Roxana, a poor housewife from Saherkhali village near the Bay of Bengal, has been enlisted for maternity allowance.
But in the present coronavirus situation it is very risky, troublesome and time-consuming for her to go to the upazila headquarters, about 12 km away from her village, to draw the allowance.As Roxana needs money, she went to the Saherkhali Union Digital Center next to her house and sought help from its entrepreneur.
Saidul Islam, the entrepreneur of the center, easily withdrew Roxana’s maternity allowance of Tk 30,000 for 6 months through the center’s agent banking.
Roxana could not even dream that she would get this allowance from the government so easily. Thus, many of the 84 maternity beneficiaries of the union this year have easily availed government assistance through agent banking.
Sheikh Khairul Islam of Mithanala village came to know one night that bank recruitment test that he applied for would be held in Dhaka the next morning. Hearing the news, he was perplexed. At that time he may starts for Dhaka by night coach, but his interview card was not printed. Shops are not supposed to be open so late at night in the upazila headquarters, 10 km away from his village.
He was getting a little more upset because his preparation for exams was good. Being disappointed, he packed his bags and called Minhaj Uddin, the entrepreneur of Mithanala Digital Center next to his house.
Realizing the importance, Minhaj came out of the home and opened the center. He downloaded the interview card and printed it. Khairul took the card and starts for Dhaka at midnight. He attended the interview as an officer of Citibank the next day and subsequently got the job.Talking to journalists, Khairul Islam, the bank official, said: “Honestly, if I could not download and print the interview card from the digital center at that night, I might still remain unemployed.”
He continued: “I doubt I may not get such an opportunity in a competitive job market in the future. So I thank the government for taking the initiative to set up a digital center in this remote area.”
Union Digital Center has been established adjacent to Mithanala Union Parishad complex. The center has accessories including a desktop, a laptop computer, internet modem, printer, digital camera, photocopier machine, scanner, multimedia projector and laminating machine.
While visiting the centre recently, this correspondent saw the presence of a significant number of service-seekers, including women, despite the ongoing coronavirus situation.
Rokeya Begum, one of the service-seeker, told the correspondent: “My husband is supposed to send some money from abroad. And I’ve to pay the electricity bill. Earlier I had to go to the upazila headquarters for the purpose. Now that it’s next to the house … I don’t have to go that far, the cost is also less.”
Minhaj Uddin, the founder of the center, said: “At first, few people used to come to the center, as they didn’t aware of the facilities. Now more people know about the facilities here, everyone comes and I try to help the people of the village as much as possible.”
Minhaj also said that many people have registered here for corona vaccine in the last two months. “On an average, 30 people receive services from the center every day, including various government and private recruitment notifications, filling up application forms, registration of births and deaths, and e-mails,” he added.
At Saherkhali Digital Center, entrepreneur Saidul Islam said: “30 kgs of rice per month are allotted for VGD (Vulnerable Group Development) beneficiaries. At this time the beneficiaries have to deposit Tk 200 and after two years, they get the money back with interest.”
“I’m doing this easily from the center, and older women are also very happy,” Saidul said, adding he provides various services to 35-40 people every day.
Hundreds of thousands of people are getting services from a total of 7602 digital centers including 4,581 union digital centers across the country like Saherkhali and Mithanala unions of Mirsarai upazila of Chattogram district.
And through this 15,204 entrepreneurs have been employed, half of them are women. These entrepreneurs earn from Tk 10,000 to Tk 100,000 per month.
There are instances where many women entrepreneurs have improved their condition through employment, and even won the posts of upazila parishad vice-chairman, union parishad chairman and member in their respective areas.
Mithanala Union Parishad Chairman Abul Kashem told BSS that Deputy Commissioners and Upazila Nirbahi Officers supervise all the activities of the digital center.
“But, we the Union Parishad Chairman and Secretaries, also issue various directives to the entrepreneurs and play an enterprising role in solving any problem. This digital center is playing a collaborative role in conducting information technology-related activities of the Union Parishad,” he said.
Kashem said since the entrepreneurs of the digital center are not paid, they earn a certain amount of money by providing public-private services to the people. “The daily expenses of the center – such as utility charges, internet bills, computer maintenance costs, etc. – have to be borne by the entrepreneur,” he said.
The UP chairman said entrepreneurs are also responsible for the maintenance and repair of digital center equipment and they make investment to procure materials as needed.
“Entrepreneurs can take all necessary initiatives to keep the digital center operational, coordinate with the chairman and secretary to raise revenue and sustainability following the advice of the Upazila Nirbahi Officer,” he said, adding the people of his area are enjoying benefits of the digital center.
Jahed Hossain, Entrepreneur of Digital Center and Focal Division of Aspire to Innovate (a2i), Chittagong Division, told BSS that the Digital Center is a unique gift of the present government for the people of remote villages.
He said the people are now getting urban facilities by staying at their villages, and through this, more than 15 thousand youths have been employed.
“If we entrepreneurs work a little harder, we can earn Tk 10-15 thousand in the village, somewhere more. Besides, our self-satisfaction is very important as we are being able to help the common people of the village,” Jahed said.
He, however, underscored the need for taking initiatives to provide agricultural credit to grassroots farmers through agent banking at the Union Digital Center.
“If the system is introduced, the farmers will get more benefits after being relieved of the current delay in taking farm loans,” Jahed said.
About 294 digital services are currently being delivered to the rural people by the union digital center, he said.
These include digital center payment, online banking, overseas job application, vaccine registration, interview card download and print, public exam results, university admission, passport application, visa verification and tracking, online driving license application, birth registration, health information, agricultural information, market information, information about law enforcing agencies, information about admission test in all levels (school, university etc, information related to public examinations,Weather forecasting /natural disaster information, social safety network-VGD, VGF, Kabikha, Kabita – information, land related information- registration, mutation, record, survey, family planning information, Mobile Banking service, employment & job information, voter ID card & election-related various information, information related to all sorts of development activities taken at local & central levels.
Besides, the people can avail services like computer compose, printing, scanning & laminating, photographic service, photocopier service, internet browsing & e-mail service – connectivity with information super highway –, video conferencing, mobile telephone service, tax-related information, income tax, VAT, excise duty, business & recreation information, various types of government forms download and all other information related to government services from the center.
There are also plans to provide agricultural loans through agent banking in the future. At present, 6 million people across the country are getting services from these digital centers every month.
Kamal Hossain Saikat, National Consultant, Implementation Officer, Digital Center Project, told BSS that Digital Center is working to deliver service like ‘Access to Service, Access to Skill and Access to Finance’.
“We’re working on providing 1500 types of services to one crore people every month in the future through the centres,” he said, adding in order to fulfill this goal, one digital store will be set up in each union as well as in every market.
By Devdulal Bhowmik