Indian villages can now be mapped too!

Until a few months back, Puduvayal village in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu, was just another quaint village in the country that was invisible in the virtual world.

Today, the click of a mouse can reveal even its tiniest of details — population data,  number and kinds of factories here, the raw material available in this area and the kind of industries it can support, tourist spots (the location of the 15th century Veerasegara temple can be found here). All thanks to students D Karthikk, R Meenakshi and P K Madhumathi, from A C College of Engineering and Technology, Karaikudi, who created this website.

This has been made possible through the ‘Namma Ooru Website’, NOW, initiative. The initiative was set up by IIT Madras’ Rural Technology and Business Incubator (RTBi) and funded by the National Internet Exchange of India (NiXi). Over the last year, NOW has helped create 55 such villages in the Sivaganaga district, roping in students from 13 colleges in the district, with the support of the villagers.

While Indian villages are a rich repository of native knowledge, culture and local tradition, very little of it is documented. Moreover, with people moving out of villages, this information and knowledge is slowly being lost. NOW websites hosts this information — panchayat details, government schemes, tourist avenues, village history, village map, live village news, photographs, etc. The website can even locate ATMs and other such utilitarian facts.

Far-reaching impact

The scope of NOW goes beyond the above-mentioned. The idea is to use it for e-governance, rural tourism, and networking to promote village entrepreneurship, cottage industries, small and medium enterprises, and women’s self help groups.  The site has been incorporated with a group SMS system, developed by RTBi, which allows a single SMS to be relayed to multiple recipients at the cost of a single SMS. The group SMS system also allows for interaction. “For instance, villagers can instantly be informed of  government schemes being launched, critical weather forecasts, market-related developments that farmers can benefit from, or even a road blockage”, informs Suma Prashant, Vice President, Exploratory Initiatives, IIT Madras.  

The group SMS technology can be streamed instantly on the website and to other people as well, effectively functioning as a live news feed! This also helps non-resident villagers to stay in touch with the happenings in the 55 villages.

Who best to map a village than its own residents ? The RTBi invited college students from these districts to work on these projects. Arts, Science and Engineering colleges were contacted, and student participants were selected. RTBi also trained the village youth on how to create websites. Like C Saravanan, who works at the Mahibalanpatti village post office. “Our village has no Internet access, but we are delighted that our village is now visible to the world,” says Saravanan. To create the website, Saravanan travelled a 10-mile distance to Tirupattur, the nearest town with Internet access.

“Over a two-day workshop, participants were trained in website creation, developing of templates and modules and information uploading. We also trained them to use data-logger devices (a pocket-size device that maps GPS coordinates of geographical entities — man-made or natural) and in using the interactive group SMS technology developed by RTBi, which allows informative SMS messages to be streamed instantly on the website”, says RTBi project associate Vasumathi. Website information, display and other elements were created in three months. After five reviews, information was uploaded. Incidentally, the village maps created by NOW have now been imported on Google maps too.

“Ideally, we would like to cover all the villages in the country, if we get the funding for it”, says Suma. RTBi is also exploring ways for long-term sustainability of these websites, exploring advertisement revenue and other options.  The NOW websites are being maintained by students in some cases and panchayat officials, currently.  

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