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News : How Kisan Call Centres Work
New Delhi, India, June 20, 2015 -- At around two in the afternoon at the Kisan Call Centre (KCC) in Central Delhi's Indian Agriculture Research Institute, India's premier agriculture research body, three employees are lazily unlocking their doors after an extended lunch break.
The three men, all in their early 50s, are the agriculture 'experts' who answer farmers' queries which state-level call centres lack the expertise to answer. But for the past one hour, they have avoided work. Unabashed and with a smile on his face, one of them explains how. "Every day between one and two in the afternoon, we turn down the server. This ensures that the phone doesn't ring and we have our lunch in peace."
He occupies a large room. But one which lacks the usual paraphernalia you would notice in a call centre. For one, there aren't any headphones. Instead, he takes his calls on a 1980-model landline phone with rotary dial. As the server is switched on, his phone rings. "So your mango tree is drying, right?" he asks the caller from Bihar's Muzaffarpur district. "This can happen for two reasons: Either the tree has been infested by termites for which you need to use an insecticide, or you have a large stone near the roots, which is not letting the tree get its nutrients. Nothing much can be done if it is the latter."
He puts the phone down. A couple of minutes later, it rings again. It is another caller from Bihar who wants to know what can he do about his lemon tree, which is not flowering. He suggests changing the watering time. Then there are calls where he and his colleagues can offer little help: How to get a bank loan, complaints against district officers for not paying compensation for failed crop, and even when will the next earthquake strike. They say such calls are more frequent than those which directly relate to agriculture.
"In the days following the Nepal earthquake, a lot of people called up to ask when the next earthquake would come," says another official with a laugh. "We would tell them no such technology has been developed thus far."
KCCs began work in 2004. Since then, the government has opened 14 KCCs across India, which receive around 14,000 call each day. However, these calls are not evenly distributed across the country. About 50 per cent of these calls come from four states - Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Very few calls come from the Northeast, Kerala, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
Further, around 80 per cent of the callers have questions related to agriculture, while only 0.83 per cent have questions related to animal husbandry and 0.26 per cent relates to fisheries. Horticulture forms 20 per cent of the total calls.
When its concept was developed, the KCCs were envisioned as a multiple-tier system. In the first stage, a farmer would call the KCC to ask his questions. The operators in KCC, who are all graduates in agricultural science, were expected to answer routine questions. In the second stage, agriculture scientists and officials of state governments were meant to be involved. They were to be roped in when the KCC employees could not answer farmer queries. But employees of the state-level call centres say rarely does this chain flow.
"Officers in the state government tell us they don't want to be disturbed with these questions. So we rarely go to them now," says one of the employees of a state-level KCC.
The system struggles at another stage, too. This is due to a lack of integration between government departments and the KCC. For instance, a common question which farmers call to ask is about the rates of their commodities in the mandis. But KCC employees struggle to answer it as few mandi websites are regularly updated. The same holds true for weather updates. Also, KCC employees say they find themselves at a loss when farmers inquire about new government schemes as few government departments send them information in advance.
"This leads to loss of trust with the farmers. When the farmer asks what the price of his commodity in the mandi is, we answer looking at the website which is usually not the live rate as these websites are not frequently updated. As a result, often the farmer accuses us of lying because is aware the price is different," says a KCC employee in a state capital.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Published: Monday, June 22, 2015