CSC: Taking brands to the last mile customers in rural India

    CSC: Taking brands to reach the last mile customers in rural India (Picture: Dr. Dinesh Tyagi, Managing Director, CSC e-Governance Services India.)
    CSC: Taking brands to reach the last mile customers in rural India (Picture: Dr. Dinesh Tyagi, Managing Director, CSC e-Governance Services India.)

    Operating in nearly every gram panchayat in the country, the tech-enabled Common Service Centres (CSCs) have emerged as the efficient and effective mode of touch-points for brands catering to the rural markets. Dr. Dinesh Tyagi, Managing Director, CSC e-Governance Services India speaks to Mohd Mustaquim on how CSCs are technologically empowering the rural population as well as helping corporate brands to reach the last mile customers in the rural markets…


    Kindly tell our readers about the concept of Common Service Centres.

    Common Service Centres (CSC) are digital access points, operated and managed by local entrepreneurs called village-level entrepreneurs (VLEs) to deliver various government and non-government services to the citizens at the grassroot level. It is an integral part of the Government of India’s Digital India programme. The objective of CSCs is to create these digital access points across the country so that a citizen does not have to travel to a government or a non-government office to avail of services which are possible for him to try and access at a place close to his residence.

    How is it empowering rural people and village-level entrepreneurs (VLEs)?

    These centres are, as I said, operated and managed by local entrepreneurs as social enterprises. Since there’s a person from the same community and village who operate and manage these centres, his credibility and acceptability within the community is higher than an outsider. So it’s able to mobilise and disseminate various schemes and programmes of the government to the community and also help them to access the same. It also creates a lot of employment opportunities at the local level. At a centre, a single person cannot provide a large number of services, and therefore, he needs to engage three to four more persons in order to deliver a bouquet of services available under the CSC ecosystem.

    What is the current strength and outreach of CSCs in rural India?

    Presently, the total number of CSCs across the country is 5.17 lakhs, out of these, about 3.74 lakhs are being operated in rural India. We almost cover all gram panchayats except 8,000 where there is no internet connectivity or there is poor connectivity. Other than this, almost all the panchayats across the country are connected. The panchayats where we have issues with connectivity are tagged with any nearby panchayat to serve the people from those unserved panchayats.

    In recent years, corporate brands are tying up with the CSCs to make their outreach stronger in rural markets. What opportunities CSCs are providing to the brands looking for rural markets?

    During the COVID lockdown period, we realised that rural areas have problems accessing various products. In urban areas, customers could place an order online through the various e-commerce platforms and supply could be met. But these large e-commerce players were unable to make supplies in rural India. Hence, CSCs designed the CSC Grameen e-Store, an app which is hyper-local. This hyper-local app is operated and managed by the CSCs. It enables all the product providers across the country to try and supply these products to the VLE centres which aggregate the demand of the customers and then supply to them online. At the CSC Grameen e-Stores, Tata Digital, Adani Capital and IDFC Bank have also invested. We did realise the importance of a hyper-local e-commerce platform for rural India. Even if there would be a lockdown somewhere, they will be able to place online orders and get access to all the products available to urban citizens. For the corporates who want to access rural markets, it is the best opportunity for them to tie up with a network of over five lakh CSCs, operating at the gram panchayat level.

    Are there any criteria for the brands to make partnerships with CSC in reaching rural markets?

    For bands which find the rural market as a potential expansion although some of the brands already have some channels established, this is a little different channel. This channel is operated and managed electronically and supported by a local person. So, the brands which are looking at opportunities for rural market expansion also can use technology to try and deliver products using the CSC platform.

    Leading automobile and banking service providers have partnered with CSC. How is CSC supporting their business operations in rural markets?

    The traditional process of the sale of an automobile in the rural markets takes place through a showroom, located in nearby tier-3 towns. Many people are unable to visit these showrooms. And therefore, in order to address the problem, these large companies have devised a sub-retailer model or sub-showroom model through the CSC network which generates leads. After verification of leads, showrooms provide services to rural customers. This is found to be very useful. And that’s why many brands such as Renault, Tata Motors, Mahindra, HDFC Bank, electric cycle, electric scooter providers, EV (Electric Vehicles) providers and many other brands have associated with us. Furthermore, a person can also apply for loan and insurance services from the VLE as each of the VLE is now able to provide loan facilities through HDFC and other banks.

    What challenges do you face while implementing the CSC project in rural India and how do you tackle them?

    A major challenge is that many of the VLEs do large-scale purchases. Their money gets stuck due to the rotation. So, we are working out with some banks which can provide credit facilities. So once they have the credit facility, they won’t need to wait for placing the second order. The second problem is supply chain constraints from these companies. Many companies still have problems with the last-mile supply chain. For example, one of our VLEs wanted to buy 15 refrigerators in Kargil. The company could supply only up to Jammu. And therefore, the VLE person picked up the consignment from Jammu and carried to Kargil through its own transport. So, all these agreements are being made in order to resolve these issues.

    What future plans does CSC have in the coming five years?

    The CSC is planning to reach every village. And then, 600,000 villages will have a digital access point in every village. The second is that we also added financial services as a core as we wanted all the CSCs to become banking correspondents. So far about a lakh has already become. Our objective is to talk to the banks and try and persuade them that all the CSCs can become financial access points, which is also very good for the customer and create the VLE a sustainable business model. The second of course is that all the government services which are still left out get integrated with CSCs. So the citizen in every part of the country need not go to a government office and can access the services through the CSC centres.

    Another major thing we are working on is to help farmers by setting up farmer producer organisations (FPO), one in every block. These FPOs are comprised of only farmers and do almost all activities led by the farming community. We have already set up close to 3,000 FPOs. We are ensuring that it meets nearly all the parameters, the credit needs, fertilisers, seeds, PM-Kisan and soil health cards. We’re trying to help all the farmers across the country through this model so that they all get benefited from that sense.

    In the large picture, what transformation are we going to see through CSCs in five years in rural India?

    We are running digital literacy programmes integrated with financial literacy. Rural e-mobility is the next project we are doing in many villages where we are converting the existing cycles into electrical cycles which can help the youth, especially girls and boys who want to go to school and college. Further, we are working on a Digital Village Concept, a Bal Vidyalay, run by technology with a computer centre where children can come and learn computers. It is also aligned with a digital library having all the CSC services such as tele-medicine tele-law, tele-agriculture and tele-veterinary services.

    Read more: CSC SPV, Ministry of Tourism partner to transform tourism ecosystem in rural areas is now on Telegram. Click here to join Rural Marketing on Telegram and stay updated with the latest news and updates on rural business and economy.