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Educating rural communities to be info-savvy

Gone are the days when villagers across Zhemgang Dzongkhag had to travel for days to the dzongkhag headquarters or Panbang, sometimes through deep forests, where they could have possible encounters with wild predators or other such dangers, just to get a document photocopied.

Since Gewog Connectivity Centers (CCs) were established in every gewog of the remote Kheng region, basic Government to Citizens (G2C) services are now easily accessible to the locals.

These include online services like census registration and banking services plus loan repayment and acquiring loans.

Much expenditure is saved through the CCs.

A community center in a remote gewog in Zhemgang

Back then farmers had to sacrifice a day or two at work to travel and get work done. People used to spend at least Nu 3,000 for a single service.

“We had to reserve a vehicle and spend on food while travelling,” said Tsondru, 58, from Pantang. Other times, works were delayed during summer when journeys used to be arduous through slippery and risky trails.

However, now, lengthy procedures involving paperwork have been digitalized making it less intense on farmers’ purses and energy.

“We feel blessed with the CC reaching our gewog,” affirmed 60-year-old Sangay Rinchen from Bjoka gewog.

Bhutan Development Bank Limited (BDBL) after taking over Bhutan Post as the service provider has opened CCs in every gewog across the nation.

Currently Gewog CCs provide services like photocopy, photo-printing, lamination, and other G2C services at decent rates. Prices for the services range from Nu 3 for black and white photocopy to Nu 70 for color photo print on glossy paper. However, for photocopy, color photo print on glossy paper and color or black and white printout, the people have to produce their own paper.

The centers also provide financial services like disseminating basic information about different kinds of loans, the modality of availing them, interest rates and the possible repayment modes.

Apart from these, CCs provide services like applying for security clearance, birth and death registrations, and printing license documents.

The centers also facilitate villagers to apply for loans. It takes in applications and forwards them to the nearest branch office of the bank.

Villagers mostly visit CCs during the annual census. Other days, the CCs usually receive up to 20 visitors a day.

However, CC operators feel that more awareness needs to be created on the services the centers provide. Operators said that some farmers are difficult to deal with because it is tough to convince them especially on the service charges and loan repayment processes.

Hiccups that gewog authorities face after CCs were opened, according to Nangkor Gup Dorji Wangchuk, are that people feel the authorities should provide stationeries like paper to make work easier.

Earlier, the gewog administration used to provide services now done by CCs therefore this sense of entitlement, he said.

“They feel we are neglecting their needs and blame us for having to pay. Villagers would prefer free services any day but they have to understand it does not work that way,” said the Gup. “However, we have been trying to create awareness on CCs.”

CC operator in Bjoka gewog, Pema Zangpo, said: “The villagers are a hard-to-convince lot. They think we will misuse their money.”

Goshing’s CC operator, Chengala, said that since a center was opened in 2015, many people have benefitted.

“Sometimes they complain when we encounter problems such as interruptions in services but after we explain, they understand. That’s the only challenge,” he said.

Lone CC operators also face several challenges while discharging their duties during busy hours.

“Since all G2C services, loans and printing services are provided from a single office, having at least two operators on the scene would enhance efficiency,” said Limapong Tshogpa, Sonam Zangpo.

However, for the very remote villages where CCs have not yet reached, residents are waiting to reap the benefits. On the need to take CC services to the chiwog level, Buli Tshogpa, Kinley Wangchuk, said that since most people have to anyhow visit the gewog for official purposes, they would benefit by using the gewog CCs.

“With suggestions from local leaders, they can do only the required work without spending extra. But taking the services to the chiwogs would be even better,” said Kinley Wangchuk.

Some local leaders were of the view that since BDBL operates the service, the bank should shoulder the mandate of introducing services at the chiwog level.

“We are ever-ready to avail CC services. I think a budget should be allocated for chiwogs,” said Bardo Gup, Kinzang Jurmey.

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