Chironjibai and her husband belong to one of the most primitive Sahariya tribes in Rajasthan. Both are daily wagers and dependent to a large extent on the work they get under the rural job guarantee scheme MNREGA. Chironjibai was entitled to ₹700 for her work, but the business correspondent handed her only ₹500 from the amount deposited in her account.

Being illiterate, she approached Laxmi Narayan Yadav, who runs the Community Information Resource Centre (CIRC), the flagship programme of the Digital Empowerment Foundation, in Bakanpura, Baran district. Yadav found out from the MNREGA site that the amount credited to her account was ₹700. He downloaded a copy of the record and gave it to Chironjibai. When confronted with the proof, the business correspondent was forced to give her the remaining ₹200. Now, everyone in her village and the nearby ‘dhanis’ confirm from the CIRC about the payments due to them, to make sure they are not cheated.

Daily wager Pushpabai of Jagdevpura village, in Kishanganj block, had to get the first instalment of ₹17,400 for constructing a house under the Indira Awas Yojana; but all she got was ₹10,000 and that too not in one go. The designated business correspondent had pocketed the rest. Again, it was the CIRC that helped her find out and highlighted the issue through the local media. An FIR was lodged against the offender.

Yadav says the tribal people in this backward region are not aware of their rights and entitlements. He was in Delhi recently to receive the CIRC award 2016-17 for his exemplary work at the grassroots in the most challenging circumstances. Thanks to his effort, nearly 1,000 young men and women, students and anganwadi workers have become computer literate.

One of the young men, Om Prakash, who for a year spent hours at the centre passionately learning about computers, has gone on to open a computer kiosk. He earns a living making data entry, taking printouts for customers and, with an e-mitra ID, he now helps villagers apply online for ration cards and other documents.

Click for your entitlements

There are 170 CIRCs across rural India equipped with computers, printers, projectors and scanners. Their aim is to empower communities in backward areas with information and capacity-building through digital literacy and other employable and entrepreneurship skills.

Dr Shahid Siddiqui, who is leading the CIRC project across 22 States, says lack of Internet connectivity is the biggest problem.

“Mobile penetration is far better and we are able to get 2G bandwidth, but one has to mix and match with ‘wireless for community’ (an initiative of the Digital Empowerment Foundation and the Internet Society). However, this requires setting up towers, which is costly,” he says. Corporate sponsorship, or government support, or bandwidth from optical fibre at the panchayat bhawans can help lower the cost, but these are not easy to get, he adds.

He feels that in villages where there is no electricity, no internet and people have no money to put in the bank, the focus should be on digital technology, whereby a farmer can access agriculture research to increase his production, rather than on digital financial services.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Delhi