creating skilled manpower. “You have to be a mentor, a mother, a sister and a friend to them. It can be emotionally draining as well,” says Sonu.
By successfully managing and doing CSC services in Gurawara, Sonu has not only been able to get a respectable name for herself but also set an example for other women, said a local woman who had come to get her Aadhaar done.
For participating in CSC scheme the basic eligibility requirements include the applicant should be a village youth above 18 years of age, should have passed the 10th level examination from a recognised board as minimum educational qualification, prior knowledge of basic computer skills would be and advantage and should have a valid VID (Virtual ID) and PAN. The infrastructure required is a PC with a licensed operating system of Windows XP-SP2 or above for banking services.
Through her CSC centre, Sonu delivers services on DigiPay, Jeevan Praman, Aadhaar, PMGDISHA (Pradhan Mantri Gramin Digital Saksharta Abhiyan), Banking, District services such as domicile, caste certificate, pension (old age, widow), electricity bill and premium collection and computer education (HSCIT) centre. Now, she is actively participating in the recently launched Ayushman Bharat registration service.
She has also successfully organised various camps for the PMJAY registrations in three villages of Haryana — Guruwara, Jiwra and Hansawas. She has generated 200 PM-JAY golden cards for the poor. In fact, her contribution in financial inclusion is acknowledged by all in the region. She has opened more than 550 bank accounts for poor people, women and those belonging to SC/ST communities.
In PMGDISHA, she has certified 300 candidates in Rewari, Haryana. Recently she has covered five more villages under PMGDISHA: Jiwra, Kanhori, Gadla, Hansawas and Guruwara.
Sonu started Aadhaar work in 2016 and Aadhaar enrolment for senior citizens in Gurawara. These senior citizens were unable to get their pension in the absence of Aadhaar card. At her CSC centre, she is handling most cases of biometric mismatch. Till date, she has completed 10,000 Aadhaar enrolments. She is quick to take any new challenges thrown at her. Be it distributing LED bulbs or setting up sanitary napkin manufacturing unit at the CSC under the Stree Swabhiman project.
Planning CSC Academy
Ask her about her next goal, she says she has bought herself a piece of land and she is going to build a CSC Academy that will impart training and have a crèche or a nursery school for the locals.
Though she continues to face challenges with the government expanding the neighbourhood VLE scheme leading to emergence of many more entrepreneurs like her, she is confident of pulling it off. After all, Sonu says, hard work pays.
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