A Company With Rural Bias

For many years, the AGM report of ITC has been an educating document for all managers. Since Deveshwar started its rural initiatives with e-choupal as main theme, I look for this report to find out what progress the company has made on this revolution initiative to meet its social responsibility. This year report has the progress report on Choupal Saagars too.

The ITC e-choupal as a village digital kiosk with a human interface within walking distance from the farm gate is supplemented through physical infrastructure – the ITC Choupal Saagar – which functions as a hub for a cluster of villages within tractor able distance. These made-to-design hubs also serve as warehouses, and as rural hypermarkets for a variety of goods. In fact, the e-Choupal infrastructure provides an efficient delivery channel for rural development and an instrument for converting village populations into vibrant economic organisations.

This infrastructure project now comprises about 6000 installations covering nearly 36,000 villages and serving over 3.5 million farmers. Over the next 7-10 years ITC envisions to create a network of 20,000 e-choupals and over 700 Choupal Saagars entailing investments of nearly Rs.5000 crores, thereby extending coverage to 100,000 villages – representing one sixth of rural India. This networked rural delivery system can contribute significantly towards addressing the ‘knowledge deficit’ highlighted so forcefully by the National Commission on Farmers. It can also meaningfully complement the Bharat Nirman initiative of the government, towards truly securing a ‘new deal for rural India’. The latest recognition for the transformational impact of this pioneering initiative is the Stockholm Challenge Award 2006.

While 10 Choupal Saagars are already operational, 9 more are in an advanced stage of completion. Another 40 Choupal Saagars will scale the rural retailing initiative up in the next 12 to 18 months. This hub and spoke model is being energised at the village level through sanchalaks and samyojaks drawn from the farming community, who represent the extended enterprise.

I dream of a Choupal Saagar at every 200 km on GQ and E-W and N-S corridors Expressway and it must serve as rural hub for all the villages in a circle of 100 kms. It will buy all that the people in the area will produce and sell to them all- products and services that the people in the area need. The scope of and facilities at Choupal Saagar can be expanded in all possible manners. It can network with all rural initiatives such as Project Jyoti of Microsoft India or MS Swaminathan Research foundation, SEWA in UP or Computers@Classrooms programme of Infosys.

As it appears, ITC has not yet covered Bihar and Orissa in its programme. Why should not it use some of its retired employees of the areas to take the lead and implement the projects of e-choupals and Choupal Saagars?

I have, time and again, expressed my views that other companies with rural projects may join these initiatives of ITC, so that this proven model covers 100% of the rural villages. CII and Assocham may coordinate with the other big companies that are its members. Even the projects of setting up Village Knowledge Centres connected to the Village Resource Centres of the central government can be a part of e-choupal and Choupal Saagar to get the best from the limited resources available for the rural India.

Rural business hubs hold a lot of promise

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The amazing success story of K B Chandrasekhar

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