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A compendium on rural India

Wednesday February 27, 2013 10:34:44 AM, Vishnu Makhijani, IANS

New Delhi: It's a labour of love that's taken 10 years and resulted in a 27-volume encyclopaedia on the demography, economy and social structure of rural India to aid the development process. It complements a similar work on the country's towns and cities.

"Tens of thousands of crores (of rupees) are spent on rural development in the country. This work will serve as a comprehensive one-point source of information on our 6,311 community development blocks, and 240,561 gram panchayats will increase the effectiveness of this investment," N. Seshagiri, who founded the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and served as special secretary in the Planning Commission, told IANS in an e-mail interview.

"Survey of Rural India - A Comprehensive study of Gram Panchayats and Community Development Blocks" (Rs.90,000/Gyan Publishing House) follows "Encyclopedia of Cities and Towns of India".

Earlier, the information was scattered over hundreds of sources including a large number of private organizations like NGOs, private charitable societies and companies, in addition to different departments and attached offices of the central and state governments and district administrations, census offices at the states and the centre etc. Also, there was a need to validate some of the data from these sources.

According to Seshagiri, the central and state governments and district administrations, as well as administrators of government schemes and projects and all decision-making levels "would benefit from the more than 200 information descriptors for each city and town of urban India and more than 175 information descriptors for each community development block (CDB) of rural India".

"It would be of particular use to those making studies on grass-root level planning and local policy making at the CDB, taluka, district and state level. Not only the planning of state and national schemes and projects but also their implementation will be better facilitated for increasing the effectiveness of investments," Seshagiri added.

Exactly how would this happen?

"Grass-root level planning requires information not only at the CDB level but also upwards up to the state level so that inter-se priorities can be established between towns or between CDBs. With better micro-level information across towns or CDBs, the state government can make better investment decisions and better need-based policies.

Similarly it can facilitate better need-based investment decisions by the central government by evolving better inter-se priorities between states. The private companies, with a nationwide presence like the telecom, infrastructure and agro-based companies, banks, retail chains & transporters can make better location decisions as well as make better marketing plans," Seshagiri explained.

The encyclopaedia would also be of "immense help" to universities and institutes, media houses, researchers, writers, scholars, policymakers, planners, administrators, political parties, librarians and multi-location entrepreneurs "and other stakeholders in the development of the nation who want to use information about the socio-economic, political and demographic structures of India," Seshagiri said.

As for the future, Seshagiri said the long-term goal was to bring about a one-point uniform data source of all the 54 volumes to become query-based information system through the internet and organized like some of the products.

Efforts are under way for letting the form itself evolve digitally over time so that future editions become more and more computer query-based databases," Seshagiri said.

With a doctorate in computers and communication from the Indian Institute of Science, Seshagiri was a scientist at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research till 1971. He then joined the government as director in the Electronics Commission, where he set up the NIC in 1976 and headed it till he retired in 2000.

He was an elected governor of the International Council for Computer Communication at Geneva and a nominated governor of the Unesco Institute for IT in Education at Moscow.

Seshagiri was given a Lifetime Achievement Award in IT by Dataquest and in Electronics by ELCINA. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2005.

(Vishnu Makhijani can be contacted at




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