Interview with Mithun Debnath, VLE for Basix in Uttar Majlishpur, Tripura
Duration: 00:24:25; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 29.714; Saturation: 0.087; Lightness: 0.551; Volume: 0.257; Cuts per Minute: 3.398; Words per Minute: 75.377
The Identity project emerged as a result of our dissatisfaction at the nature of the debate that was emerging on the area of digital governance in India.
Over the past three years we have conducted numerous field visits in seven Indian states.These visits include numerous video-conversations, some short and others very long, with a diverse number of those who were involved with this entire process of participating in the emergence of a digital ecosystem of governance. These are interviews with people being enrolled into the Aadhaar programme, with district-level Panchayat and other officials, with numerous State government bureaucrats, with private enrollment representatives, representatives of various governmental services, with operators and other members of this digital workforce. Conversations are often long, spontaneous and deliberately unstructured: and the focus is mainly on a vérité style using amateur video.
Some key issues that we shortlisted for detailed inquiry were issues of migrants, both domestic and across international borders, homelessness in cities, and the financially excluded. Each of these areas was discussed in considerable detail at major public consultations held in Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bangalore, in partnership with the CSDS, the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, and the Urban Research and Policy Programme Initiative of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. All videos of all presentations made at these events are also available here.
CSCS also has an extensive text archives of material on the field as a whole, available on http://eprints.cscsarchives.org
Video contains two conversations. First is with the loan agent of Basix, in an attempt to find out the reasons for taking loans in the village of Uttar Majlishpur, the loan specifications in terms of the interest and the insurance attached to it, work-life in the village, the general problems in the village, etc. The second is with Mithun Debnath, Village Level Entrepreneur, explaining how he became a VLE, the kind of services being offered at this VLE, e-homeopathy being the most popular, common ills among people of Uttar Majlishpur and the IL&FS portal in which all patient records have been stored. For more on VLEs, see Identity Project film
Interviewer: Is this the loan return? EMI?
Interviewer: Is it monthly?
Interviewer: Have a lot of people borrowed money?
Speaker: Yes, several.
Speaker 2: 168 customers have borrowed from here.
Interviewer: What is the total population? 5000?
Speaker: Yes 5000.
Interviewer: When did you start this service?
Speaker: Of microfinance loan?
Speaker: April 9, 2010.
Interviewer: Since then you've had 168 customers?
Speaker: Yes, only in Uttarbandeshwar area.
Interviewer: What is the main reason for people borrowing money from you?
Speaker: For business, handicraft business, in bamboo. There are several shops, fisheries, fruit stalls.
Speaker2: We work in these rural areas, our aim being rural development. People who wish to do something but don't have the financial support, we would like to support them and help them through microfinance. And they return the money in monthly instalments including interest and principal. It gets divided into 12 or 18 instalments.
Interviewer: Have there been problem for you with repayments?
Speaker: Yes, sometimes. Like when somebody is ill, or has been in an accident or if there's a problem in the family, then there're problems in repayments. If they're ill, there's an insurance plan (Royal Sundaram) attached to the loan, with which if a customer is admitted to the hospital, he/she gets 500 rupees per day.
Interviewer: Who gives this?
Speaker: Royal Sundaram. This insurance is attached to the loan. This covers them for 5 days during the loan period. It also covers the nominee, if it's the husband or wife. A total of 10 days for two persons. 500 for each day, so 2500 for 5 days of hospital care.
Interviewer: How do you charge the interest?
Speaker: Monthly 2% reducing.
Interviewer: Before you started in April 2010, where did people get money for business?
Speaker: It wasn't as prevalent. They used to borrow from the banks, but with the banks it isn't as quick and easy as it is with us. Even now, they hesitate and are not able to borrow from the banks.
We provide it as quickly as possible. Before us there was Bandhan from where the customers used to borrow earlier. It still runs.
Interviewer: What is Bandhan?
Speaker: That is also a microfinance company.
Interviewer: In this area?
Interviewer: Has there been a change in people's lives after they've gotten access to loans and money?
Speaker: There have been many changes. They couldn't have developed their shops and handicraft businesses without the money. Now with the money, they can buy the raw material themselves and sell their goods in the market.
Earlier there were the maliks, brokers who brought the bamboo and sticks for them to work with. Now they buy it themselves from Agartala and sell it themselves at the Agartala market. They have more profit now than before.
Interviewer: Did people used to migrate to Agartala for work and they don't now because there's money now? Are there cases like that?
Speaker: People who go to Agartala have been going to work in private companies.
Interviewer: Has it increased or decreased?
Speaker: It has decreased. Earlier people who used work in shops and cottage industries (shoes, mats, jewellery) in Agartala and they would've been trained but couldn't open their own business due to lack of funds. Now they have given up their jobs at the shops and have started something on their own.
Interviewer: I had questions about CSC.
Speaker: Please ask.
Interviewer: So you run both CSC and the microfinance loan and recovery.
Speaker: Yes. In this centre, there is tele-homeopathy also.
Interviewer: What services do these common service centres have?
Speaker: In CSCs at the moment there is no G2C service. Only this centre has G2Cs tele-homeopathy. Here people can contact doctors in Agartala, Kolkata and Mumbai and get medicines prescribed, online, and free of cost.
Interviewer: The doctor is in Agartala?
Speaker: Yes, a doctor is in Agartala, also along with Kolkata and Bombay. If we aren't able to get in touch with the doctor in one place, we contact the others. The customers can directly speak to the doctor and the doctor prescribes medicines. The centre has a store of medicines also. Everything is available here and is free. When the patient comes here for the first time, there's a registration fee of 10 rupees for the online service.
Interviewer: Is this available at anytime?
Speaker: It depends on the hospital's timings and the doctor's availability. We're here from 10 am to 4 pm. So that's essentially the timings for tele-homeopathy.
Interviewer: Are there no other services now?
Speaker: Now, there are no other G2C services in this centre.
Interviewer: Is this new?
Speaker: It started on 7 April 2011.
Interviewer: The VLE: have you invested yourself in all this?
Speaker: My investment is the Xerox machine and the printer, the fan and the light. Everything else belongs to the company.
Speaker: Yes. All is from Basix.
Interviewer: The computer also?
Interviewer: Do you have to give any deposit?
Speaker: No. I haven't.
Interviewer: How did you decide to become a VLE?
Speaker: There was a person here from the company office at the panchayat. They were looking for a couple of boys. They first told us about the company and its services. I wasn't involved then. I went there for personal work at the panchayat and they told me they were looking for some people. They gave me the date and address told me I could go if I wanted. I contacted the referred officer and met him. They gave me all the information I needed. I was sent to Agartala to the Basix office to meet Satyanarayan, our trainer and there was Thomas sir also. Bhaskar who is now our Field Manager was there. I was given a written test and asked a few questions. I was selected after passing the test. Since then I've been working here.
Interviewer: Did you buy your Xerox machine with a loan?
Speaker: No, with my own money.
Interviewer: Do you get a salary from Basix?
Speaker: We VLEs don't have salaries. They give us advance depending on the money the microfinance business needs. We don't have a salary.
Interviewer: So you get a percentage on the loans you give.
Interviewer: And the homeopathy service, the fee for that?
Speaker: That I do for free. I take 10 rupees for the internet charge from each patient.
Interviewer: Why did you start homeopathy specifically?
Speaker: When our CSC got selected, there were two in different blocks. I got it done. There's an internet connection problem, so the other one hasn't started yet. Mine's the first.
Interviewer: Did the IT department decide that you should have homeopathy treatment here?
Speaker: Yes, in consultation with our company.
Interviewer: Is there a demand for homeopathy here? How any people come here on an average?
Speaker: On an average, every month about 30-35 patients. Sometimes it goes up to 45 even.
Interviewer: What kind of health problem do they have?
Speaker: Problems like tumours, or when fish bones get stuck in the throat, fevers, colds, and hip, stomach and chest pains. A lot of people come for this. We don't treat patients in serious condition. We send them to GV or IVM hospitals in Habania.
Interviewer: They have to get treated at their own cost?
Speaker: Yes. What we don't treat, it doesn't get treated anywhere in the village.
Interviewer: Do you have a list of treatments?
Speaker: I'll show you.
Interviewer: Can you show us a demo of the homeopathy?
Speaker: The doctor may not be available.
Interviewer: Only if possible... When people come here to avail this service, do you have to look at an ID or something?
Speaker: For treatment? Anyone can come.
Interviewer: From other villages also?
Speaker: Yes sir. Patients can come from anywhere.
Look here. This is the patient's name. The doctor from Agartala has treated her on this date. This is the disease name and this drug name. I give medication to the patients according to this.
Interviewer: So this information of all people is with you?
Speaker: Yes sir.
Interviewer: Has any patient has had a problem with you having their personal information? Has anyone objected?
Speaker: Whoever's come here to get treated have benefitted in some way. We have good feedback.
Interviewer: Do you have a list of illnesses also? Doesn't matter if there isn't.
Has the IT department made this programme?
Speaker: The tele-homeopathy tender was awarded to ILFS. ILFS, IT department and our company, BASIX, are working in collaboration on this project.
Interviewer: What connection do you have?
Speaker: BSNL Broadband.
Interviewer: Who pays the bill for this?
Speaker: Our company. BASIX. This is a new VSAT.
Interviewer: What is it?
Speaker: It's a new dish antenna to be set up on the roof. The broadband has problems sometimes, and then I can have this to work with, since I have to be connected at all times. This is not from the IT department.
Interviewer: Approximately, how much would you have invested in all these devices?
Speaker: This is 35,000 and this is 10,000.
Interviewer: so 45,000. How much has BASIX invested?
Speaker: The printer, monitor, PC, UPS - totally about 60-70,000. Also the furniture. The medicine is from ILFS. Everything else is from our company.
Interviewer: Are you from this village?
Speaker: Yes, I was born here.
Interviewer: What did you do before this?
Speaker: Before joining this company I used to work in money marketing. There's a company in the state called (unclear) Systems. I used to work there from 2004.
Interviewer: What does the company do?
Speaker: It borrows from the market to invest and returns after a year with interest.
Interviewer: Was the business successful?
Speaker: Now there's a certainty about the customers. It'll be 13 years in 2013. Only those customers are the ones remaining. I've discontinued the monthly policies and returned the money to the customers after borrowing from the company.
Interviewer: It seems the village has been in need for funds and loans for a long time.
Speaker: Yes sir. Microfinance has been very essential.
Interviewer: How's the income from agriculture?
Speaker: Even with agriculture, people don't want to be idle. They want to work and do something, but only need some support financially. There’s a big demand for loans.
Interviewer: Don't people want to go out to work in the city?
Speaker: A Lot of people work in Agartala.
Interviewer: Has it increased or decreased?
Speaker: People work in Agartala in the day and return and work for themselves in the evenings. They work from 9 to 5 in Agartala and work on bamboo products from 7 to 10 in the evenings.
Interviewer: Bamboo products?
Speaker: Screens/ Blinds, mats, table cloth, trays, flower pots are made from bamboo.
Interviewer: They sell all these products?
Interviewer: Where? In the city?
Speaker: In the city and people come here to pick them up. There are middlemen who buy in bulk and then sell it in Agartala.
Interviewer: Generally, what are the problems in the village, apart from finance that you are solving?
Speaker: There are a lot of undergraduates in the village and everyone hopes for a government job. They want each home to have at least one government employee.
Speaker2: With the amount of unemployment here, the government can't give that many jobs. The state has about 5 lac unemployed people. I don't think the government can employ all these people. If there was an industry, then maybe Tripura can progress. Of course Tripura is developing, but if there is a big industry like in Bhujangnagar and other opportunities then may be something can happen.